Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

I was just thinking about this and decided to bring it up to the community. I’m not sure why I decided to do it right now.

From what little Galician music I’ve heard, I can’t say that there’s much left in it I would call "Celtic" per se, if there is such a thing. Yes, they have bagpipes, but most of Europe had bagpipes at one point. I never really hear pentatonic/hexatonic scales or modes in their music, what I hear are a lot of major, harmonic minor, and Shephardic scales.

So I pose the question: is there really anything Celtic in their music? Is there really anything Celtic about that region at all, aside from tenuous cultural connections and a little romanticism? Celtic seems to be a pretty slippery term that people throw around freely these days.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

It "celtic" even the right term for Irish Trad? Most of the tunes are from the 18th and 18th century. Probably no one would use the word celts for the 19th century Irish people.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

sry for alle the typos, I was sitting in the bus and was trying to type that comment a bit too fast.
I obviously meant that most of the tunes are from the 18th and 19th century ;)
Celtic tribes settled down in Galicia around 700 b.c.
If it is true, that the style of music, that we now as Irish Trad evolved nearly 2500 years after the first celts came to Galicia (maybe around 16th , 17th or 18th century), any similarity, based on a common celtic origin seems pretty unlikely to me.
Irish and Galician culture has been exposed to so much outside influence over this gigantic time span, that in my opinion, any similarity between both styles of music is probably not based on common celtic roots, but much more on other factors.
In other words, you probably wouldn’t say that the music of a German Brass band and traditional English folk have a distinct germanic style..

I hope someone has more solid knowledge about this subject and maybe can even recommend some literature it!
Its really and interesting topic!

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

That might depend on who you’re talking to David and how green tinted their glasses & politics are! But you’re quite right - Celtic seems to be a term at best used to describe some ancient cultural commonality. Long preceding what we know with any certainty of Irish trad music. Sure the Brits had plenty of Celts at one stage.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

the ‘Brits’ were all Celts til the Saxons moved in after the Roman Legions pulled out!

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

By "Celtic" it seems you mean "Irish".

No, Galician music doesn’t sound like Irish music.

It goes to show that the term "Celtic" when talking about music would be very hard to define.

Yes things similar to Irish jigs are played in Galicia… but things similar to Irish jigs are also played in Bulgaria. Does dance music in 6/8 define "Celtic-ness"? It would be a difficult case to make.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

theres also a Northern Italian 6/8 dance called the ‘monferrina’ played mainly on fiddles

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

I totally agree with Richard. I now live in Scotland but was born in Asturias, and grew up surrounded by Asturian and Galician music. For some reason, when I first got involved with trad music over here it didn’t feel so "foreign" to me, so while they feel similar to me (in a way) they’re definitely very different from Irish music.

Regarding your second question. In school we always learnt that there were Celts in the Iberian peninsula. Whether those books are right or not… I can’t tell, I’m a software guy, not a historian :)

There’s a few articles on Wikipedia about the Celts in the Iberian peninsula:

There’s also "castros" in Spain which are supposed to be of Celtic origin

But anyway, if we have any historians in the room I’d love to learn more about it!

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

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Senor Cabrales hails from northern Spain and Australia and does a mix of Galician and other celtic styles of which I’m not sure which dominates as I’m fairly new to Galician/Asturian music. I love their music though. It sounds old. Like medieval or something.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Off-topic while somewhat related to the previous comment :) Cabrales is one of the 78 council areas of Asturias. They make a very distinctive, very smelly blue cheese (Cabrales cheese) which is probably the most well known Asturian cheese outwith the region.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

I am learning Irish traditional music in Ireland often through the Irish language but would never describe any of this as celtic.
For me the term "Celtic" is at best and attempt to unite people from various backgrounds in celebrating musical similarities or cultural ones. Perhaps an interest in seeking out authentic or represntative music from certain regions.
At worst the term is a marketing tool to sell non traditional music or music from classical tradition or traditional music interpreted in a classical way (Celtic Woman or Celtic tenors etc).

It is a construct and is a vague woolly term. It may be used for good in promoting traditional music from Brittany, and other regions which need promotion so some of the celtic festivals that run on these places are to be supported but I would agree its probably not that important in the grand scheme of things.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

I had a ‘Celtic’ book that included Galician tunes. No, I didn’t think they sounded Celtic either - they sounded more Hispanic / Iberian or whatever.

There is a certain something that makes me think ‘Celtic’ but I can’t define what it is. In Irish tunes I hear it most clearly in the ‘inflection’ between C natural and C sharp - a goose-bumps quality that makes me think *mystic*, *otherworld*, *eery*, *strange* - oh, you know!

