University professor, specialist in wave optics and acoustics, René Abjean is also a composer, choirmaster and conductor. His name remains associated with the development of Breton choirs.
After private violin and music theory lessons, René Abjean joined the choir of Plouguerneau (29) in 1953 and founded, at the age of 17, his first men’s choir : the Korrigans d’Arvor.
The need to develop a Breton repertoire for choir destined him, very early on, to harmonize traditional songs and to compose songs inspired by the Breton tradition, notably the Barzaz Breiz.
In 1962, he founded the vocal quartet Ar Paganiz, then enters, in 1966, in the men’s choir of the Breton Student Youth of Brest which becomes, in 1969, the group of Breizerien, before participating in the foundation of the group An Triskell. His regular collaborations with the Quéfféléant brothers have resulted in numerous recordings (War Varc’h d’ar Mor, 1987; the music of the television series by Yannick Andrei: Blanc, Bleu, Rouge).
In 1969, he became president of the committee of the International Bagpipe Festival in Brest. At that time, in the wake of the American folk movement, the first gatherings of Breton musicians took place. It is in this favorable cultural environment that he meets, among others: Alan Stivell, Gilles Servat, the Tri Yann… These contacts or those which he maintains with Welsh or Irish musicians, like the group Clannad, will influence his aesthetic choices, in particular his work on the modality.
In 1975, he directed the choir of Ploudalmézeau and then, in 1977, that of Folgoët. By associating these choirs with that of Plouguerneau, he created the Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde which he directed, with Jo Le Gad, until 1988, when he succeeded Michel Boëdec as director of the Mouez Ar Mor Choir of Brest.
In 1977, he founded, with Pierre-Yves Moign, the Centre Breton d’Art Populaire of which he was president until 1982. He then became director of the local branch of Radio France in Quimper, Radio Bretagne Ouest, until 1985. As a choirmaster, he participated in the creation of Gwerz Morvan, by P.-Y. Moign, for the Festival des Tombées de La Nuit de Rennes in 1980 and directed the televised creation of the Messe Bretonne by Pierrick Houdy in Saint-Thégonnec in 1981
In parallel to his many activities, his first important works were created, such as the Missa Keltia (Celtic Mass, 1975), for choir and organ, on a text by Job An Irien. His secular cantata Ar Marc’h Dall (The Blind Horse, 1978), for soloists, choir and Celtic instruments, places choirs in the revival of Breton music. With the group An Triskell, he composed, in 1987, a Celtic oratorio War Varc’h d’ar Mor (A Cheval vers la Mer), for solo voices, choirs, traditional instruments, violin, guitar, keyboards and percussions. The work was an immediate success and was performed as far away as Ireland and Austria.
In 1989, he composed Kan evit ar Peoc’h(Cantata for Peace), for soloists, choir and orchestra. The work will be created, in a version orchestrated by Yvan Cassar, by the ensemble of the Kendalc’h choirs and the Brocéliande Orchestra. For the city of Saint-Brieuc, he composed his cantata Une Ville vers la Mer, on a text by Heather Dohollau, for choir, uilleann pipes and orchestra (1999) and, for the fiftieth anniversary of the Kendalc’h Confederation, in 2000, the oratorio Liñvadenn Ker Is, on the theme of the city of Is, for choir and orchestra (orchestration by Bruno Gousset). His numerous arrangements of traditional Celtic tunes are regularly performed in Brittany and throughout France.
His work remains deeply attached to the modes of the Breton musical tradition. The main characteristics of his music are marked by a concern for the melodic line in direct link with the voice and in a musical spirit coming from the baroque period. His work with amateur singers is not without impact on his aesthetic choices and consistency. The need to place certain traditional themes in the current musical trend has led him to arrange, sometimes in a profound way, musical elements from the heritage, especially the phrasing or from the rhythmic point of view as in Bale Roue Arzur (The March of King Arthur). This appropriation ensures the link between his work and the tradition.
René Abjean has also written several articles on music in Brittany, notably for the Dastum magazine or the Bretagne Aujourd’hui magazine.
Author of a monograph: La Musique Bretonne (ed. Jos Le Doare, 1974), he also collaborated to the Literary and Cultural History of Brittany, Brest: CRBC, 1987.