Alan Stivell (born Alan Cochevelou January 6, 1944) is a Breton musician and singer, recording artist and master of the Celtic harp who from the early 1970s revived global interest in the Celtic (specifically Breton) harp and Celtic music as part of world music.
Background: learning Breton music and culture
Alan was born in the Auvergnat town of Riom. His father Georges (Jord in Breton) Cochevelou was a civil servant in the French Ministry of Finance who achieved his dream of recreating a Celtic or Breton harp in the small town of Gourin, Brittany. In 1953, Alan began playing the instrument at the age of nine under the tutelage of his father and Denise Megevand, a concert harpist. Alan also learned Celtic mythology, art and history as well as the Breton language, traditional Breton dance and the Scottish bagpipe and the bombarde, a traditional Breton instrument, from the oboe family. Alan began playing concerts at eleven years and studying traditional Breton, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh folk music, also learning the drum, Irish flute, and tin whistle. He competed in and won several Breton traditional music competitions in the Bleimor Pipe band. Alan spent his childhood in Paris, with its cosmopolitan influences from France, Algeria, Morocco and elsewhere. But he fell in love with Breton music and Celtic culture in general, and often went back in his teens to Brittany.
Alan's first recording came in 1960 ("Musique gaelique"), a single that was followed by the LP Telenn Geltiek in 1964. He already recorded solo harp and harp backing singers in 1959 with Breiz ma bro ("Brittany my country") and a Mouez Breiz EP ("Voice of Brittany") with the female singer Andrea Ar Gouilh. His stage name, "Stivell", means "fountain" or "spring" in Breton. This name refers both to the Breton renewal and to his surname "Cochevelou" (an evolution of kozh stivelloù, "the old fountains").
Stivell and the Celtic harp revival
With a new bardic harp with bronze strings, Stivell began experimenting with modernized styles of music known as Celtic rock. In 1966, Alan Stivell began to perform and record as a singer. The following year, he was signed by Philips (Universal). This was during the birth of the New Breton and Celtic music movement. In 1968, after two years of touring and regular appearances at the American Students and Artists Center in Paris, Alan joined the Moody Blues onstage to perform in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.
In 1970, Stivell released his first hits, the single "Broceliande" and the album "Reflets", both on the Philips record label. He became closely associated with the burgeoning Breton roots revival, especially after the release of the purely instrumental 1971 album Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, which won one of the most famous awards in France, the prize of the Académie Charles Cros.
The music critic Bruce Elder wrote of the album Renaissance of the Celtic Harp:
People who hear this record are never the same again. Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, one of the most beautiful and haunting records ever made by anybody, introduced the Celtic harp to many thousands of listeners around the world. To call this music gorgeous and ravishing would be the height of understatement—indeed, there aren't words in the English language to describe this record adequately. The opening work, 'Ys', is a piece inspired by the legend of the fifth century capital of the kingdom of Cornwall, (most versions of the legend place the city in the Douarnenez Bay on the coast of Brittany), [said to have been] engulfed by a flood as punishment for its sins. (Debussy wrote one of his finest works, "The Engulfed Cathedral," later adapted by the group Renaissance into "The Harbor" on Ashes Are Burning, based on the same legend). The reflective "Marv Pontkellec" is every bit as sublimely beautiful, but the highlight of this record is "Gaeltacht," a 19-minute musical journey by Stivell's harp across the Gaelic lands of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.
On 28 February 1972 Stivell performed a concert in the Olympia theater, the most famous music hall in Paris, where Alan and his band played music combining traditional Celtic music with modern sounds (electric guitar, drums, etc.). This concert made Stivell and his music well known throughout France. At this time, Stivell's eclectic approach to music was very new and was considered risky, but it soon became popular. Over 1,500,000 records of that concert ("A l'Olympia") were sold. Alan Stivell's newfound fame propelled him to tour across France, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. He continued recording, and published a collection of Breton poetry in 1976. With his 1980 Symphonie Celtique, he mixed for the first time elements of rock, a symphonic orchestra, Celtic instruments and such non-European ethnic elements as Berber vocalist Djourha and sitarist Narendra Bataju.
