Bagpipe Paintings: Album Reviews

Les Muchards: Violette & Cerise

The most fascinating thing about the album Violette & Cerise, besides the very accomplished bagpipe playing, is the fact that the music is derived entirely from sources within Wallonia, the southern half of Belgium. In a world dominated by Scottish, Irish, English, French and Spanish bagpiping, the traditions of the low countries seem to be having a harder time making it out into the public eye. This is ironic since Flemish and Dutch artists of the Middle Ages and Renaissance seemed to corner the market on depicting bagpipes in their images. It just proves that something very commonplace can be easily taken for granted and forgotten.

Luckily the album Violette & Cerise is not so commonplace and while you can hear the qualities within the music one often associates with French traditional piping, this is all Walloon, right down to the amazingly fresh originals that appear on this album. The group gets its name "Les Muchards" from a group of bagpipers in western Hainaut with early beginnings whose tradition and membership petered out in the early 20th century. Jean-Pierre Wilmotte and Michel Massinon have picked up the fallen flag and are running with it with this well- researched and well-recorded album.

4 tunes on the album are credited with being actual tunes of the Muchards, known and documented, the others have been discovered in old manuscripts from the region and form sort of a "best –guess" as to what may have been played in the early days of the bagpipe. Accompanying these groups of tunes are a number of originals composed by Wilmotte and Massinon reviving, reinventing and keeping the tradition alive.

The first two Muchards tunes start on track one in the form of a set of polkas. Together with track 14 (the other two Muchards tunes) one gets a very good sense as to what the Muchards were all about. Two polkas, a march (used during their annual gatherings) and a round dance show what a lively group of musicians these were. The arrangements used here are sparse and most probably very authentic. In the polkas, the track starts of with just the bagpipes until, halfway through the track, the pipes are joined by guitarist Jean-Pierre Lombet and accordion played by Christian D'Huyvetter. The ironic thing about this track is that the accordion is one instrument associated with the downfall of the Muchards and now it is being used on a CD of Muchards music in a very subservient role. A bit of humor on their part?

My interest, I must admit, is in building up my own repertoire of traditional music with which to play on my own pipes in G. I've wanted to find traditional music from Belgium to supplement the many French Breton an dros and bransles that many musicians of the G pipes find to be the most prevalent source of tunes. I wanted my Brueghel replica bagpipes to play the music Brueghel heard while painting his many peasant scenes and kermises. While I have definitely found that source in this album, I'll admit that the first tunes I'll be learning are the new tunes written by Wilmotte and Massinon. They are quirky and fun from the tune "Non, pas me cerise's" by Massinon to the polka "La violette", by Wilmotte, these tunes show that these two pipers are not simply regurgitators of history they are active participants. The device Wilmotte uses on "La Teteche," while novel on any other instrument is fresh and exciting and an interesting play on the properties of the bagpipe. On track 5, Wilmotte interacts with history and builds upon it with the tune "Les beguines" which is based heavily on the preceding song "Le Deuil d'amour". Basically, Jean-Pierre has taken a depressing song about the woes of marriage and made a dance out of it.

The album depicts a period of time stretching over 500 years from the 15th c. song "La belle se sied au pied de la tour" up through the suite from the Wandembrile Manuscript dated 1778 and on till the present day. Throughout the album the piping is wonderful, the harmonies are lush and well done. Aside from the sparse arrangements on most tracks, this album serves as a very important document and an integral part of the listening library for any bagpipe historian, musician or listener.

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