Claire’s new album, Hiraez is available here:
“Hiraezh” translates literally as “nostalgia.” It’s an album of 10 songs on the theme of love in all its dimensions: happy and sad, joyful and tragic. Since this is Celtic music, the balance tips toward the tragic but the sad songs are full of desolate beauty. This was a pandemic project, recorded in our living room (about five feet from where we’re performing our NEFFA gig!) over the past 14 months or so.
Background on Claire
Claire is from Sarzeau, in southwest Brittany. Here’s a map to get you oriented:
Claire’s connection to traditional music started with dance; she spent a lot of time dancing with friends at festou-noz (night dances). She started singing a little more than 20 years ago after she moved to Montréal.
Ar meliner yaouank
The first song in our set is a song in Breton gaelic about a young miller (the word “yaouank” in Breton means “young” and “meliner” is “miller) who has heard a rumor that his girlfriend is going to marry another man. He decides to find out if it’s true and goes to ask her directly. She loves him best, so he asks her father for permission for her to marry him instead but he says she must marry her fiancé. She protests, saying that no priest would make a woman marry a man she doesn’t love. The song doesn’t tell the end of the story but the last lines set an optimistic tone: after the rain comes good weather, after the sad times come joy.
The second song in our set is in French. The title translates as “the blackthorn.” It tells in a very indirect way the story of a young woman who becomes pregnant by her partner, and when she gets close to having the baby he asks if he should fetch her mother to help deliver the baby. She says no, her mother is too nasty, so he goes to get his mother instead (who is much nicer). When he comes back with the mother, his girlfriend appears to be dead. Distraught, he pulls out a knife and kills himself. She jumps up and cries that she was just playing dead as a joke to see if he really loved her!
Spered an tan
Another song in Breton, this one translates as the Spirit (or Soul) of the Fire. It’s a short poem about a man gazing into the embers and sparks of a fire and thinking about love.
La fille du Pouliguen
In Pouliguen, there is a beautiful girl who charmed the heart of a sailor. “Handsome sailor, bring me to your room.” “Oh yes, I will
bring you to my room; I’ll put a gold ring on your finger.” But she replied, “I’d much rather just sit beside you, that seems nicer.”
And so they sat together in the bedroom carressing each other. But her former lover was listening at the door, lifting his eyes and
arms toward the heavens and lamenting the loss of his love. He vowed to make a beautiful bouquet of roses and jasmine to expunge his sadness: “begone grief, begone sorrow, don’t come back.”
The Princess Royal
An Irish tune composed by the blind harper Turloch O’Carolan in the early 1700s, played on the flute by Brad. There are at least two distinct tunes by this name and the exact princess to which it refers is in dispute. One of the tunes was later renamed “the Arethusa” after a British war ship.
A song of farewell, from the point of view of a young soldier departing for war. He says goodbye to everyone and everything he loves, recognizing that he might never come back. There are two versions of this song: one was made famous by Alan Stivell; the version Claire sings is much less well known.
C’est un jeune cadet
In this song, in French, a young woman accompanies her lover to war, dressed as a soldier. But her disguise doesn’t work so well: when they arrive at the hotel for the first night on their journey, the owner looks at the woman and asks if she’s a shepherdress or a maid. She replies, no, I’m a young cadet from a noble family (hence my fine features). The hotelier replies, “well if you’re a soldier then you must like to drink lots of wine and have fun with the ladies.” No, the cadet replies, I’d rather stay quietly with my love.
This song, in Breton, has a similar theme to the previous one. Claire sings just an excerpt of the song, which has some 30 verses. In the opening scene, a priest is reading a letter (in the old days in Brittany, not many people were literate and they relied on priests to read their letters). The letter is an announcement of conscription into the army, and before he finishes reading a young man gets out of his pew and walks out to the churchyard, where his girlfriend Mary-Louise is waiting. He tells her that he must leave to go to war and she replies that she will go with him. Her disguise is more effective, nobody suspects her of being a woman!
A common dance in Claire’s part of Brittany, this song has a theme of metamorphosis: a woman who is already promised to a man is pursued by another man. She evades him, saying she’ll turn herself into a slippery eel and swim away; he replies that he’ll turn into a fisherman and catch her. She says she’ll turn into a rose and he replies that he’ll turn into a gardener and clip her at the stem. She then says she’ll become a nun and he says he’ll become a monk. Finally she says she’ll become a star in the heavens and he replies that he’ll become an angel.