There is a problem almost as insoluble as to know who of some egg or the hen appeared the first : where was born the first hurdy-gurdy ? Somebody would like it to be born in Auvergne or in Limousin, the others see it in Spain or in the East. In every case, a thing is sure - without wanting to offend anybody - Bretagne was not its cradle. But even there attention and in falses ideas strengthened notably by the current fashion of the Celtic music, it is not because one sees mostly the inhabitants of this magnificent region playing the biniou or of bombards it that the hurdy-gurdy is not strongly registered in their musical patrimony.
According to various searches on the tracks of the hurdy-gurdy in Bretagne, it is very difficult to say if it was present in this region before the French Revolution. It is necessary to wait for 1830's really to find hurdy-gurdies, especially in half the North.
They are flat, in shape of guitar ("ancestral" shape), of small size, not still of local invoices but from the workshops of lutherie of Mirecourt or Jenzat. With round hurdy-gurdies, they are not majority in these years.
It is only from second half of the 19-th century that the instrument begins really to be necessary. In this time the hurdy-gurdy erves essentially for dancing, with however a particularity with regard to the other French parts of the country : it is accompanied by the song of vielleux.
From an organologic point of view, the instrument also possesses some local characteristics :
The custom of the hurdy-gurdy develops mainly in the North Bretagne, in the region of Saint Brieuc and Lamballe - where the densities of vielleux are the strongest. One finds it accompanied with the violin, with the clarinet, of bombard it or of the biniou, the other very present instruments and of which game was not without influencing that of the hurdy-gurdy. Where from maybe there also a certain particularity, which holds in the complexity and the variety of ornamentations, as well as in the wealth of the knocks of giving rhythm wrists passepieds, circles (ronds), balancières or avant-deux. Among the bosses vielleux of time, let us quote Villedieu, Gouret, Ruellan.
As in many of the other regions, First World War will mark here also a bend in the History of the instrument. Mentalities and tastes are going to change, and the accordion is there !!! Then what 14-18 will not have managed to destroy, 39-45 will finish it. What was "the common life" is henceforth transformed and classified in "Folklore", way of arranging business in the immense attic of past. While in certain 1930 countries of Bretagne count as much of vielleux as Berry, the disappearance of the instrument is almost total in 1950. Victor Gautier, Louis Gouret or Adrien Cardin in front of processions of maried were more and more few.
And later ?
And later? As a little everywhere in France, the hurdy-gurdy is going to take advantage of the revival of the 70's to redo its appearance, without for all that finding its popularity and its position of formerly. It is a fight of all days to manage to recognize the appropriate identity, especially in front of the omnipresence of the Scottish bagpipe. This long-term job will carry its fruits by opening more borders. Everything this grace of the passionate persons as those of the association of "Vielleux of Bretagen" based by Jean Guihard and Simone Morand, without forgetting groups as the Chiens Jaunes, and the stringed-instrument makers such Bernard Kerboeuf or Jean Quémart.
Map - Top of the page - French version