Music Of France

France has long been considered a center for European art and music. The country boasts a wide variety of indigenous folk music, as well as styles played by immigrants 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 hip hop, techno/funk, and pop performers such as Daft Punk, Bob Sinclar, David Guetta, Martin Solveig and Jean Michel Jarre. French music history dates back to organum in the 10th century, followed by the Notre Dame School, an organum composition style. Troubadour songs of chivalry and courtly love were composed in the Occitan language between the 10th and 13th centuries, and the Trouvère poet-composers flourished in Northern France during this period. By the end of the 12th century, a form of song called the motet arose, accompanied by traveling musicians called jongleurs. In the 14th century, France produced two notable styles of music, Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior. During the Renaissance, Burgundy became a major center for musical development. This was followed by the rise of chansons and the Burgundian School.

Classical music.

The first French opera may be Akébar roi du Mogol, first performed in Carpentras in 1646. It was followed by the team of Pierre 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 for composing ballets for Louis XIV, began creating 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.

Lully also developed the common beat patterns used by conductors to this day, and was the first to take the role of leading the orchestra from the position of the first violin.
The French composer, Georges Bizet, composed Carmen, one of the most well known and popular operas.

Romantic Era and Hector Berlioz
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 19th century, pioneers like Georges Bizet, Jules Massenet, Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy revitalized French music. The last two had an enormous impact on 20th century music - both in France and abroad - and influenced many major composers like Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky. Erik Satie was also a very significant composer from that era. His music is difficult to classify but sounds surprisingly ahead of its time.

20th Century
The early 20th century saw neo-classical music flourish in France, especially composers like Albert Roussel and Les Six, a group of musicians who gathered around Satie. Later in the century, Olivier Messiaen, Henri Dutilleux and Pierre Boulez proved influential. The latter was a leading figure of Serialism while Messiaen incorporated Asian (particularly Indian) influences and bird song and Dutilleux translated the innovations of Debussy, Bartók and Stravinsky into his own, very personal, musical idiom.The most important French contribution to musical innovation of the past 35 years is a form a computer-assisted composition called "spectral music." The astonishing technical advances of the spectralist composers in the 1970s are only recently beginning to achieve wide recognition in the United States; major composers in this vein include Gérard Grisey, Tristan Murail, and Claude Vivier.

Folk music: Traditional styles of music have survived most in remote areas like the island of Corsica and mountainous Auvergne, as well as the more nationalistic regions 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.

The West of France: The West of France comprises the Pays de Nantes, the provinces of Vendée, Anjou and Maine, and the Poitou-Charentes region. Traditions of ballad-singing, dance-songs and fiddle-playing have survived, predominantly in Poitou and the Vendée. Jérôme Bujeaud collected extensively in the area, and his 2-volume work "Chants et chansons populaires des provinces de l'ouest: Poitou, Saintonge, Aunis et Angoumois" (Niort, 1866) remains the principal scholarly collection of music and songs. In recent decades John Wright, Catherine Perrier and Claude Ribouillault (amongst others) have done much to collect, analyse and promote the surviving traditions.
The Marais Breton of Vendée is noted particularly for its tradition of veuze playing - which has been revived by the bagpipe-maker and player Thierry Bertrand - and for traditional singers such as Pierre Burgaud. Folk dances specific to the West of France include the courante, or maraichine, and the bal saintongeais. Bourrées in triple time have been noted in the 19th century by Bujeaud, and more recently, in Angoumois. Circle- or chain-dances accompanied by caller-and-response singing have been noted in the West, and also in other regions such as Gascony, Normandy and Brittany. Notable contemporary folk musicians include Christian Pacher and Claude Ribouillault (Poitou) and the group La Marienne (Vendée.)

Central France: Central France includes the regions of Auvergne, Limousin, Morvan, Nivernais, Bourbonnais and Berry. The lands are the home to a significant 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 either duple or triple meter; 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: The hurdy gurdy, or vielle-à-roue, is essentially a mechanical violin, with keys or buttons instead of a finger board. 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 Châteauroux, 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.

Basque Country: 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 based on the trikitixa (a diatonic button accordion), the txistu and tamboril (a three-holed block flute and drum), and the alboka (a double hornpipe) and it 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.

Corsica: Corsican polyphonic singing is perhaps the most unusual 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).

in character, the folk music of Lower Brittany has had perhaps the most successful revival of its traditions, partly thanks to the city of Lorient, which hosts 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. Couples 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 the 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.
In later years much has been done to collect and popularize the musical traditions of the Pays Gallo of Upper Brittany, for which the singer Bertran Ôbrée, his group Ôbrée Alie and the association DASTUM must take much credit. The songs of Upper Brittany are either in French or in Gallo. Modern Breton folk music includes 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.

