Breton songs on popular prints
Broadsheets database

General informations - Definition of Terms

Catalog and database

It is worth recalling a few obvious elements:
Databases are the modern form of old printed catalogs. They allow us to:
  • Locate a document according to various search criteria (for example, name, title, theme, keyword, date, reading in full text…). It is no longer obligatory to read the catalog from A to Z to find what you are looking for.
  • Categorize and sort documents. See, for example, in " Characteristics " the notion of ‘critical title’, allowing different variants of the same song to be grouped together when they were originally designated by various titles.
  • Highlight links to other catalogs dealing with the same topic or related topics. For example, in our case, the ‘catalog of songs of oral tradition in the Breton language’.
  • Reference the shelf marks of libraries or private collections where the original document was consulted.
  • Develop the wealth of information available in the documentary resources environment.
Moreover, modern technology makes it possible to propose the visualization of reproductions of the documents themselves and free access via the Internet where the old paper editions only allowed us to supply references.
Subsequently, in this presentation, we will only talk about the site made available to the public but clearly, in the background, the site works only because there is a database.


"Songs" is considered here as a generic term.
The texts gathered in this site are in the great majority of cases, intended to be sung. The indication "to the tune of…" clearly attests to this.
In general, all these productions have in common the fact of being versified.

But their status and purpose may be extremely variable:
  • Profane songs actually sung or intended to be sung, and dealing with all sorts of subjects.
  • Songs which have become popular and passed into the Breton oral tradition.
  • Songs from the Breton oral tradition (before being printed).
  • Poems without indication of timbre and, which perhaps have never been sung. (How can we know this?)
  • Songs with religious content, with all the uncertainty of the boundaries between the lives of saints (similar to the complaintes , ballads or gwerz), hymns in honour of…, prayers, etc, bearing in mind that some hymns can be more "popular" than secular songs and be heard almost anywhere, even at sporting occasions.
  • Ephemeral pieces: for example of a political nature, protest (songs of strikes…), events (anniversaries, inaugurations…).
  • In a very marginal way, some non-versified texts are also referenced here for various reasons (proximity to sung pieces or throwing light on them, pieces collected by the original collectors themselves in their corpus of songs…).
It is often fashionable to set limits on a collection!
Although this may be necessary during the realization of a literary work, within the framework of this site, this option appeared inappropriate. Indeed, what would be the relevance of arbitrarily imposed limits, depending much more on the personal interests of the person establishing the corpus than on taking into account the productions and practices of the population, however diverse they may be. It has therefore been preferred here to respect this diversity of practices, even if they are abundant, to arbitrary, presupposed and largely artificial limits.

On a different scale, we find the same problem when we consider the repertoire of traditional singers. A given singer will prefer sentimental, dramatic, humorous, political, or contemporary songs. A catalog or database is not intended to promote and retain one domain over another.
Moreover, observation of the practices clearly shows that the singers themselves are not particularly interested in the categories: a love song, a drama or a hymn can indifferently accompany the preparation of vegetables or the milking of cows… and the latter rarely express preferences!

This inadequacy of a priori limitations will also be found in many other fields, be they authors, printed materials, language, themes (see the corresponding chapters). It is the observation of practices and facts which must generate the principles of classification and not an arbitrary principle which should decide what is taken into account or not.


For the site is only concerned with productions made in Brittany or by Bretons, both in Breton and French (or exceptionally in Gallo), and generally relating to Brittany (either because of the language used or by reason of the subject or the intention of the poetry).

The songs present on this site are mostly in the Breton language because it is this area that interests us more particularly (we accept full responsibility for our subjectivity!). But it was considered preferable to also take into account certain songs in French, especially when they were present on the same broadsheets as songs in Breton.

In the current state of the site, the work of compiling the broadsheets in French has not yet been done. Part of the work has been begun by Vincent Morel concerning criminal ballads but it is not yet integrated into the base.

In addition to its geographical and cultural character, the term "Breton" made it possible to define the subject without reverting to the subtleties of the terms "popular" or "traditional". These terms seem ill-suited to define the pieces gathered here.
While some songs may be considered "popular" because they have gained popularity, (having been distributed widely, having been the subject of various editions), sometimes even having entered the oral tradition, others seem to have remained only in written form and therefore relatively confidential (with all the prudence imposed by our lack of knowledge of real practices, despite some 150,000 recordings available at Dastum).

"Popular prints"

We find here the same composite character as that already mentioned for the term "songs".

Indeed, while the common feature of these pieces is that they have been disseminated through inexpensive printed materials, when we look at the details, there are many variations to be distinguished:
  • Feuilles Volantes (‘Broadsheets’):
    This is the term commonly used in Brittany to design cheap prints on low-quality paper, in particular to disseminate songs, which were sold by peddlers at fairs, markets, or religious festivals… Found in English under the term "broadsheet"). These broadsheets constitute the vast majority of songs on the site. Depending on the popularity of the song, they have been the subject of multiple editions which are detailed here.
    They are usually low pagination, often 2 to 16 pages, but some are larger (24 or 32 pages…). Similarly, there are all sorts of formats from full-page size of ‘broadsheet’ newspapers to very small sizes (7x9cm for example). These broadsheets may only include a single song or may group together a dozen or so.
  • Brochures or Small Booklets:
    The difference is often tenuous with small pamphlets, which may be held together by a staple in the centre fold (for example, the small pamphlets of the "Breton Song at the Front" (1916)).
  • Press cuttings:
    From the end of the 19th century, with the development of the press, the songs were to find a new cheap medium. The "gazette" function of the broadsheets will continue in parallel but it will have lost its quasi-exclusivity of written information. For example: Kroaz ar Vretoned, the Courrier du Finistère…
  • Journals:
    These will multiply in the early twentieth and contribute to the publication of poems and songs, some of which will not only become popular thanks to this diffusion but also traditional. For example, a journal like Dihunamb, dedicated to the Vannes area, had periods when it printed 20,000 copies.
  • Duplicated handouts:
    The different techniques of duplication available in the second half of the 20th century, enabled a free, sometimes militant or proselytizing diffusion of typed texts, sometimes accompanied by handwritten musical notations.
  • Manuscripts:
    Although in principle outside the field of popular print, handwritten sheets incorporated into collections of broadsheets have also been included here. Especially since some of these texts are in fact handwritten copies of broadsheets, others are handwritten manuscripts… Again, the artificial aspect of keeping up over-demanding restrictions is obvious.
  • The web:
    It is true that the songwriters have, over the ages, used the techniques that were available to them to disseminate their songs, and we now see popular compositions flourish on the internet in all possible contexts (e-mails, Youtube, flashmob…). With this medium we find the main criteria which already favoured broadsheets: immediacy, cheap and even free support, free accessibility for anyone who wants to use it, accessibility for the public…
Taking into account these different supports is also useful because they often complement each other. Thus, a song can be edited anonymously in a broadsheet or a booklet, but be the subject of additional information (for example, by author or date) on a press cutting or in a magazine.

For the time being, books have not been included here simply through limited time and priority though not as a matter of principle. The primordial interest remains the work and not its material support.
It is more informative to be able to follow the circulation of a piece (in a book, a press cutting, a broadsheet, and in orality) than to ignore this diversity in the name of arbitrary limits.
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