Updated: Sep 5, 2020
L'Histoire de la Marseillaise – A song of revolution
Ba dit dum dum dum dum da dit dum...
Audio by the US Navy Band Anthem Collection
La Marseillaise is a tune you most likely recognize when you hear, but you may not know what it is or where it comes from. The tune has been used in popular songs, such as The Beatle's All You Need Is Love, in which the tune is featured in full orchestration by producer George Martin. Jazz musician Django Reinhardt used it in his "Échos de France." Max Steiner included it in his score for the iconic film "Casablanca." It has been quoted by many notable composers including Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Gioachino Rossini, Jacques Offenbach, Claude Debussy, and Richard Wagner in their works. One of the one famous uses of the piece is in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
La Marseillaise was composed by amateur composer and army engineer Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in the city of Strasbourg on the French and German border in April, 1792 during the French Revolution. France had recently declared war against Austria and the mayor of Strasbourg, Phillippe Frédéric Dietrich, requested that a new march be written to inspire the French troops and Rouget de Lisle's responded to the call with "Chant de guerre de l'armée du Rhin" ("War Song of the Rhine Army"). The song became popular after it was sung in the Parisian streets by volunteer army units from the city of Marsailles, and as a result, it became known as "La Marseillaise."
It was officially named the national anthem of France by the Revolutionary government, The National Convention on July 14, 1795. This was the sixth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille (the armory and political prison), which happened July 14, 1789, and marked the flashpoint of the French Revolution. The piece was banned by Napoleon during the Imperial Period and by Louis VVIII and Charles X due to its revolutionary spirit. It was re-named as anthem during the 1830 July Revolution, but subsequently re-banned at Napoleon III. Finally, it was reinstated once and for all in 1879.
The piece is synonymous with France and French identity, perhaps even more so than other popular national anthems. Its history is the story of revolution and power in the hands of the people. The lyrics speak out against tyranny and send out a stirring call to the revolutionary cause.
Allons, enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé. Contre nous, de la tyrannie, L’étendard sanglant est levé; l’étendard sanglant est levé. Entendez-vous, dans les campagnes Mugir ces féroces soldats? Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras Égorger nos fils, nos compagnes. Aux armes, citoyens!
Formez vos bataillons, Marchons, marchons! Qu’un sang impur Abreuve nos sillons. Amour sacré de la Patrie, Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs. Liberté, liberté chérie, Combats avec tes défenseurs; combats avec tes défenseurs. Sous nos drapeaux, que la victoire Accoure à tes mâles accents; Que tes ennemis expirants Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire! Aux armes, citoyens!
Let's go, children of the fatherland, The day of glory has arrived. Against us tyranny's bloody flag is raised; the bloody flag is raised. Do you hear in the countryside The roar of those savage soldiers? They come right into our arms To cut the throats of our sons, our comrades. To arms, citizens!
Form your battalions, March, march! That their impure blood Should water our fields. Sacred love of the fatherland, Guide and support our vengeful arms. Liberty, dear liberty, Fight with your defenders; fight with your defenders. Under our flags, so that victory Will rush to your manly strains; That your dying enemies Should see your triumph and our glory! To arms, citizens!
La Marseillaise remains a very popular national anthem. Though not everyone loves it. Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing had the piece slowed down to make it less "warlike," and others have criticized its violent lyrics. Though other feel that it is one of the greatest pieces of anthem music across the world. In 2015, after the ISIS attacks in France historian Simon Schama told the BBC's Today that the song is "the great example of courage and solidarity when facing danger. That's why it's so invigorating. That's why it really is the greatest national anthem in the world, ever."
Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!
Vive la France!
Freedom! Equality! Brotherhood!
Long live France!
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is passionate about tea and creating our own daily rituals. Visit www.PerennialMusicAndArts.com for more about music lessons and www.JanaeJean.com for more about a variety of wellness related topics including tea, sound healing, and more. Contact her via email@example.com for questions about tea, ceremony, music composition, sound healing, writing, photography, or other relevant topics.
BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34843770
US Navy Bands. https://www.navyband.navy.mil/anthems.html