Artist Profiles: Alan Stivell

Alan Stivell

Alan Stivell is an innovator of the Breton-Celtic harp. For more than three decades, he has been at the forefront of a cultural and musical revival that honors the centuries-old Celtic traditions of the French province of Brittany, called Breizh by its native inhabitants, while mesmerizing audiences around the globe with his charismatic virtuosity and wide ranging repertoire .

Alan Stivell was born Alan Cochevelou. His family, the Cochevelous, came from Gourin in central west Brittany. Like many of other Breton families, the Cochevelous left Brittany. Thus Alan Cochevelou was born in Riom on January 6, 1944. Shortly after, the family settled in Paris. Alan’s father, George Cochevelou, was an artist and translator. He made paintings, furniture and musical instruments. His dream was to reintroduce the Celtic harp from Brittany. It had disappeared at the end of the Middle Ages. The first Celtic harp prototype featured nylon cords and was decorated with Celtic motifs. Young Alan Cochevelou fell in love with the instrument. He took lessons from Denise Mégevand, a traditional harp player.

Alan Stivell

There was no Breton repertory for the harp so Alan made new arrangements of traditional Breton, Irish, Welsh and Scottish folk tunes. He played his first concert at the age of 9. Alan joined a traditional Breton group called Scouts Bleimor. A few years later, in 1959, Alan Cochevelou recorded his first single, titled Musique Gaëlique. Alan was so passionate about Celtic music that he learned how to play bombards and bagpipes. In 1961 he became the lead Penn-Soner of Bagad Bleimor with which he won many awards.

In 1966, Alan Cochevelou became Alan Stivell. He recovered an ancient form of his family name before it was adapted to French.

Alan Stivell’s first major recordings, Renaissance of the Celtic Harp and Live At The Olympia, both released in 1972, gained him worldwide notice, and subsequent years found him gaining a large following for albums that fused Celtic music with folk, rock, pop, electronic and world music.

Stivell released several ground-breaking albums including Again (1994), which features collaborations with Kate Bush; the captivating Brian Boru (1995); 1 Earth – 1 Douar (1998) with John Cale, Youssou N’Dour, Khaled, Simple Minds vocalist Jim Kerr and Paddy Maloney; and Back to Breizh (2000), a work that reaffirmed his Breton roots and passion for tilting tradition toward the future.

To celebrate his 50th year as a performer on the Celtic harp, Alan Stivell recorded Beyond Words, an all-instrumental album.

Stivell states that the music on Beyond Words “is simply a journey through my life and dreams. I want to highlight, first and foremost, my passion for Celtic and neo-Celtic harps, these legendary instruments which came into my life as by magic..”

Discography

Telenn Geltiek – Harpe celtique (Fontana, 1964)
Reflets – Reflections (Fontana, 1970)
Renaissance of the Celtic Harp (Fontana, 1971)
À l’Olympia – Olympia Concert (Fontana, 1972)
Chemins de Terre – From Celtic Roots (Fontana, 1973)
E Langonned (Fontana, 1974)
E Dulenn – Live in Dublin (Fontana, 1975)
Trema’n inis – Vers l’Île (Fontana, 1976)
Raok Dilestra – Before Landing (Keltia III, 1977)
Un dewezh ‘barzh ‘gêr – A Homecoming (Keltia III, 1978)
International Tour: Tro ar Bed (1979)
Symphonie Celtique: Tir Na N-Og – Celtic Symphony (1979)
Terre des vivants: Bed an dud vew (1981)
Legend – Mojenn (1983)
Harps of the New Age – Telenn a’ Skuilh-dour (1985)
The Mist of Avalon (Dreyfus, 1991)
Again (1993)
Brian Boru (Dreyfus, 1995)
1 Douar – 1 Earth (Dreyfus, 1998)
Back to Breizh (Dreyfus, 1999)
Au-delà des mots – Beyond Words (Dreyfus, 2002)
Explore (2006)
Emerald (2009)
AMzer – Seasons (World Village, 2015)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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