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Alan Stivell at Nuremberg, Germany, 2007

Alan Stivell (born Alan Cochevelou January 6, 1944) is a Frenchmarker and Breton musician and singer, recording artist and master of the celtic harp who from the early 1970s revived global interest in the Celtic (specifically Breton) harp and Celtic Music as part of World Music.

Background-Learning Breton Music and Culture

Alan was born in the Auvergnat town of Riommarker. His father Georges (Jord in Breton) Cochevelou was a civil servant in the French Ministry of Finance who achieved his dream of recreating a Celtic or Breton harp in the small town of Gourin, Brittany. In 1953, Alan began playing the instrument at the age of nine under the tutelage of his father and Denise Megevand, a concert harpist. Alan also learned Celtic mythology, art and history as well as the Breton language, traditional Breton dance and the Scottish bagpipe and the bombarde, a traditional Breton instrument, from the oboe family. Alan began playing concerts at eleven years and studying traditional Breton, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh folk music, also learning the drum, Irish flute, and tin whistle. He competed in and won several Breton traditional music competitions in the Bleimor Pipe band. Alan spent his childhood in Parismarker, with its cosmopolitan influences from Francemarker, Algeriamarker, Moroccomarker and elsewhere. But he fell in love with Breton music and Celtic culture in general, and often went back in his teens to Brittany.

Alan's first recording came in 1960 (Musique gaelique), a single that was followed by the LP Telenn Geltiek in 1964. He already recorded solo harp and harp backing singers in 1959 with Breiz ma bro ("Brittany my country") and a Mouez Breiz EP ("Voice of Brittany") with the female singer Andrea Ar Gouilh. His stage name, Stivell, means "fountain" or "spring" in Breton. This name refers both to the Breton renewal and to his name "Cochevelou", evolution of kozh stivelloù, the old fountains.

Stivell and the Celtic harp revival

With a new bardic harp with bronze strings, Stivell began experimenting with modernized styles of music known as celtic rock. In 1966, Alan Stivell began to perform and record as a singer. The following year, he was signed by Philips (Universal): the birth of the New Breton and Celtic music movement. In 1968, after two years of touring, Alan joined the Moody Blues to perform in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.

In 1970, he released his first hits, the single "Broceliande" and Reflets, both on the Philips record label. He became closely associated with the burgeoning Breton roots revival, especially after the release of the purely instrumental 1971 album Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique ("Celtic harp renewal"), which won one of the most famous awards in France, the prize of the Académie Charles Cros.

The music critic Bruce Elder wrote of the album Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique: "People who hear this record are never the same again. Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, one of the most beautiful and haunting records ever made by anybody, introduced the Celtic harp to many thousands of listeners around the world. To call this music gorgeous and ravishing would be the height of understatement—indeed, there aren't words in the English language to describe this record adequately. The opening work, Ys, is a piece inspired by the legend of the fifth century capital of the kingdom of Cornwallmarker, [most versions of the legend place the city in the Douarnenez Baymarker on the coast of Brittany] which was engulfed by a flood as punishment for its sins. (Debussy wrote one of his finest works, "The Engulfed Cathedral," later adapted by the group Renaissance into "The Harbor" on Ashes Are Burning, based on the same legend). The reflective "Marv Pontkellec" is every bit as sublimely beautiful, but the highlight of this record is "Gaeltacht," a 19 minute musical journey by Stivell's harp across the Gaelic lands of Irelandmarker, Scotlandmarker, and the Isle of Manmarker.

In 1971, in February, Alan performed a concert in the Olympiamarker theater, the most famous music hall in Paris, where Alan and his band played music combining traditional Celtic music with modern sounds (electric guitar, drums, etc.). This concert made Stivell and his music well known throughout France. At this time, Alan's eclectic approach to music was very new and hazardous, but it soon became popular, and over 1,500.000 records of that concert ("A l'Olympia") were sold. Alan Stivell's newfound fame gave him reason to travel on tours across France, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He continued recording, and published a collection of Breton poetry in 1976. With his 1980, Symphonie Celtique, he mixed for the first time elements of rock, a symphonic orchestra, Celtic instruments and non-European ethnics elements as Berber vocalist Djourha and sitarist Narendra Bataju.

The folk music revival faded somewhat in the 1980s, and though Alan Stivell was still very popular, he did not reach the heights he had in the '70s. He continued touring in many parts of the world, and recording for a loyal fanbase, and also worked with the English singer Kate Bush.

Celtic Music and World Music

In the 1990s, Alan recorded with the French singer Laurent Voulzy, Irish traditional performer Shane MacGowan and Senegalese singer Doudou N'Diaye Rose. The album was Again, and it became very popular in France, the beginning of a Celtic new wave. Stivell's records in the late 1990s contained more pronounced rock elements, and he performed at a rock festival called Transmusicales in Rennesmarker. He continued working with a variety of musicians, inviting Paddy Moloney (of The Chieftains), Jim Kerr (of Simple Minds), Khaled and Youssou N'Dour to be in his very international " 1 Douar / 1 Earth " album.