Popular music: The late 1800s saw the dawn of the music hall when Yvette Guilbert was a major 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.
French popular music in the 20th century included singers like superstar Édith Piaf as well as Monique Serf (Barbara) and Georges Brassens plus the more art-house musicians like Brigitte Fontaine. Many present-day stars released their first albums in the mid-1970s and early 1980s including Francis Cabrel, Alain Souchon, Laurent Voulzy, and Jean-Jacques Goldman. More recently, the success of the Star Academy television show has spawned a new generation of young pop music stars including Jenifer Bartoli and Nolwenn Leroy; and the superstar status of diva Mylene Farmer inspired pop rock performers like Zazie, Lorie and Alizée, and R&B-influenced singers like Nadiya and Ophelie Winter.
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 found some listeners.
In particular, electronic music, as exemplified by Jean Michel Jarre, achieved a wide French audience. The French electro-pop bands Air and Daft Punk and techno artists Laurent Garnier and David Guetta found a wide audience in the late 1990s and early 2000s, both locally and internationally. Electronica groups such as Télépopmusik, Justice (french band), and M83 continue to enjoy success.
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.

French house

French house is a late 1990s form of house music, part of the 1990s and 2000s European dance music scene and the latest form of Euro disco. The genre is also known as "Disco house", "Neu-disco" (new disco) "French touch", "filter house" or "tekfunk". The early mid/late 1990s productions was notable for the "filter effect" used by artists such as Daft Punk.[1] Other productions use more mainstream vocals and samples. A part of the earlier "French house" productions, largely overlaps with modern "funky house", depending on the artist's interpretation of the bassline's depth.
Influences: French house is greatly influenced by the 1970s Euro disco and especially the short lived space disco music style (a European (mostly French) variation of Hi-NRG disco). Space disco was very popular in France, with artists like Cerrone (Supernature), Sarah Brightman (I lost my heart to a starship trooper), Space (Magic Fly) and Sheila B. Devotion (Spacer) during 1977–1979. Space disco was very similar to Hi-NRG disco and the main difference was artistic and on the fact that it was focused on Sci Fi themes. Those artistic influences and the sci fi themes, became a part of French house, and that specially shows on the music videos. The second influence was the late 70s / early 1980s P-Funk music style, and especially the George Clinton and Bootsy Collins hits of that era. The main reason for this, could be that during the early 80s, the discoteques in France use to handle P-Funk as part of USA's disco, especially after the Disco Demolition Night took place in USA. Also USA's legendary disco band Chic produced Sheila B. Devotion biggest hit, "Spacer", a milestone of the space disco style, still popular at the time (as a dancefloor memory) to most Center / Center-West Europeans. So, the local marketing did the connections and labeled P-Funk as disco for a short while. A third reason was the appearance of those P-Funk artists, which looked very "space age" and somehow looked relatives to "space disco". A third influence are the productions of Thomas Bangalter. His solo material, along with his work as a member of Daft Punk and Stardust, significantly impacted the French house scene during the mid-to-late nineties. MCM Europe was the first TV channel that promote French house to the rest of Europe during that time. For the years 2000–2002, French house became the main addition of MTV France's "Party Zone". After 2001 M6 and M6music also aired many French house videos.

Timeline: The first French house experiments (at the time called "disco house" and "neu disco") became notable in the international market between 1997 - 1999. Daft Punk, Stardust and Cassius were the first international successful artists of the genre and their videos show their "space disco" roots. The mass international commercial success of the genre started in 2000 because of artists like Bob Sinclar, Etienne de Crécy and Modjo. Galleon followed the next year. Today most French house bands and artists have moved on to other music styles, notably a French variation of electro, that is danced on the milky way/Tecktonik style.

Terms, origins and variations: The term "French house" first used on MTV UK & Ireland during the Christmas holiday period of 1999. It used on an MTV News special, to describe a so called "French house explosion" phenomena. Bob Sinclar was interviewed, as well as Air and Cassius. That news special later aired on all the MTV local variations worldwide, spreading the term and introducing the "French house" sound to the mainstream.
Prior to that (1996 - 2000), "French house" was known to the Europeans as "neu disco", "disco house" and "new disco". One of the biggest markets for neu disco at the time, was Greece and especially Athens. A local music shop called Discobole Records imported the records direct from France and middle class clubs like City Groove dedicated totally to the genre between 1998 and 2001. In Greece this music style was promoted as "disco house". At the same time, disco house began to gain success in Canada. During 1999 many events also took place on Spain's Ibiza, a very popular destination for British tourists. French house always had two very close music flavors: The dominate one, is what the French still refers as "the French touch" and it is the style that greatly influenced by the 70s space disco. The second one, is more close to pure Euro disco and greatly influenced by the 70s productions of Alec R. Costandinos. During 2002, those two flavors split. French house remained faithful to the established "French touch" sound, focused more on Euro disco-like vocals and calm down the "space disco" themes. The last tribute on the space disco genre, is Bob Sinclar's 2006 megahit "World, Hold On (Children of the Sky)", which had a video based on a science fiction theme. Space disco influenced productions continued during 2007, but with local only success. Disco house grew to a "heavy" instrumental version of French house. After the split, very quickly became a "gay" music style, very popular on Greek Islands like Myconos, Lesbos, Zakinthos and Lefkada. On Ibiza, disco house took later another direction: It combined vocals and some elements from the UK's speed garage (a mid 90s music style) with a local latin flavor. On 2007, many underground disco house productions belonged to this Ibiza school.

