In 2012 I had the opportunity to visit the central regions of France, and see how strong the bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy traditions continue to be in the "hexagonal" country. Those two old instruments are known there as ‘cornemuse’ and ‘vielle à roue’ (viol/fiddle with a wheel, would be a direct translation).
Lucien Pillot is a vielle performer from the historic province of Nivernais, almost 300 km south of Paris. In this CD published by AEPEM (Association for the Study, Promotion and Teaching of Traditional Music from the Countries of France), this young artist compiles a set of sixteen songs traditional in that area, all of them recorded with the honest simplicity & beauty of the one-man orchestra, thanks to the multifunctionality of the French hurdy-gurdy.
Besides the melody strings which play the notes pressed on the keyboard, there are also the drone strings which perform the harmonic background bass notes. But the advanced & versatile French hurdy-gurdies also incorporate another string (trumpet) & oscillating (buzzing) bridge device (known as the dog, or chien in French), which provides rhythmic resources when the musician accelerates the wheel crank rotation at different sectors of each single turn.
The tunes performed by Lucien are taken from the repertoire compiled by the folklorist Achille Millien (1838—1927) in the Nivernais region. The album starts with the powerful and short (1,54min.) ‘Le’état des filles aur couvent’, a ‘bourrée à deux tempes’. Lucien even sings in ‘Le moine blanc’ (a 4-minute piece collected by Millien in 1879, in the town Prémery), and in ‘La prise du vaisseau’, or in ‘Les mensonges’. In several songs he plays on the lower keys of the instrument (‘Celle qui ne veut plus coucher seulette’), sometimes creating an atmosphere of sadness, like a cello (‘La robe couleur de cendre’, ‘Le mauvais riche et la dame charitable’), but not in other cases where the melody is brighter (‘Le petit panier blanc’, ‘La petite Allemande’).
In ‘Mariée avec un vieil avocat’ the high start notes almost resemble the sound of a short chanter bagpipe. And the rhythmic & percussive resources of the “chien” are evident in ‘Le fille du prince’, ‘Joli tambour’, ‘Je tài bien que trop donné’, ‘J’emmène la p`tit Marie’, or ‘La fille du vigneron’.
This album does not just present a sample of beautiful tunes traditional in this central France region, but it also demonstrates all the acoustic possibilities of the hurdy-gurdy.
Photo Credits: (1) Lucien Pillot "Vielle À Roue: Musique traditionelle du Nivernais" (by AEPEM - Association d'Étude, de Promotion et d'Enseignement des Musiques Traditionnelles des Pays de France); (2) La Bande Ménétrière @ Rencontres Internationales de Luthiers et Maîtres Sonneurs 2012, (by Pio Fernández). (unknown/website).