Bella Louison (Book-CD)

Chansons traditionnelles en Haute-Savoie
100 ans de collectes, de Servettaz nos jours
by Guillaume Veillet

Terres d'Empreintes.  Hardback, 64 pages.  No ISBN.

1. C'etait un petit ramoneur;  2. Nous etions trop heureux mon amie ou Les adieux suisses;  3. Temoignage : On a appris avec les parents...;  4. Adieu ma charmante blonde;  5. Quadrille des conscrits de Groisy;  6. Temoignage : J'ai encore fait Ie conscrit...;  7. Le tambour bat, z'il nous rappelle;  8. Je me suis engage ou Le deserteur;  9. Trois jeunes soldats revenant de guerre;  10. Un vieux soldat revenant de la guerre;  11. Chere Eugenie tu dors bien a ton aise;  12. Temoignage : Bella Louison, chant de moisson;  13. Bon Jour Sylvie;  14. La jeune Sylvie;  15. Les vrais Savoyards sont de bons lurons;  16. jour mon pere me mit z'en tete de m'y marier;  17. Ma femme me gronde;  18. Le Bounyete ou Les bougnettes;  19. La-haut sur la montagne y a un joli moulin;  20. J'entends ma Lisette;  21. Gorson tek y a dyan la via ou Louz'amouereu;  22. Temoignage : J'ai assiste a un charivari...;  23. M'y voila rille d'un certain age;  24. Par un beau clair de lune;  25. Temoignage : Henriette et Damon et Le juif errant;  26. Si I'amour avait des ailes ou Petit papillon volage;  27. Ou allez-vous la belle ou Le garcon jardinier;  28. En revenant de noces ou La claire fontaine;  29. Temoignage : Mon papa, il est ne a Bellevaux... et Berceuse;  30. Suite de rondes enfantines;  31. Dans une prairie, je me suis endormie ou La religieuse;  32. Entre Paris, pres de Lyon ou La fille de Lyon;  33. La Youyette;  34. Lo vepre(o) d'Etarshi ou Les vepres d'Etercy;  35. Nutron bon re de Sardenye ou La chanson du roi de Sardaigne;  36. Reveille-toi peuple endormi ou La complainte de la Passion.    Total: 71:45
Cover picture I suspect that this book and CD may be seen as an addendum to Guillaume Veillet's 10-CD Box Set, France: Une Anthologie des Musiques Traditionelles, released in 2010 and reviewed in these pages.  CD 7 of that Set, Alpes, Nord et Est, Contained only one track from Haute-Savoie, so this release should be seen as a welcome addition.

The book is in French - but one page is in English.  Since I don't read French, it's probably best if I reproduce that page here, slightly edited:


This book was released to celebrate an anniversary.  A hundred years ago, in 1910, song collector Claudius Servettaz (1871-1926) released his book Chants & chansons de la Savoie, which contains hundreds of songs.  Of course, at the time, Servettaz did not have any kind of recording equipment.  Thus we felt it would be interesting to compile a 'sound version' of Servettaz's work.  The CD features songs recorded by other song collectors in the villages visited by Servettaz, several decades after his research.  The oldest recording dates back to 1966, and the most recent was made in 2005.  Out of the thirty-six recordings featuring on this CD, twenty-two were made by one man, the most prominent song collector in modern-day Savoy; Jean-Marc Jacquier (born in 1949) who is also a musician with his band La Kinkerne.

Since the annexation to France, the old Duchy of Savoy has been cut into two French departements which share the same history and the same musical culture; Savoie and Haute-Savoie.  However, we chose to include recordings from Haute-Savoie only, because Servettaz never collected songs in Savoie.

The French departement of Haute-Savoie (Upper Savoy) is renowned for the beauty of its alpine landscape.  Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, has been attracting tourists for more than two centuries.  Lake Annecy and Lake Geneva (at the Swiss border) also welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.  The intangible heritage of the area is less known.  Other French regions (Brittany, Auvergne, etc.) have been promoting their local music for decades and there, many historical field recordings are available on CD.  In Haute-Savoie, until now, very little had been published.  Therefore this anthology is a first.

The old Duchy of Savoy has only been French for 150 years; it was annexed by Napoleon III in 1860.  The area had been part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia which was to join (without Savoy) the newly-created Italian state in 1861.  Savoy has never spoken Italian, though.  French has been the official language in the area since the 15th century (about a hundred years before France itself).  Savoyards spoke French at church or when addressing officials, but in their everyday life, they spoke a local language called francoprovencal, which can also be found in Lyonnais, Northern Dauphine, Southern Franche-Comte, Romandy (Switzerland), the Aosta Valley and some Piemontese valleys in Italy.

In Savoy, most traditional songs are in the French language. You will find the same songs in all areas of French culture worldwide of course (continental France, Quebec, Louisiana, etc.), in many different versions, the songs having been transmitted orally.  There are some songs in francoprovencal, which is called patois by local speakers, although they are less numerous (you will find examples on the CD on tracks 13, 18, 21, 22, 34, 35 and 36).  What is very different from the rest of France is the singing style.  As in the neighbouring Alpine regions (Switzerland, Southern Germany, Austria, Piedmont and the Aosta Valley, Slovenia ...), the Savoyards have favored polyphonic singing, which is called contrevoix locally.  There are several examples on the CD, featuring two singers (tracks 2, 9 and 31) or more (tracks 4, 8, 14, 15, 20, 32 and 36).


So, what of the CD?  Well, I'm sorry to say that it's all a bit dull.  Much of the singing is very pretty - but not very exciting.  I was really looking forward to hearing the polyphonic singing mentioned above; I adore the polyphony of the Italian mountains (only a few miles away, through the passes into Piemont and beyond), but the passion and brio you hear there doesn't seem to be reflected in much verve here.

Rod Stradling - 20.1.12

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