So - er — yeah: I am in vague woolly agreement with the fact that ‘Celtic’ is a vague woolly term. :)

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Just because different populations/cultures share some common DNA does not mean that their music will sound the same; it would be much more surprising if it did than if it didn’t.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

It’s not about DNA, it’s only about language. The Celtic Nations were identified in the C17 because they spoke celtic languages as opposed to the more modern Germanic and Romance languages used in the rest of Europe. Yes, we all share DNA, but we don’t all speak the same language, and this is a classification based purely on language, not ancestry.

The relevance to music comes from the fact that musical tends to follow the speech patterns of the area it comes from - music is influenced by song, which is influenced by language. Compare recordings of Western and Chinese speech and then compare Western and Chinese music and you’ll see what I mean, or just listen to a Jamacan or Trinidadian speak and then listen to some reggae or calypso.

And that accounts for the similarities and differences between music from the different Celtic nations, all speak broadly similar but different languages, and that gives them broadly similar but different music.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Yes, but your Wiki article actually says that in Galicia ‘unlike the other… (regions), no Celtic language has been spoken there in modern times’.

So if the tunes are later than the eighteenth century, as the ones talked about above seem to be, I don’t see that they would be influenced by a Celtic language.

I think there are shared characteristics of ‘Celtic’ music, just as we can usually tell we are listening to ‘slavic’ music or ‘latin’ music. But I am not good enough to say what the characteristics are, apart from ‘inflection’ and the sound of some chords.

And my experience of Galician music is very limited. But whenever I’ve heard it, even in a ‘Celtic collection’, it really hasn’t sounded at all Celtic to me.

However, if someone can compare music from Britanny, Cornwall, Scotland, Wales, Ireland - and Galicia - and point out common ‘Celtic’ traits, it would be terrific. And thank you in advance.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

"So if the tunes are later than the eighteenth century, as the ones talked about above seem to be, I don’t see that they would be influenced by a Celtic language."

I don’t know, I think the influence probably persists, just as a person brought up in a Scottish Gaelic speaking region speaks English with an accent, inflection and rhythm derived from Gealic even if they don’t actually speak Gaelic themselves, I think the Gaelic speech patterns may have persisted into modern Galician speech, and so influenced the music. But I don’t know enough about either their dialect or music to say for sure.

Or maybe it is just that the list of Celtic Nations was drawn up 300 years ago when Gaelic was still spoken in the region. and there isn’t any connection today.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Which kind of music do you consider celtic? If it is the music of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, it is not surprising, that they share some elements. They are all neighbours of each other and probably had a lot of cultural exchange over the last thousands of years. But then again, wouldn’t it be a bit picky to exclusively consider this music styles from the British islands as celtic? There are many other European regions with somewhat celtic roots, but they obviously didn’t have so much contact to the British islands and therefore are not influenced by this style of music.
I don’t want to be to picky, but it sounds, like you only consider "British" (gaelic) folk music as celtic?
And another point: The music instruments, people 2000 years ago played where so much more primitive and different to the instruments, played in most European traditions today and therefore music of the iron age "celts" had probably not much in common with jigs and reels in d major… So is it likely, that people living 1000 km and more apart from each would develope similar music styles because a 1000 years ago, they had a common ancestor?

My theory is, that populations that where able to keep their gaelic language are often located in areas that where a bit more secluded. Therefore they got less influence from other ancient pop culture trends ;) and kept playing instruments, that where considered as backward by the rest of the more networked Europe. I especially think of the bagpipe, that had been played ALL OVER Europe and more, but today the tradition has only survived in more secluded areas. Often people probably think of bagpipes as a sign of celtic roots, in my opinion they are more a sign, that a population was a bit more secluded and therefore didn’t stay "up to date" with the newest trends of popular music…

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

How can it sound as if I only consider British gaelic folk music as Celtic, when I’ve included ‘Britanny’ and ‘Ireland’ in the list of countries? Neither of these are ‘British’.

Anyway, I’m not saying that there weren’t Celts in other parts of Europe centuries ago - just that I agree with the OP that the small amount of music from Galicia that I’ve listened to doesn’t sound very Celtic to me.

The fact that centuries ago there may have been a Celtic speaking people there doesn’t signify much, in my opinion - after all, centuries ago, there were Celts living in England, but English folk music from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries isn’t thought of as sounding Celtic.

I’ve also said that I do think there are such things as Celtic traits in music - something that I hear more readily than I can define - and that I’d be pleased if someone with more musical knowledge than me could tie it in more precisely with particular stylistic qualities. It would be fascinating.

