Music of France

From Academic Kids

France has long been considered a center for European art and music. The country boasts a wide variety of indigenous folk musics, as well styles played by immigrant from Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the field of classical music, France has produced a number of legendary composers, while modern pop music has seen the rise of popular French rock, hip hop, techno/funk, and pop performers. Template:Frenchmusic


Folk music

Main article: French folk music

As Europe experienced a wave of roots revivals, France found its regional cultures reviving traditional music. Brittany, Limousin, Gascony, Corsica and Auvergne were among the regions that underwent a popularization of folk music. Traditional styles of music had survived most in remote areas like the island of Corsica and mountainous Auvergne, as well as the more nationalist lands of the Basques and Bretons.

In many cases, folk traditions were revived in relatively recent years to cater to tourists. These groupes folkloriques tend to focus on very early 20th century melodies and the use of the piano accordion.

Central France

Central France incudes the regions of Auvergne, Limousin, Morvan, Nivernais, Bourbonnais and Berry. The lands are the home to the French bagpipe tradition, as well as the iconic hurdy gurdy and the dance bourrée. There are deep differences between the regions of Central France, with the Auvergne and Limousin retained the most vibrant folk traditions of the area. As an example of the area's diversity, the bourrée can come in two distinct rhythms, 3/8 or 2/3; the latter is found in the south of the region, and is usually improvised with bagpipes and hurdy gurdy, while the former is found in the north and includes virtuoso players.

Bagpipe and hurdy gurdy

Main articles: Bagpipe and hurdy gurdy

The hurdy gurdy, or vielle-à-roue, is a cross between a violin and a piano accordion. It is made up of a curved, oval body, a set of keys and a curved handle, which is turn and connected to a wheel which bows the strings that are stopped by the keys. There is a moveable bridge, a variable number of drones and hidden sympathetic strings, all of which can also effect the sound. Simpler forms of the hurdy gurdy are also found in Spain, Hungary and Russia.

The bagpipe is found in a wide array of forms in France, which has more diversity in bagpipes than any other country. The cabrette and grande cornemuse from Auvergne and Berry are the most well-known. These forms are found at least as far back as the 17th century. Prominent bagpipers include Bernard Blanc, Frédéric Paris and Philippe Prieur, as well as bandleader Jean Blanchard of La Grande Bande de Cornemuses and Quintette de Cornemuses. Frédéric Paris is also known as a member of the Duo Chabenat-Paris, a prominent duo who use elements like mixed polyphonic ensembles and melodies based on the bourrée. Bernard Blanc and Jean Blanchard, along with Eric Montbel from Lyons, were among the musicians who formed the basis of La Bamboche and Le Grand Rouge. It was these two bands who did more than anyone to revitalize the traditions of Central France during the 1970s folk revival. The festival of St. Chartier, a music festival held annually near Chateauroux, has been a focal point for the music of Auvergne and Limousin.

The provinces of Morvan and Nivernais have produced some traditional stars, including Faubourg de Boignard and Les Ménétriers du Morvan, respectively. The Nivernais collector Achille Millien was also notable in the early part of the 20th century.

Southern France

Southern France includes the regions of Provence, Béarn, Rousillon, Gascony and Languedoc. The Basques, with their own unique culture, are geographically part of this area, but are culturally and ethnically distinct from any of their French or Spanish neighbors. The Occitan language is in use by some musicians, including Jean-Luc Madier and Rosina de Peira. The Massilia Sound System is a well-known group, specializing in what they call trobamuffin, which is Occitan raggamuffin.


Main article: Bal-musette

The hurdy gurdy became the basis for bal-musette music, which arrived in Paris by 1880 as a result of Auvergnat migration. The influence of Antoine Bouscatel led to bal-musette incorporating the Italian accordion, which soon came to dominate the music. This is the period that produced internationally known masters like Léon Chanal, Emile Vacher and Martin Cayla. Vacher's light style, rhythmic nature and distinctive tremolo defined the genre for many audiences in France and beyond.


Main article: Basque music

The Basques are a unique ethnic group, unrelated to any other in France and with uncertain connections abroad. The main form of Basque folk music is called trikitrixa, which is based on the accordion and includes popular performers like Benat Achiary and Oldarra. The Spanish Basques have had a much more active music scene, especially in the field of traditional music.


Main article: Music of Corsica

Corsican polyphonic singing is perhaps the most unique of the French regional music varieties. Sung by male trios, it is strongly harmonic and occasionally dissonant. Works can be either spiritual or secular. Modern groups include Canta u Populu Corsu, I Muvrini, Tavagna and Chjami Aghjalesi; some groups have been associated with Corsican nationalism.

