Botrel in traditional Breton costume
|Born||14 September 1868|
Dinan, Brittany, France.
|Died|| 28 July 1925 56) (aged|
Pont-Aven, Brittany, France.
|Occupation(s)||Singer-songwriter, playwright, poet|
Jean-Baptiste-Théodore-Marie Botrel (14 September 1868 – 28 July 1925) was a French singer-songwriter, poet and playwright. He is best known for his popular songs about his native Brittany, of which the most famous is La Paimpolaise. During World War I he became France's official "Bard of the Armies".
Singer-songwriters are musicians who write, compose, and perform their own musical material, including lyrics and melodies.
Brittany is a cultural region in the northwest of France, covering the western part of what was known as Armorica during the period of Roman occupation. It became an independent kingdom and then a duchy before being united with the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province governed as if it were a separate nation under the crown.
World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.
Born in Dinan, Botrel was the son of a blacksmith. He was left with his grandmother in Saint-Méen-le-Grand as a child, since his parents had moved to Paris. He joined them in the capital at the age of seven. His native language was the Gallo dialect, though almost all his songs are in standard French, and he learned the Breton language later in life.
Dinan is a walled Breton town and a commune in the Côtes-d'Armor department in northwestern France. On 1 January 2018, the former commune of Léhon was merged into Dinan.
Saint-Méen-le-Grand is a commune in the Ille-et-Vilaine department in Brittany in northwestern France.
Gallo is a regional language of France. It is not as commonly spoken as it once was, as the standard form of French now predominates. Gallo is classified as one of the Oïl languages.
As a teenager he became involved in amateur theatricals, performing on stage in plays, and writing songs. His first published song Le Petit Biniou (The Little Bagpipe) was not a success.
Botrel shelved his theatrical ambitions, joining the army for five years and then working as a clerk for the Paris-Lyon-Marseille railway company. He continued to appear on stage and to write and perform songs. In 1891 he met and married singer Hélène Lugton, known as Léna.
The Compagnie des chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée was a French railway company.
One evening in 1895, standing in for another act, he performed his song La Paimpolaise (The Paimpol Girl) to great acclaim from the audience, launching himself as a popular singer. La Paimpolaise became his signature song - a lilting ballad about the quaint charms of the fishing village of Paimpol and its people. In fact Botrel only visited Paimpol in 1897, after he wrote the song. The song's refrain "J'aime Paimpol et sa falaise" (I love Paimpol and its cliff) was apparently chosen because 'falaise' rhymes with 'Paimpolaise'. It has often been noted that there is no cliff in the town.Nevertheless the nearby Pointe de Guiben has been marketed as the cliff described in the song. The choice of Paimpol probably derived from the popularity of Pierre Loti's recent novel Pêcheur d'Islande , which is set in the town. The song was a central feature of the repertoire of Félix Mayol until his death in 1941. Mayol also showcased many of Botrel's later songs.
Paimpol is a commune in the Côtes-d'Armor department in Brittany in northwest France.
Pierre Loti was a French naval officer and novelist, known for his exotic novels and short stories.
Félix Mayol was a French singer and entertainer.
La Paimpolaise inspired a number of other sentimental songs which idealised Breton towns and regions. In Jésus chez les bretons (Jesus Among the Bretons) he implies that the second coming will be in Brittany.
Botrel attracted the attention of Caran d'Ache and the intellectual coterie associated with the Le Chat Noir club, though he most often performed at the rival Le Chien-Noir club. With the support of Parisian intellectuals a collection of Botrel's songs was published as Chansons de chez nous (Songs Bretonnes) in 1898, with a preface by the Breton folklorist Anatole Le Braz.The book was highly praised and was awarded a prize by the Académie française. Edmond Rostand wrote, "Botrel’s adorable verses make the broom-flowers sprout when one sings them". François Coppée said "While I read Botrel's verses...I compare myself to a sick man dragging his walking stick along the suburb of a city and stopping now and then to listen to the young voices of the children singing. Ah, Botrel's voice is high and true and clear!."
