Catholic Folk Music from Brittany!

I’ve always enjoyed Breton music, when I’ve gotten a chance to hear it. The people of Brittany are descended from Welsh/Britons who fled to Brittany to escape the Saxons. They’ve been Christian since the days when the Britons were still paying taxes to the Roman Empire, so it’s not surprising that their folk music includes a lot of folk religious tunes.

This part of the Chansons Bretonnes site is all about Kantikou (Cantiques/Canticles). The first one is to the Welsh tune “Ar Hyd a Nos”, but the others all seem to be Breton songs with extremely Catholic words. There are four musical settings of the Angelus, for example.

If you click on the names of the songs, you’ll go to a page with a musical score, and with the words in Breton and French. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any midi or mp3 stuff, but you may be able to find mp3s elsewhere on the Web or even song videos on video sites.

Here’s another Breton/French site, which gives you Noteworthy Composer files. Which is sorta like midi, except more proprietary. Oh, well, it’s free.

On books.google.com, there’s some kind of folk hymnal for the Quimper diocese in Brittany, from 1842! Cool, eh? It seems to be aimed at encouraging clergy in Brittany to learn Breton if they don’t know it, to be proud of Breton if they do speak it, and to join in the popular devotions and songs of their people instead of getting nervous about them because they don’t understand them or think they’re too old-fashioned. There’s also a glossary of words used in Breton hymns. Finally, the bulk of the book provides hymns in the context of the various common ceremonies, processionals, etc., that a priest might be expected to preside over in the diocese of Quimper. (Or Kemper, in Breton.)

This is pretty incredible and heady stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a folk hymnal/missal for clergy before, and especially not from the 1840’s.

Fittingly, it would seem that the Quimper/Kemper diocese is still determined to support Breton sacred music! Check out their website…. 🙂 If you listen to the soundfiles, you’ll notice that the cantors and choirs stick with a Breton folk style. Very prettily done, and it has a fair amount of properly worshipful solemnity and dignity. (Of course the Bretons are as big on choirs as their Welsh cousins are.)

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