The 1998 French-language hit La Tribu de Dana by rap trio Manau, one of the best-selling French singles of all time, featured a very similar melody to Stivell's Tri Martolod. Although Stivell sued Manau for the unauthorised sampling, the group claimed that they had modified the original sufficiently, through the addition of lyrics and other changes, to avoid any charges of plagiarism.

Alan's album Again in 1993 was the base for a new wave of his popularity, especially in France and Brittany. Other albums received good critical reviews, such as Brian Boru or 1 Douar / 1 Earth.Alan Stivell's released Au-delà des mots-Beyond Words, his twenty first LP, in 2002, and the album that featured him playing six different harps, specially dedicated to the Celtic Harp Revival's 50th anniversary.

In 2004, a DVD, Parcours was published by Fox-Pathé. The same year, he wrote a book on the celtic harp in collaboration with Jean-Noël Verdier: Telenn, la harpe bretonne ("Telenn, the Breton harp").

In 2006, a new CD called "Explore" came out in France and other countries, distributed through Harmonia Mundi. This album demonstrates that Stivell is still a leading artist, exploring fusions of Celtic music with electro-rock, raga, hip-hop, etc with a unique and personal vocal style and a very interesting and original mix of lyrics in Breton, English and French.

Music critic Bruce Elder has stated: "[Alan Stivell's] harp recordings, with their enveloping lyricism and tightly interwoven patterns of variations, can appeal to more serious listeners of new age music. Stivell's main audience, however, lies with fans of Celtic music and culture, and English folk music. Embracing ancient and modern elements, but (apart from his folk-rock work) making no compromises to modern melodic sensibilities, his music captures the mystery and strangeness of Breton, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish landscapes that are both ageless and timeless. It is haunting, mysterious, and beautiful, with no equivalent in modern popular music and few peers in the realm of commercial folk music."


In a book called Racines interdites (Forbidden Roots), Stivell in a series of interviews, discusses questions about the Breton language, history and geography, as well as his utopian vision of a world living in meditative harmony with nature. It contains lyrics for 17 of Stivell's songs in the back: "Gwriziad difennet," "Reflets," "Broceliande," "The Wind of Keltia," "Je suis né au milieu de la mer," "An alarc'h," "The Foggy Dew," "Pardon Spezed," "Brezhoneg' raok," "Delivrance," "Digor eo an hent," "Hommes liges des talus en transes," "Ar Gelted kozh," "Rouantelezh Vreizh," "Dugelezh Vreizh," "Emsawadegou," "Fin an naontegwed katwed," "Eil lodenn an ugentwed kantwed," "Da Ewan," and "Naw Breton 'ba' prizon."


  • Telenn Geltiek / Harpe celtique (1964)
  • Reflets/Reflections (1970-1)
  • Renaissance de la Harpe Celtique (1972)
  • A l'Olympia - Live (1972)
  • Chemins de terre/From Celtic Roots (1973)
  • E Langonned / A Langonnet (1974)
  • Grand Succès d'Alan Stivell (c 1975)
  • E Dulenn /Live In Dublin / Dublin (1975)
  • Celtic Rock (1976)
  • Trema'n inis/Vers l'île (1976)
  • Raok Dilestra/Avant d'accoster/Before Landing (1977)
  • Un Dewezh barzh gêr/Journée à la maison / A Homecoming (1978)
  • International Tour / Tro ar Bed (1979)
  • Symphonie Celtique ( Tir na-nOg) / Celtic Symphony (1979)
  • Terre des vivants / Tir an dud vew (1981)
  • Alan Stivell (1982)
  • Légende / Legend / Mojenn (1983)
  • Harpes du Nouvel Âge / Telenn a' Skuih-dour (1985)
  • The Mist Of Avalon (1991)
  • Again (1993)
  • Brian Boru (1995)
  • 70/95 Zoom (1997)
  • 1 Douar/1 Earth (1998)
  • Back To Breizh (1999)
  • Au-delà des mots/Beyond Words (2002)
  • Explore (2006)
  • Emerald (2009)


  1. Bruce Elder, Alan Stivell Biography. All Music Guide (last accessed 15 July 2009)
  2. JT Koch (ed). Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopaedia ABC-CLIO 2006 pp 1627-1628
  3. Bruce Elder, Alan Stivell Biography. All Music Guide (last accessed 15 July 2009
  4. RFI Music. Alan Stivell. Biography. RFI Music. (last accessed 15 July 2009)
  5. JT Koch (ed). Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopaedia ABC-CLIO 2006 pp 1627-1628.
  6. Bruce Elder. All Music Guide, (last accessed 15 July 2009)
  7. Guyot, Charles. The Legend of the City of Ys, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.
  8. Stephen D. Winick Breton Folk Music, Breton Identity, and Alan Stivell's Again.The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 108, No. 429 (Summer, 1995), pp. 334-354 (last accessed 15 July 2009)
  9. Alain Stivell and Jean-Noël Verdier. Telenn, la harpe bretonne. Le Télégramme 2004 ISBN 2848330783 ISBN 978-2848330785
  10. Jim Chokey. Discography. Alan Stivell. (last accessed 15 July 2009)
  11. Alan Stivell. Racines interdites. Interviews conducted by Jacques Erwan and Marc Legras Musiques et Musiciens series 1978

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