I’m completely open to being persuaded - I just haven’t been so far.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

sry, I over read that you included music form Brittany! And indeed, I also hope some music ethnologist or so stumbles over this discussion and can help us out with more scientific knowledge. That would be really interesting!

Could you recommend me some music or artists from Brittany? Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find much beside Jean-Michel Veillon, apart from new agie synthie and harp stuff.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

I have always loved the music of the N of Spain, Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Spanish Basque region, having mainly been introduced to it through the various guests at the annual Glasgow Celtic Connections Festival: in the early days and several times since we have had Carlos Nunez, Susana Seivane, Berroguetto, Tejedor, Kepa Junkera and others. Plenty of stuff on YouTube from these bands if you want to have a browse.
I see both similarities and differences between their music and ours, but it is far removed from flamenco or other Spanish styles, and much nearer "our sort of music" with muneiras being danceable as jigs, and their marches (including dotted 6/8s) and so on.
We also spent several holidays in the N of Spain, where we enjoyed a number of fiestas: one in particular, where there were 8 different groups from across those provinces, and each one different from the next, so it hard to generalise.
Then I have played in Spain twice with our Scottish ceilidh band: the Spanish rapidly latched on to the dances: and on the second occasion we were support band to an Asturian band of gaiteros and drummers: no probelms dancing to their music nor they to ours.
Hope you enjoy this one:

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

It’s great when different genres can play music together. But it can sometimes be not so grand as what we might have imagined or hoped for. What does everyone think about this session?

Posted by .

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

At first I thought that it was too much percussion for my taste, but from 1:15 it sounds really cool and interesting! Michael Rooney makes the harp sound like a hang

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Yes, a lot of percussion in a small space but some complex rhythms there, which I don’t think some of the commentators over on YouTube fully appreciated: views seemed quite polarised! I enjoyed it and listened to the end anyway but the I’m a drum freak!

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

The whole "Celtic" thing is a sticky wicket. Is it an archeological, linguistic, or (modern) identity term? Each of those will yield a different answer to the question whether Galician music is Celtic. (Archeological: yes—but by this definition, Swiss music is also Celtic. Linguistic: no. Identity: maybe—depends on whom you ask; Carlos Nuñez would probably say yes.)

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

I got occupied with other things and lost track of this discussion- it’s bern quite lively it seems!

I think that we can discern a "Celtic-ness" in the surviving Celtic countries despite 18th and 19th century changes. Modes, gapped scales- these things can be found in the trad music of Brittany, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Now if we look at the earliest surviving examples of music from these countries, such as 17th century harp tunes from Ireland and Scotland, or medieval Welsh harp music from the Robert Ap Huw, manuscript, we see some of those same elements. Maybe they’re bizarre, anachronistic remnants of medieval music, but thwy persist in Celtic music more than anywhere else.

Time brings change, but some things stay the same. Despite changing dance styles- andros in Brittany, strathspeys in Scotland, hornpipes in Ireland, etc- certain elements of the Celtic musical pallette persist.

Galician music has, of course, been influenced mostly by Spanish culture, wheras the other Celtic nations have generally been influenced by British culture, or in the case of the Bretons, French culture. However, the influence goes both ways. I think a lot of the modality that crops up in English folk music owes it’s existence to Irish and Scottish influence. Of course, there are those who would say that England has little no culture of it’s own, and that anything of cultural worth from that country was taken from Ireland! That seems to have been James Joyce’s point of view.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

The modality in English folk music goes back to its roots in medieval music - not to Celtic music in particular.

I’m not saying that there weren’t influences both ways - in my study of traditional ballads, there are versions from an underground oral tradition that crop up in England, Ireland and Scotland. People travelled about much more commonly than used to be thought.

James Joyce is entitled to his opinion - meanwhile, I shall enjoy playing Playford and Morris on my fiddle and singing the lovely folk songs collected from oral tradition by Cecil Sharp, Vaughan Williams, Lucy Broadwood and Annie Gilchrist.

I’ll also enjoy playing Irish jigs and Scottish reels and strathspeys - also Irish reels and highlands, and Scottish jigs. :)

With me, it’s not either/or - I enjoy the ‘isness’ of every style of traditional music, whatever its country of origin.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Thanks, @Lonnie the harper, for the information on harp tunes. I am of the opinion that modal tunes have survived better in Ireland and Scotland than in England because there was a stronger oral tradition, and perhaps it was part of a reverence for national identity too - certainly that ‘patriotism’ is seen in eighteenth-century Scotland, as evidenced by David Johnson’s Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century.