French house influenced Benny Benassi for the creation of his "tek-house" music style (also known as "pumping house"). That short lived music style became very popular during 2002–2004 in condinental Europe, with artists such Benassi Bros., Royal Gigolos and Shana Vanguarde. During 2007, a crossover of tek house and French house appeared in the French market, with limited success (promoted mostly through the M6Music music channel, W9 and NRJ Music). Most of those hits end up remixed in a 2000s electro to reach mainstream audiences, mostly of the new established dance music style called "Tecktonik"


At the end of World War ll, French musicians were becoming wildly experimental and diverse. Popular musicians from the era included romantics like Édith 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 widely renowned as one of the best French popular composers of all time. Their works known as "chanson française" refer to French popular music from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s performed by the singers and songwriters mentioned above and others such as Georges Moustaki and Yves Montand. Sometimes unjustly associated with the past, such as is the music from American golden age musicals, Spanish Zarzuelas and Italian operettas, the French popular songs are nevertheless today still part of a dynamic French social movement which has for centuries – since the French revolution – moved audiences with elegant and often poetic lyrics combined with realism around social themes, spirituality and love. The most widely recognized songs such as “Non, Je ne regrette rien"; "Ne me quitte pas" or "Les feuilles mortes" have dignified successors today in diverse genres such as rap, jazz, electronic music or pop. In the 1950s, Elvis Presley and rock and roll made inroads in the French music scene. It produced stars like Johnny Hallyday, Richard Anthony, 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 Françoise 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. 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. Later came bands such as Magma, Martin Circus, Au Bonheur des Dames, Trust, Téléphone, Indochine, Noir Désir, and musicians Marcel Dadi, Paul Personne, Jean Pierre Danel, Bireli Lagrene, etc. In the early 70s, Breton musician Alan Stivell (Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique) launched the field of French folk-rock by combining psychedelic and progressive rock sounds with Breton and Celtic folk styles.

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.

1980s: 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 and punk rock (Bérurier Noir, 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
Hip hop music 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 stars were Suprême NTM, IAM and MC Solaar, whose 1991 Qui Sème le Vent Récolte le Tempo, was a major hit.

The African culture has been brought into France via music, particularly rap and hip-hop. Soundtracks in France are often altered by computers to create accurate imitations of African sounds and instruments. These instruments include the kora, balafon, ngoni, derbuka, djembe, gwoka drums, and bélé drums. While these traditional instruments are used, modern rhythms and beats are created from them.[3] French music is influenced by the African "jungle beat", which is the more traditional African sound. It brings a natural rhythm that is difficult to copy without the help of French technology and computer programs.

France has long had a large Algerian minority, a legacy of colonial domination of that country. Beginning in the 1920s rai developed in Algeria as a combination of rural and urban music. Often viewed as a form of resistance towards censorship, many of the conventional values of the old rai became modernized with instruments, synthesizers and modern equipment. 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. This time was when the music started getting popular among the Maghrebi populace of France. 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. Rai continues to be an identity marker, and aided with the creation of the Arab identity in France. Social and economic problems continue in the banlieus of France, and thus, the verlan slang music will continue. Rai as a musical form has tonal differences that go up and down, and has adopted beats that sound like pop. Much of the music is sung in Arabic, and differ depending on the country where it has immigrated. In France, a majority of rai music is a mixture Arabic and verlan French.


1. village voice > music > Daft Punk by Scott Woods

2. Suzanne Ely, "Return of the Cybermen" Mixmag, July 2006, pp. 94-98.

3. Helenon, Veronique. “Africa on Their Mind: Rap, Blackness, and Citizenship in France.” In The Vinyl Ain’t Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture, ed. by Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle, 151-66. London; Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Pres

4. CNN - WorldBeat Interviews - Les Nubians: The French-African beat grows stronger - May 10, 1999

5. Gross, Joan, David McMurray, and Ted Swedenburg. "Arab Noise and Ramadan Nights: Rai, Rap, and Franco-Maghrebi Identities." Diaspora 3:1 (1994): 3- 39. [Reprinted in The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader, ed. by Jonathan Xavier and Renato Rosaldo, 1

6. Rai Music 101 - Introduction To Rai Music - What is Rai Music

  • 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


Post a Comment