1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Biniou

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BINIOU, or Bignou, a species of cornemuse or bagpipe, still in use at the present day in Brittany. The biniou is a primitive kind of bagpipe consisting of a leather bag inflated by means of a short valved insufflation tube or blow-pipe, a chaunter with conical bore furnished with a double reed concealed within the stock or socket (see Bag-Pipe), and seven holes, the first being duplicated to accommodate left- and right-handed players.

The scale of the biniou is usually 1911 Britannica-Biniou -Scale1.png[1] and the single drone is tuned to the lower octave of the first hole 1911 Britannica-Biniou -Scale2.png

The more primitive biniou, still occasionally found in the remote districts of Cornouailles and Morbihan, has a chaunter with but five holes,[2] giving part of the scale of D, the drone being also tuned to D. The drone of the biniou is of boxwood, handsomely inlaid with tin, and has a single or beating reed hidden within the stock.

The word biniou or bignou (a Gallicized form), often erroneously derived from bigno, se renfler beaucoup—an etymology not supported by Breton dictionaries—is the Breton plural form of benvek, instrument, tool, i.e. binviou, binvijou.[3] The word is also found in the phrase, “Sac’h ar biniou” (a biniou bag), a bag used by weavers to hold their tools, spindles, &c. The biniou is still the traditional and popular instrument of the Breton peasants of Cornouailles and Morbihan, and is almost inseparable from the bombard (q.v.), which is no other than a survival of the medieval musette, hautbois or chalémie, formerly associated with the bag-pipe in western Europe (see Oboe). At all festivals, at the pardons, wedding feasts and threshing dances, the two traditional musicians or sonneurs give out in shrill penetrating tones the ancient Breton rondes[4] and melodies.


  1. See Victor Mahillon, Catalogue descriptif, vol. ii. (Ghent, 1896), p. 353, No. 1126; and Captain C. R. Day, Descriptive Catalogue of Musical Instruments (London, 1891), p. 62, No. 135.
  2. See N. Quellien, Chansons et danses des Bretons (Paris, 1889), p. 39, and note, where the description of the instrument is not technical.
  3. See Le Gonidec, Dictionnaire breton-français, ed. by T. Hersart de la Villemarqué; and N. Quellien, op. cit. p. 37, note.
  4. For examples of these see N. Quellien, op. cit. part ii.