Caran d'Ache was the pseudonym of the 19th century French satirist and political cartoonist Emmanuel Poiré. "Caran d'Ache" comes from the Russian word karandash (карандаш), meaning pencil. While his first work glorified the Napoleonic era, he went on to create "stories without words" and as a contributor to newspapers such as the Le Figaro, he is sometimes hailed as one of the precursors of comic strips. The Swiss art products company Caran d'Ache is named after him.
Le Chat Noir was a nineteenth-century entertainment establishment, in the bohemian Montmartre district of Paris. It opened on 18 November 1881 at 84 Boulevard de Rochechouart by the impresario Rodolphe Salis, and closed in 1897 not long after Salis' death.
Anatole le Braz, the "Bard of Brittany", was a Breton poet, folklore collector and translator. He was highly regarded amongst both European and American scholars, and known for his warmth and charm.
Botrel gave up his day job to become a professional singer-songwriter. When not performing in Paris, he lived in Brittany, initially taking a house in Port-Blanc, then moving permanently to Pont-Aven. He edited the journal of popular verse La Bonne Chanson and in 1905 founded the Fête des Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower festival) in Pont-Aven, the first of the music festivals that have since become common in Brittany. In 1909 he established a permanent monument to Breton writer Auguste Brizeux in Pont-Aven.
In addition to songwriting, Botrel tried his hand at drama, writing and performing in a number of plays, including an original Sherlock Holmes story, Le Mystere de Kéravel, in which the detective solves a murder while travelling incognito in Brittany.
His wife Léna often sang duets with him, and regularly appeared in publicity images with him in traditional Breton costume (though in fact she was from Luxembourg). She also co-wrote some songs. Botrel's friend Émile Hamonic created number of photographic tableaux representing the scenes and stories of his songs and plays, which were widely sold and circulated as postcards with Botrel's signature.Botrel, Léna and friends including François Jaffrennou often played the roles.
Botrel also became involved in the burgeoning Pan-Celticist movement. In 1904 he and Léna attended the Pan-Celtic Congress in Caernarfon as Breton representatives.
Botrel was politically conservative, a Royalist and a devout Roman Catholic. Many of his later songs celebrated these values, and appealed to popular patriotism. The song Le Mouchoir rouge de Cholet (The Red Handkerchief of Cholet) is about a soldier in the Chouannerie, the Royalist Catholic rebellion against the French Revolution, who buys the handkerchief for his girl. It inspired a local manufacturer to create red Cholet handkerchiefs, the popularity of which boosted the local textile industry.
Botrel was an enthusiastic supporter of the French cause in World War I. Turned down for service in the French army because of his age, he attempted to enlist with Belgian forces, but was again rejected. He decided to work for the war effort by writing and performing patriotic songs.
He had already published a collection of military songs before the war in 1912 as "Coups de Clairon". A British writer noted "It is a noble work, and one cannot think of another poet, here or in France, so abundantly equipped for its performance. Botrel has no counterpart in Britain, so it were vain to seek comparisons."
After his rejection for military service Botrel started a monthly publication entitled Les chants du Bivouac containing songs for the soldiers. In 1915 he was appointed as official "Chansonnier des Armées", or "Bard of the Armies". According to the New York Times he was authorised by the Minister of War "to enter all military depots, camps and hospitals for the purpose of reciting and singing his patriotic poems."He travelled throughout the front line performing to the troops. The patriotic songs were also published as poems for a children's book promoting the war effort, Les Livres Rose pour la Jeunesse. Botrel's most famous wartime songs were Rosalie (the nickname of the French bayonet) and Ma P'tite Mimi (about a machine-gun). The latter was revived by Pierre Desproges in the 1980s.
At this time some of his lyrics were translated into English by G.E. Morrison and Edgar Preston as Songs of Brittany.
Botrel's wife Léna died in 1916. In 1918 he remarried, to Marie-Elisabeth Schreiber, known as Maïlise. He had two daughters with her, the elder of whom, named Léna after his first wife, married the writer Emile Danoën. The younger, Janick, was the mother of the singer Renaud Detressan.