Corsican musical instruments include the bagpipe (caramusa), 16-stringed lute (cetera), mandolin, fife (pifana) and the diatonic accordion (urganettu).


Main article: Music of Brittany

Uniquely Celtic in character, Breton folk music has had perhaps the most successful revival of its traditions, partially due to the result of Lorient, France's most popular music festival.

The documented history of Breton music begins with the publication of Barzaz-Breizh in 1839. A collection of folk songs compiled by Hersart de la Villemarqué, Barzaz-Breizh helped keep Breton traditions alive.

Couple de sonneurs, consisting of a bombarde and biniou, is usually played at festoù-noz celebrations (some are famous, like Printemps de Chateauneuf ( It is swift dance music and has an older vocal counterpart called kan ha diskan. Unaccompanied call and response singing was interspersed with gwerz, a form of ballad.

Probably the most popular form of Breton folk is the bagad pipe band, which features native instruments like biniou and bombarde alongside drums and, in more modern groups, biniou braz pipes. Modern revivalists include Kevrenn Alre Bagad and Bagad Kemper.

Alan Stivell is perhaps the most influential folk-rock performer of continental Europe. After 1971's Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, Breton and other Celtic traditional music achieved mainstream success internationally. With Dan Ar Bras, he then released Chemins de Terre (1974), which launched Breton folk-rock. This set the stage for stars like Malicorne in the ensuing decades.

Pure folk of modern Brettany include harpists like Anne-Marie Jan, Anne Auffret and Myrdhin, while singers Kristen Nikolas, Andrea Ar Gouilh and Yann-Fanch Kemener have become mainstream stars. Instrumental bands, however, have been the most successful, including Gwerz, Bleizi Ruz, Strobinell, Sonerien Du and Tud.

Classical music

Main article: French classical music

Medieval Period

Main article: Medieval music

Some of the earliest manuscripts with polyphony are organum from 10th century French cities like Chartres and Tours. A group of musicians from the Abbey of St. Martial in Limoges are especially important, as are the 12th century Parisian composers from whence came the earliest motets. Secular music in medieval France was dominated by troubadours, jongleurs and trouveres, who were poets and musicians known for creating forms like the ballade and lai. The most famous was Adam de la Halle.

Notre Dame school

Main article: Notre Dame school

The Notre Dame school was a style of polyphonic organum that flourished at Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral between about 1170 to 1250. The only composers whose names have survived to the present are Leonin and Pérotin. These two are believed to have written the Magnus Liber, a comprehensive book of organum.


Main article: Motet

The motet evolved from the Notre Dame school when upper-register voices were added to discant sections, usually strophic interludes, in a longer sequence of organum. Usually the discant representing a strophic sequence in Latin which was sung as a descant over a cantus firmus, which typically was a Gregorian chant fragment with different words from the descant. The motet took a definite rhythm from the words of the verse, and as such appeared as a brief rhythmic interlude in the middle of the longer, more chantlike organum.


Main article: Troubadour

In the 12th century, travelling noblemen and musicians called troubadours began wandering southern France. Inspired by the Code of Chivalry, troubadors composed and performed vernacular songs (in contrast to the older tradition, dating back to the 10th century, of goliards. Provence was the region with the most troubadours, but the practice soon spread north and aristocrats like Adam de la Halle became the first trouvères. Contemporaneous with the troubadors was the rise of the trouvères, another itinerant class of musicians, who used the langue d'oil, while the troubadors used langue d'oc. This period ended abruptly with the Albigensian Crusade, which decimated southern France.

Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior

Main articles: Ars nova and Ars subtilior

Two of the major developments in music in the 14th century occurred on France. The first was the ars nova, the new, predominantly secular music which began with the publication of the Roman de Fauvel, and culminated in the rondeaux, ballades, lais, virelais, motets, and single surviving mass of Guillaume de Machaut, who died in 1370. Philippe de Vitry, also a representative of the ars nova, invented an improved system of musical notation and may have been the first composer of the isorhythmic motet. The other important development was the extremely complex and sophisticated art of secular song which flourished in Avignon at the very end of the 14th century (see ars subtilior).


Main article: Renaissance music

The move of the center of musical activity from Paris to Burgundy defines the beginning of the musical Renaissance in France. The political instability under weak kings, and continued dismemberment and acquisition of territory by the English during the Hundred Years War all contributed to moving musicians east.

French musical domination of Europe ended during the Renaissance, and Flemish and Italian musicians became more important. Later French composers of the Renaissance include Nicolas Gombert, Pierre de La Rue, Pierre de Manchicourt, Claude Goudimel, Pierre Certon, Jean Mouton, Claudin de Sermisy, and Clément Janequin. The French chanson became popular during this time, and was exported to Italy as the canzona.