It’s clear too that ‘favourite modes or keys’ will form a characteristic of particular musics - where would Scottish tune-making be without its fondness for what Scott Skinner calls ‘the fiddle key’, A major. :)

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Fascinating comments on modality. The whole modal structure is a mixture of Sharp building on Gilchrist’s work with Gaelic scales and filling in the gaps - see "Modal and Melodic Structure in Anglo-American Folk Music: A Neutral Mode" by Annabel Morris Buchanan on JSTOR - - for example. This identifies the concept of a folk scale common to many cultures. This hypothesis is supported by Aindrias Hirt in "The Origin of the European Folk Music Scale: A New Theory" - - working from basic harmonic principles. Both make clear that the whole modal notion is a modern theoretical construct imposed by diatonically trained musicians.

As Sharp put it:

"English folk-singers have, no doubt, a racial scale of their own but how this may compare with the folk-scales of other nations it is impossible in the present state of knowledge of the subject to say."

We still have made little progress since that was written in 1907.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

People back in the day got around by sail boat. The distribution of many of the "Celtic" countries and peoples can roughly be fit to a map of the trade winds and prevalent sea currents of the Western coast of Europe and British Isles. There were other trade routes and settled regions for sure and all manner of upheaval and migration but these regions have a similar root in the past. The remnants of these folk traditions have had chance since the development of the age of travel and communication to reach out to the other traditions and share their music. The result has shown the many diverse ways these traditions and peoples’ paths cross.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

If you’re talking history, then "Celtic" certainly includes Galician, Bretaigne, and the like. There is a lot of evidence that the knotwork designs we associate with Ireland (Book of Kells, etc) originated much earlier in the "castros" of Galicia. Galician music as now performed has a lot of Spanish influence, but a direct comparison of a Galician tune of known age and provenance with a Spanish "traditional" tune from Madrid of the same age will show differences in mode and structure between the two. To me, "Celtic" is not defined solely by the British Isles.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

The Celts, due largely to the passage of time, are defined as those groups that occupied most of Europe and Asia Minor in the pre-Roman time period, that shared commonalities of language, cultural similarities, religious beliefs/practices. Arising with the Urnfield culture around 1200 BC, reaching their peak in the LaTene period, and ended with the Roman expansion into Europe and the British Isles. Since music, whether sacred or secular, didn’t really begin to be transcribed (completely instructed per accepted scholars) until the medieval period (5th century to the 15th century), it is highly doubtful that any of the current music, whether Irish, Scottish,Welsh, Galician and other regional variations, is Celtic at all. "Celtic,"nowadays is a media promotional catch phrase coined to sell CD’s. Too much time, cultural invasions, attrition and degredation has gone by for any of the music from these areas to be accurately "Celtic." Accurately, it’s Traditional Folk Music from wherever its root beginnings arised.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

Going the other way, I think many modern mainly Scots musicians are composing tunes sounding more like Galician and Asturian tunes. I think this is a lot to do with the influence of pipers such as Gordon Duncan etc.
30 years ago they wouldn’t have been writing tunes like that.

Re: Is Galician music really all that Celtic?

It’s hard to see the forest around you if your nose is pressed against a tree. I grew up that way. It’s taken me decades to unlearn the conditioning forced on me. If you want a serious answer to the question, you need to pull way, way back and not follow the patterns of the people who told you their quick little musical conclusions that made them feel better; you must try to see different patterns on your own. After all, you know that the patterns aren’t right or you wouldn’t ask the question.

I’m not right. I just have a different perspective, and if you want to struggle for your own understanding, any other perspective might help. So here’s what I now believe:

There is a substratum of musical patterning that goes beyond Galician music or Irish Gaelic Music, or Welsh music, etc. So back up six thousand years and look at Europe. Europe was populated by hunter-fisher-gatherers. The fishing part is important. People were all situated around large bodies of water, whether flowing or not. A people formed in Western Europe who did not need to fish. They could get enough protein and carbohydrate without being on water. They were in fields and developed a way of growing grass (wheat, barley, oats, etc.) that they normally could not digest, but through yeast, could. Then they also tended animals to leech off of them and not kill them. So they drank their blood and milk (and made cheese) but kept their livestock alive. They had genetics that could digest milk when everyone else could not. So they saw Europe as completely barren of people since they were looking at open land where the Western Europeans lived on bodies of water.

