Sunday, July 14, 2019

Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle - La Marseillaise

It is a little surprising just how recent is the concept of National Anthems.  The idea really only got off the ground in the 1830s, and even the United States didn't have a formal anthem until the 1930s.  Ten years or so ago Dad emailed me on this, which was the first time I had ever heard of it:
When I was a grade schooler, Armistice Day was an occasion to have a covered dish supper at the American Legion Hall. There was always a program with children of the veterans performing music or recitations. One girl always recited, by heart, In Flanders Fields. No one recited Wilfred Owen. Those attending rarely sang The Star Spangled Banner. In those days, it was not yet the national anthem. There were competing national anthems. We were more likely to sing America to the tune of God Save the Queen or America the Beautiful. Earlier in the day, we children would be on the downtown streets selling paper (not plastic) poppies with the proceeds going to needy veterans. In the 1930s, there were lots of them.
As far as I can tell, La Marseillaise is the world's oldest national anthem, having been born in the French Revolution.  Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle entered the revolutionary Army as a Captain in the Engineers, but he was a Monarchist (supporting the idea of a constitutional Monarchy, similar to what the UK has).  Because of this he was imprisoned and sentenced to the guillotine but the Thermidor revolution caused the downfall of Robespierre, ended the terror, and saved his life.

You'd think that the revolutionary government would have been a little grateful to de Lisle, who had written this the previous year.  But Robespierre preferred an alternative song, La Chant du Départ which became the anthem under Napoleon.  The restored Bourbon monarchs of course detested the song, and Napoleon II of the Second Empire had no use for it, but it was re-adopted in 1879 in the aftermath of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War as a patriotic rallying call.

Those who think that the Star Spangled Banner is overly militaristic will get the vapors from the lyrics of La Marseillaise, which was originally written for the Army in which de Lisle served: Chant de guerre pour l'Armée du Rhin, War song for the Army of the Rhine.  A quick scan of the lyrics shows such anti-passifist writings as:
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They're coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of your sons, your women!

To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let's march, let's march!
Let an impure blood
Water our furrows!
Good stuff, right there.  Ferocious stuff.  So the next time someone complains to you that the Star Spangled Banner is too warlike, tell them to come back after they've dealt with the French.

And no performance of La Marseillaise is as inspiring (to me, at least) as the scene from Casablanca.  Enjoy.  Happy Bastille Day, everyone.


Glen Filthie said...

Up here in Canada our anthem offended the frogs in Queerbec so the made some of it fwench. No sooner were they finished with it, when the fat, angry she-twinks got the vapours over the stanza that had “in all Thy son’s command” and then they changed that. Then the atheists got micro-aggressed when certain verses might contain references to God so it got changed again. I don’t think anyone knows what it says now.

libertyman said...

Yes that is quite the scene in Casablanca. Thank you for the history lesson as always.

Greybeard said...

The Mortal Storm.
Watch on the Rhine.
Mrs. Miniver.
We've never known the fear our parents and grandparents knew.
Those movies should be required watching today.

Richard said...

Good scene but I prefer the music contest between Brits and Zulus in Zulu. That was a lull in actual fighting.