Main article: Motet

The motet was known from the Medieval era, but after about 1463, it evolved into an utterly distinct form. The cascading, passing chords created by the interplay between multiple voices, and the absence of a strong or obvious beat, are the features that distinguish medieval and Renaissance vocal styles. Instead, the Renaissance motet is a short polyphonic musical setting in imitative counterpoint, for chorus, of a religious text not specifically connected to the liturgy of a given day, and therefore suitable for use in any service. The texts of antiphons were frequently used as motet texts. This is the sort of composition that is most familiarly named by the name of "motet," and the Renaissance period marked the flowering of the form.


Main article: Chanson

The chanson encompasses a wide array of forms and styles of secular song, through a period of almost three hundred years. The first important composer of chansons was Guillaume de Machaut, with later figures in the genre including Johannes Ockeghem and Josquin Desprez. Guillaume Dufay and Gilles Binchois wrote so-called Burgundian chansons, which were somewhat simpler in style, while Claudin de Sermisy and Clément Janequin were composers of so-called Parisian chansons which abandoned the formes fixes (as Josquin had also done) and were in a simpler, more homophonic style (many of these Parisian works were published by Pierre Attaingnant). Later composers, such as Orlando de Lassus, were influenced by the Italian madrigal.

Burgundian School

Main article: Burgundian School

Composers who worked at the courts of the Dukes of Burgundy are known collectively as the Burgundian School; some of the principal names associated with this school are Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, Hayne van Ghizeghem and Antoine Busnois. They wrote vernacular secular music in a clear, simple, melodic style, principally rondeaux, but also Latin sacred music, such as motets and cantus firmus masses.

Baroque era

Main article: Baroque music

With the arrival of Calvinism, music was greatly simplified, at least in the parts of France subject to Calvinist influence. In strictly Calvinist areas, the only musical expression allowed was singing of French translations of the Psalms, for instance those written by Goudimel (who was killed in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572). Starting the with the 17th century, Italian and German opera was the most influential form of music, though French opera composers like Balthasar de Beaujoyeaux, Jean Philippe Rameau and Jean Baptiste Lully made a distinctive national style characterized by ballet, spoken dialogue and a lack of Italian recitative arias.

The Baroque period saw a flourishing of harpsichord music. Influential composers included Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, Louis Couperin, François Couperin. Jean Philippe Rameau, a prominent opera composer, wrote an influential treatise on musical theory, especially in the subject of harmony; he also introduced the clarinet into his orchestras.

Air de cour

Main article: Air de cour

In the late Renaissance and early Baroque period, approximately from 1570 to 1650 and peaking from 1610 and 1635, a type of popular secular vocal music called air de cour spread throughout France. Though airs de cour originally used only one voice with lute accompaniment, they grew to incorporate four to five voices by the end of the 16th century. Halfway through the 17th century, they switched back again to a single voice.


Main article: French opera

The first French opera may be Akébar roi du Mogol, first performed in Carpentras in 1646. They were followed by the team of Perrin and Cambert, whose Pastoral in Music, performed in Issy, was a success, and the pair moved to Paris to produce Pomone (1671) and Les Peines et les Plaisirs de l'Amour (1672).

Jean-Baptiste Lully, who had become well-known composing ballets for Louis XIV, began innovating a French version of the Italian opera seria, a kind of tragic opera known as tragédie lyrique or tragédie en musique - see (French lyric tragedy). His first was Cadmus from 1673. Lully's forays into operatic tragedy were accompanied by the pinnacle of French theatrical tragedy, led by Corneille and Racine.

Classical era to present day

Main article: Classical music era

During the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars, the Paris Conservatory was established and foreigners like Frederic Chopin flocked to France. One of the major French composers of the time, and one of the most innovative composers of the early Romantic era, was Hector Berlioz.

In the late 1800s, pioneers like Georges Bizet, Jules Massenet, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy revitalized French music. The late 1800s saw the dawn of the music hall when Yvette Guilbert was a mjor star. The era lasted through to the 1930s and saw the likes of Félix Mayol, Lucienne Boyer, Marie-Louise Damien, Marie Dubas, Fréhel, Georges Guibourg, Tino Rossi, Jean Sablon, Charles Trenet and Maurice Chevalier. This part of the 20th century also saw neo-classical music flourish in France, especially composers like Albert Roussel, Erik Satie and Les Six, a group of musicians who gathered around Satie. Later in the century, Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez proved influential and incorporated non-native influences.