Botrel died in 1925. His incomplete autobiography, souvenirs d'un barde errant, was published after his death. His daughter Léna later wrote extra chapters to complete the story of his life. A monument to him was erected in Paimpol designed by Pierre Lenoir. It shows the Paimpolaise gazing out to sea from the imaginary cliff.There is also a statue of him in Pont-Aven.
Unable to write music, Botrel could only publish his work by singing the tune to a professional musician who would write it down. Initially he was denied credit for the melody of his most famous song when the transcriber Eugène Feautrier asserted that he was the "author" of the music. Another claimed credit as "arranger". Botrel was advised by specialists at the Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique that "from the moment you yourself compose the melody, even if you dictate it to a musician you remain the sole author of your chanson."From that point on he insisted on sole credit, but this produced some resentment from musicians who believed their contributions were being denied. It was also objected that songs and arrangements that were essentially in the style of modern Parisian chanson were being marketed as "Breton" music. Botrel and Léna also made a number of recordings.
Xavier Grall (1930–1981) was a journalist and poet from Brittany, France who was a strong advocate of Breton nationalism during the Third Emsav. His work glorifies a mystical Brittany.
Barzaz Breiz is a collection of Breton popular songs collected by Théodore Hersart de la Villemarqué and published in 1839. It was compiled from oral tradition and preserves traditional folk tales, legends and music. Hersart de la Villemarqué grew up in the manor of Plessix in Nizon, near Pont-Aven, and was half Breton himself.
Pont-Aven Breton:'River Bridge' is a commune in the Finistère department of Brittany in northwestern France.
Julien Auguste Pélage Brizeux was a French poet. He was said to belong to a family of Irish origin, long settled in Brittany. He was educated for the law, but in 1827 he produced at the Théâtre Français a one-act verse comedy, Racine, in collaboration with Philippe Busoni.
Pont-Aven School encompasses works of art influenced by Pont-Aven and its surroundings. Originally the term applied to works created in the artists' colony at Pont-Aven which started to emerge in the 1850s and lasted until the beginning of the 20th century. Many of the artists were inspired by the works of Paul Gauguin who spent extended periods in the area in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Their work is frequently characterised by the bold use of pure colour and their Symbolist choice of subject matter.
Camille Le Mercier d'Erm was a French poet, historian and Breton nationalist. He later adopted the neo-Bardic name Kammermor. He is also known as Kamil Ar Merser 'Erm, the Breton language form of his name. His work as a poet and historian is marked by nationalist claims and calls to rebellion against the French state on the model of Irish nationalism.
Émile Durand was a French musical theorist, teacher and composer. He was better known for his theoretical writings than for his compositions.
Charles Filiger was a French Symbolist painter. He was one of the artists who associated with Gauguin at Pont-Aven in Brittany.
Henry Moret was a French Impressionist painter. He was one of the artists who associated with Paul Gauguin at Pont-Aven in Brittany. He is best known for his involvement in the Pont-Aven artist colony and his richly colored landscapes of coastal Brittany.
Henri Delavallée was a French Post-Impressionist painter who became a member of the artists colony in Pont-Aven.
Émile Eugène Louis Hamonic (1861–1943) was a French photographer and publisher, associated with the picture-postcard boom of the early 20th century. He established himself as a publisher of picture postcards in Saint-Brieuc in 1893, becoming one of the first great editors of this genre.
The Flageolet Player on the Cliff is an 1889 oil painting by French artist Paul Gauguin, located in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which is in Indianapolis, Indiana. It depicts a Breton couple on a narrow path precipitously overlooking the Atlantic.
Cookies is a French drama film directed by Joël Séria.
Louis Henri Nicot was a French sculptor born in Rennes on 12 February 1878 and who died In Paris 1944.
Pierre Lenoir was a French sculptor born in Paris on 23 May 1879 and who died In Paris on 9 September 1953.
Achille Granchi-Taylor was a French painter and illustrator.