The folk music revival faded somewhat in the 1980s. Though Alan Stivell still maintained a popular following, he did not reach the heights of popularity that he had in the 1970s. He continued touring in many parts of the world and recording for a loyal fanbase. He also worked with the English singer Kate Bush.
Celtic music and world music
In the 1990s, Alan recorded with the French singer Laurent Voulzy, Irish traditional performer Shane MacGowan and Senegalese singer Doudou N'Diaye Rose. The album was Again, and it became very popular in France, the beginning of a Celtic new wave. Stivell's records in the late 1990s contained more pronounced rock elements, and he performed at a rock festival called Transmusicales in Rennes. He continued working with a variety of musicians, inviting Paddy Moloney (of The Chieftains), Jim Kerr (of Simple Minds), Khaled and Youssou N'Dour to be in his very international 1 Douar / 1 Earth album.
The 1998 French-language hit "La Tribu de Dana" by rap trio Manau, one of the best-selling French singles of all time, featured a very similar melody to Stivell's "Tri Martolod". Although Stivell sued Manau for the unauthorised sampling, the group claimed that they had modified the original sufficiently, through the addition of lyrics and other changes, to avoid any charges of plagiarism.
Alan's album Again in 1993 was the base for a new wave of his popularity, especially in France and Brittany. Other albums received good critical reviews, such as Brian Boru or 1 Douar ("1 Earth"). In 2002, Alan Stivell released Au-delà des mots ("Beyond Words"), his twenty-first LP. The album featured him playing six different harps, specially dedicated to the Celtic Harp Revival's 50th anniversary.
In 2004, a DVD, Parcours was published by Fox-Pathé. The same year, he wrote a book on the Celtic harp in collaboration with Jean-Noël Verdier: Telenn, la harpe bretonne ("Telenn, the Breton harp").
In 2006, a new CD called Explore came out in France and other countries, distributed through Harmonia Mundi. This album demonstrates that Stivell is still a leading artist, exploring fusions of Celtic music with electro-rock, raga, hip-hop, etc. with a unique and personal vocal style and a very interesting and original mix of lyrics in Breton, English and French.
Music critic Bruce Elder has stated: "[Alan Stivell's] harp recordings, with their enveloping lyricism and tightly interwoven patterns of variations, can appeal to more serious listeners of new age music. Stivell's main audience, however, lies with fans of Celtic music and culture, and English folk music. Embracing ancient and modern elements, but (apart from his folk-rock work) making no compromises to modern melodic sensibilities, his music captures the mystery and strangeness of Breton, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish landscapes that are both ageless and timeless. It is haunting, mysterious, and beautiful, with no equivalent in modern popular music and few peers in the realm of commercial folk music."
In a series of interviews in a book called Racines interdites ("Forbidden Roots"), Stivell discusses questions about the Breton language, history and geography, as well as his utopian vision of a world living in meditative harmony with nature. It contains lyrics for 17 of Stivell's songs in the back: "Gwriziad difennet," "Reflets," "Broceliande," "The Wind of Keltia," "Je suis né au milieu de la mer," "An Alarc'h," "The Foggy Dew," "Pardon Spezed," "Brezhoneg' raok," "Delivrance," "Digor eo an hent," "Hommes liges des talus en transes," "Ar Gelted kozh," "Rouantelezh Vreizh," "Dugelezh Vreizh," "Emsawadegou," "Fin an naontegwed katwed," "Eil lodenn an ugentwed kantwed," "Da Ewan," and "Naw Breton 'ba' prizon."
