Les Muchards

Violette et cerise - la cornemuse en Wallonie

Arsis World AS-00-A-64006-W

The tradition of piping in the Low Countries goes back to at least 1320, though perhaps most of us will identify it more readily with the bagpipes shown in Bosch's or Breughel's pictures of peasant life and with the pipers playing at the kermesses in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Cover pictureEven in the nineteenth century, Belgian piping was still going strong, with the new Hainault bagpipes (similar to many of the French pipes in having one of the drones parallel with the chanter).

By 1940, though, the pipers were almost extinct.  Remi Dubois, who made the pipes being played on this CD, was instrumental in reviving the Belgian piping tradition; and the players, Jean-Pierre Wilmotte and Michel Massinon, have been involved with Belgian piping for years.

By now you may be feeling that I've gone into the history too much.  But the CD itself covers the whole history of Belgian piping, from a 15th century song tune (La belle se sied au pied de la tour) to manuscripts from the 18th century, the early C20 repertory, and tunes written by the two pipers.  It raises a number of issues about what 'Belgian traditional music' might be.

One definition of 'folk' or 'traditional' music is 'music passed down in an oral tradition' or music passed down through a continuous playing tradition.  However, the Belgian piping tradition (like the Swedish one) was pretty comprehensively lost; it has been rediscovered, or perhaps reinvented, by taking tunes from old manuscripts such as the Wandembrile ms found in Namur and dated 1778.  The relationship of such texts to the 'folk' tradition is sometimes complex - the Wandembrile ms, according to the liner notes, contains on tune, La berlo, which is well known to Walloon folkies.

As a recorder player I was trained on Van Eyck's Fluyten Lusthof, one of the main collections of renaissance virtuoso recorder music.  I had always regarded my 'early music' as quite separate from my 'traditional music' life until I came across two of the tunes being played on a CD of Dutch folk dance.  Art music appears to have entered and re-entered tradition at various points, so when Les Muchards take a 15th century tune out of the Namur archives, they may be acting quite 'authentically' as traditional musicians.

The sound of the band is definitely pipe-driven, with accordeon and guitar taking a subsidiary role.  The bagpipes generally duet, creating a counterpoint of two melodic lines in harmony.play Sound Clip  The band is quite sparing with its arrangements, and that austerity makes quite small changes tell; for instance, when the guitar joins the pipes half way through a set of carols from Liège. (sound clip)

There's also a preference for minor modes, particularly in the piper's self-penned tunes, which also seem to owe something to the French piping tradition.  play Sound ClipThere's a fair mix of styles on the CD, though - a quite renaissance feel to the song Jean de Nivelles, an Ardennes dance Maclotte de Coo that sounds more akin to English dance music, as well as a quite eerie tune by Michel Massinon, Non, pas mes cerises (sound clip), which plays with the discords always inherent in a drone instrument.

This is in some ways an understated CD; it doesn’t make a big impression up front and perhaps seems a little academic in presentation compared to the rockier or rawer bands around.  But I found the more I listened to it, the more I liked it - there's a lot of attention to detail, and the contrasts are more of style and atmosphere rather than dynamic or instrumentation.  Certainly if Massinon and Wilmotte are anything to go by, the Belgian piping tradition has been successfully resuscitated.

Andrea Kirkby - 9.4.02

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