Popular music

Main article: French popular music

French popular music in the 20th century included singers like superstar Edith Piaf as well as Monique Serf and Georges Brassens plus the more art-house musicians like Brigitte Fontaine. American and British rock and roll was also popular in the 1950s and 60s, and indigenous rock achieved some domestic success. Punk rock, heavy metal and, especially, electronic music, found some French listeners. In the latter genre, the French electro-pop band Air and techno artist Laurent Garnier found a wide audience in the late 1990s and early 2000s, both locally and internationally. Algerian rai also found a large French audience, especially Khaled. Moroccan chaabi and gnawa is also popular. American hip hop music was exported to France in the 1980s, and French rappers and DJs, like MC Solaar, also had some success. More recently, electronica groups such as Télépopmusik have had some success.


Main article: French rock

At the end of World War 2, French musicians were becoming wildly experimental and diverse. Popular musicians from the era included romantics like Edith Piaf, politicized singers like Leo Ferre, morbid sex symbols like Juliette Greco, elegant stars like Charles Aznavour and experimental, often humorous, performers like Georges Brassens and the Belgian Jacques Brel.

In the 50s, Elvis Presley and rock and roll made inroads in the French music scene. It produced stars like Johnny Hallyday, and Claude François, the popular yé-yé girls like Sylvie Vartan and some various music genre like Dalida, who can do anything like italian style music in 50s; twist, pop and rock in the 60s (and later pop, disco, new wave and rock in the 70s and 80s). These were popular female teen idols, and included Francoise Hardy, who was the first to write her own songs.

Singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg began as a jazz musician in the 1950s and spanned several eras of French popular music including pop, rock, reggae, new wave, disco and even hip hop filtered through his unique sense of black humor, heavily laden with sex and scatology.

Though rock was not extremely popular until the 70s, there were innovative musicians in France as the psychedelic rock trend was peaking worldwide. Jean-Pierre Massiera's Les Maledictus Sound (1968) and Aphrodite's Child's 666 were the most influential.

In the early 70s, Breton musician Alan Stivell (Rennaissance de l'Harpe Celtique) launched the field of French folk-rock by combining psychedelic and progressive rock sounds with Breton and Celtic folk styles.

Progressive rock

Main article: Progressive rock

France became one of the leading producers of prog rock in the 1970s. Aficionados worldwide were enamoured by recordings like Ange's Le Cimetiere des Arlequins, Pulsar's Halloween, Shylock's Ile de Fievre, Atoll's L'Araignee-Mal and Eskaton's Ardeur. Most well-known, however, may be the band Magma, whose 1970 debut, Magma, used free jazz and lyrical references to science fiction. The band later used Indian and electronic styles.


In the 1980s, French rock spawned a myriad of styles, many closely-connected with other Francophone musical scenes in Switzerland, Canada and especially Belgium. Pub rock (Telephone), psychobilly (La Muerte), pop punk (Les Thugs), synth pop (Telex) and punk rock (Bijou) were among the styles represented in this era.

Punk rock had arisen in the 1970s and continued into the next decade, perhaps best represented by Oberkampf and Metal Urbain. 80s progressive rock peaked early in the decade, with Dun's Eros, Emeraude's Geoffroy and Terpandre's Terpandre, all from 1981, representing the genre's pinnacle.

Hip hop

Main article: French hip hop

Hip hop came from New York City, invented in the 1970s by African Americans. By 1983, the genre had spread to much of the world, including France. Almost immediately, French performers (musicians and breakdancers) began their career, including Thony Maskot, Frank II Louise, Max-Laure Bourjolly, Farid Berki, Traction Avant and Black Blanc Beur. Popularity was brief, however, and hip hop quickly receded to the French underground.

Paname City Rappin (1984, by Dee Nasty) was the first album released, and the first major star was MC Solaar, whose 1991 Qui seme le vente recolte le tempo, was a major hit.

In the modern era, most popular French rappers are, like MC Solaar (probably the most internationally-renowned French MC), are ethnically African, from countries like Senegal and Algeria.


Main article: Raï

France has long had a large Algerian minority, a legacy of long-time colonial domination of that country. Algerian immigrants brought their own music to France, most especially including raï. Originating in the lower-class slums of the city of Oran, raï shot to the top of the French charts in 1992 with the release of Khaled's self-titled album Khaled. Later performers added influences from funk, hip hop, rock and other styles, creating most notably a pop genre called lover's raï. Performers include Rachid Taha and Faudel.


  • Krümm, Philippe and Jean-Pierre Rasle. "Music of the Regions". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 103-113. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

See also

pt:Música de França


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