This is massively important since these Eastern Europeans (Indo-Europeans) used musical instruments to herd their animals (small herding dogs hadn’t been bred yet because Europe was mainly forested and the herds were small). These people (or at least the technology) swept into Europe. Everyone played these herding instruments. They produce a series of notes called the natural scale ( All of Europe was and still is connected by this pitch patterning. All of it existed where the behaviour of herding animals existed. So folk music of France, Germany, Galicia, Britain, Russia, Spain, etc. all has a pitch gamut of the same notes. What differentiates the music between nations/cultures/languages is the rhythmic patterning of the languages that were spoken (stress, mora, syllable timing) and also the "song" of each language. This morphed into song. Then instrumentalists added rhythmic simplicities just for fun. So the Scots’ snap comes from the tendency to have a strong first syllable stress that’s short followed by a long unstressed syllable which is somewhat unusual in most other IE languages. So that’s basically the answer.

Then, the early Christian Church came into Europe, saw the music that existed there, and wanted noting to do with it. So they banned it. They didn’t want music played by drunken, fornicating, murderous heathen in their church. Can you blame them? So they developed a scale that’s the opposite of the natural scale. They made it heavy on the low end and light on the top (the leading tone did not exist until the seventeenth century). The natural scale is gapped in the lower end and heavy on the top (it is NOT pentatonic, hexatonic, tetratonic, etc., it just looks that way from a diatonic perspective). Since all old folk tunes can be played on natural instruments (wooden shepherd trumpet in particular), trying to describe folk tunes using the opposite, diatonic scale make absolutely no sense.

So the Church forbade the MELODIC pattern of the natural scale and insisted on their own MELODIC pattern of the diatonic scale (to sing chants). The problem is that the diatonic scale of the time could not produce thirds in harmony in any way in tune (22 cents sharp or flat). The natural scale’s triads are precisely in tune. So what people like Guido of Arezzo did was to layer folk harmony on the melodic diatonic scale. So you couldn’t actually play triads in tune on diatonically-tuned instruments. So you had this weird chameleon of in-tune harmony on top of a scale that was developed by instruments who could not play that harmony. So they used variable-pitched instruments to play triads on top of the odd diatonic scale. So voices, coronets and sackbuts, and then eventually bowed viols played harmony. I actually found folk tunes where shepherd trumpets played perfectly in-tune triads that I believe strongly influenced this harmonic layering (see: in Scotland, Britain, France, and Germany (and Spain as well). It’s brutally obvious. You can’t miss it. They’ve just been hidden in banal children’s songs, so no one thought to look there.

So although we think today that the Ionian and Aeolian scales are a solidification of the ecclesiastical scales, they are not. They are the result of the strength of the natural scale which eventually overwhelmed the authentic (Dorian, Phrygian Lydian, Mixolydian) and plagal ecclesiastical modes. The harmony is also from the natural scale. The problem is that traditional IE musical harmony rests only on the notes of the natural scale (is apparently gapped at G3-C4-E4-G4, etc.), not the diatonic scale (C4-D4-E4-F4-G4, etc.). So if you want to know the root of European folk music, you have to know your own brainwashing that took place upon you (as it did on me) and pull the diatonic scale out of you like pulling bones out of a fish. Trust me, it’s insanely difficult. Once you manage to somewhat do that, if you first look at the folk songs of a culture, which will naturally match the pattern of the spoken language, you can then look at particular language formulae that are picked up by instrumentalists and exaggerated. So Galician, Gaelic, Swedish, Spanish, etc. folk music had a common backbone of pitches. Then you can see that they have language rhythmic patterns pulling them apart. The melodic pitches used are the same as are the harmonies – the natural scale. What throws everything in confusion is that everyone is looking at things from a myopic, presumed-superior, radio-reinforced perspective of the diatonic, octave-equivalent scale (I tried to add more hyphens and just couldn’t).

I hastily re-wrote the history of this here in chapter three: The patterning of some different language patterns I wrote in the fourth chapter here:

I’ve found that I can’t understand something until I let go and dare to forget everything that I know – to rip out those things that give me security and the respect of the people around me. I have to have courage to be simple and foolish. That’s why in my experience academics do not hold the solution to this riddle; their social standing rests in how well they know the diatonic scale. To admit that the answer lies elsewhere terrifies them. I think the future lies with the people in this forum (and elsewhere) who have the drive to discover the truth. That means that you are not afraid of failing. I fail constantly and am warry of what I think I know. But just like a child that never wearies of crawling and trying to walk and who splashes down on the floor, eventually you’ll walk (until you wipe out again). But each time you face-plant, you stand up taller.

I have yet to find one old folk tune, whether in Germany, France, Spain, Ireland Scotland, England, the Appalachians, Norway, etc., that could not be played on a wooden shepherd trumpet. So it’s not folk music, but Indo-European herding music. From there it diverges. So Galician music is Celtic. But Celtic is part of something larger…