Traditional and modern music
vocals and tin whistle
Original (studio & live) albums
- #01 Telenn Geltiek / Harpe celtique (1964) (studio #01 / instrumental #01)
- #02 Reflets / Reflections (1970) (studio #02)
- #03 Renaissance of the Celtic Harp (1971) (studio #03 / instrumental #02)
- #04 À l'Olympia - Olympia Concert (1972) (live #01)
- #05 Chemins de terre / From Celtic Roots / Celtic Rock (1973) (studio #04)
- #06 E Langonned / À Langonnet (1974) (studio #05)
- #07 E Dulenn / À Dublin / Live In Dublin (1975) (live #02)
- #08 Trema'n inis / Vers l'Île (1976) (studio #06)
- #09 Raok Dilestra / Avant d'accoster / Before Landing (1977) (studio #07)
- #10 Un dewezh 'barzh 'gêr / Journée à la maison / A Homecoming (1978) (studio #08)
- #11 International Tour / Tro ar Bed (1979) (live #03)
- #12 Symphonie Celtique (Tir Na N-Og) / Celtic Symphony (1979) (studio #09)
- #13 Terre des vivants / Bed an dud (1981) (studio #10)
- #14 Légende / Legend / Mojenn (1983) (studio #11)
- #15 Harpes of The New Age / Harpes du Nouvel Âge / Telenn a' Skuilh-dour (1985) (studio #12 / instrumental #03)
- #16 The Mist Of Avalon (1991) (studio #13)
- #17 Again (1993) (studio re-recordings with other artists in duet)
- #18 Brian Boru (1995) (studio #14)
- #19 1 Douar / 1 Earth (1998) (studio #15)
- #20 Back To Breizh (1999) (studio #16)
- #21 Au-delà des mots (En tu-hont d'ar c'homzoù - Beyond words) (2002) (studio #17 / instrumental #04)
- #22 Explore (2006) (studio #18)
- #23 Emerald (2009) (studio #19)
- #24 [next album] (2013) (studio #20)
A l'Olympia and In Dublin were actually recorded live, but featured only new tracks never released previously.
- Grand Succès d'Alan Stivell (1975)
- 70/95 Zoom (1997) - Disques Dreyfus (2CD compilation 1970~1995, 35 tracks)
- Routes (1997) - Disques Dreyfus (4CD boxset / 73 tracks / 32-pages booklet)
- Vers l'île (1999) - Universal Music Group (3CD "Long Box" / 30 titres / booklet)
- Ar Pep Gwellañ (Le best of) (2012) - Universal Music Group (CD best-of including a bonus CD of the remastered recording of the 1972 "Olympia" concert)
- Bruce Elder, Alan Stivell Biography. All Music Guide http://new.music.yahoo.com/alan-stivell/biography/ (last accessed 15 July 2009)
- JT Koch (ed). Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopaedia ABC-CLIO 2006 pp 1627-1628
- Bruce Elder, Alan Stivell Biography. All Music Guide http://new.music.yahoo.com/alan-stivell/biography/ (last accessed 15 July 2009
- RFI Music. Alan Stivell. Biography. RFI Music. http://www.rfimusique.com/siteen/biographie/biographie_6138.asp (last accessed 15 July 2009)
- JT Koch (ed). Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopaedia ABC-CLIO 2006 pp 1627-1628.
- Bruce Elder. All Music Guide, http://www.answers.com/topic/renaissance-of-the-celtic-harp (last accessed 15 July 2009)
- Guyot, Charles. The Legend of the City of Ys, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.
- Stephen D. Winick Breton Folk Music, Breton Identity, and Alan Stivell's Again.The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 108, No. 429 (Summer, 1995), pp. 334-354 http://www.jstor.org/stable/541889 (last accessed 15 July 2009)
- Alain Stivell and Jean-Noël Verdier. Telenn, la harpe bretonne. Le Télégramme 2004 ISBN 2-84833-078-3 ISBN 978-2848330785
- Jim Chokey. Discography. Alan Stivell. http://www.ceolas.org/artists/Stivell.html (last accessed 15 July 2009)
- Alan Stivell. Racines interdites. Interviews conducted by Jacques Erwan and Marc Legras Musiques et Musiciens series 1978
- Site officiel d'Alan Stivell / Forum / Post "La Hargne au Cœur" : question de ascott22730 du 29/04/2012 et réponse d'Alan du 30/04/2012
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Alan Stivell|
- Alan Stivell (English, Breton and French language)
- Alan Stivell's blog
- Biography until 1995
- Album track listings
- Harpographie (French language and Breton language)
- Alan Stivell at discogs.com
- Alan Stivell at Rate Your Music.com
- Alan Stivell in concert in Asti, Italy, July 16th 2012