Monday, July 14, 2014

La Marseillaise .. and more

Yesterday I was in an American city where the French flag was standing on a pole in the center of the town square.  Can you guess in which town this could have possibly be?  I also heard the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, being played - and this was not yet for the French National holiday, le 14 Juillet (here called Bastille's Day.)  I have written about le 14 Juillet in several earlier posts such as in my post of July 13, 2009, where I give the history of the holiday - click here to read it. I'll explain in upcoming posts about the French flag I saw yesterday.  Below is the band that  entertained us.

The military band, The Eighth Regiment Band, played several other marches.  They perform on period instruments dating to the 1800s.  The band leader gave interesting background information on the tunes being played.  The origins of some of these pieces were not what people usually believe - patriotic US music coming from other lands and so on.  They played the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  During the American Civil War, its first lyrics were used in a Union Army marching song supposed to have been written in 1855 by William Steffe (1830-1890.)  It became a popular American abolitionist song.

However the original music of the Battle Hymn of the Republic is much older.  It comes from the Southern USA.  Music researchers found out that its roots go back to an early 1800s or even late 1700s Georgia African-American wedding song or "Negro folk song."  In 1807 a hymnal included the song which was titled then "Grace, Reviving the Soul."  Later, in the 1820s it became popular as a Methodist Camp Meeting song around Charleston, South Carolina, where it was sung in free Black churches.  It became known as "Say, brothers, will you meet us on Canaan's happy shore."  Below is the sheet music from an early hymn book of the Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennesse, where you can read the chorus "Glory, glory hallelujah."  (Click on pictures to enlarge.)

The band played for an hour or more.  I did not know all the tunes but when they played the Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem, every one stood up, including me (since I am a naturalized American citizen.)  The lyrics came from a poem by Francis Scott Key, but the music was originally a popular drinking song in England.  The music is attributed to English composer John Stafford Smith (1750-1830.)  It was the drinking song of the Anacreontic Society - a London gentlemen club founded in the mid 18th century.  I find it strange in a way that the American national anthem comes from an old British drinking song but it is a beautiful and stirring melody.

Before playing "Dixie" the band leader told the audience that both Northerners and Southerners could sing it as it had been written by Dan Emmett, a white native of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and performed in New York City in the Bryant's Minstrel troupe, where it became very famous - and was not even known in the South at the time.  It was very popular in the North and was used as a Republican Convention theme song in the 1850s.  It was one of President Lincoln's favorite songs.  I found a reference to the song in an old French book, written by the Marquis de Chambrun (French, 1831-1891.)  The book is called "A Frenchman at the Lincoln's" letters addressed during the Civil War (the Secession War) to his spouse who had stayed behind in France.

Here is the translation of his letter of April 9, 1865: "We were to leave City Point on Saturday, April 8th, 1865.  A few hours prior to our leaving, a military band from Headquarters came on board the River Queen.  We assembled to hear it.  After the performance of several pieces, Mr. Lincoln thought of the "Marseillaise," for which he professed great liking.  He ordered it to be played.  Delighted with it, he had it played a second time.  He then asked me if I had ever  heard "Dixie," the rebel patriotic song, to the sound of which all their attacks had been conducted.  As I answered in the negative, he added:  "That tune is now Federal property; it belongs to us, and, at any rate, it is good to show the rebels that with us in power they will be free to hear it again."  He then ordered the somewhat surprised musicians to play it for us.  Thus ended our last evening."

In another book I read that President Lincoln, after attending a minstrel show in Chicago, Illinois, where "Dixie" was played, called and shouted: "Let's have it again! Let's have it again!"  and then said "I have always thought 'Dixie' one of the best tunes I have ever heard.  Our adversaries over the way attempted to appreciate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.]   He had it also played for his inauguration.  Even after the Civil War the song Dixie was very popular in the North for many years.  Now it is not a "politically correct" song and considered controversial.  It is too bad because it is a lively tune and really just a song.

After playing Dixie the band played La Marseillaise.  The band leader did say that it was the French national anthem but also been considered a revolutionary song by many others.  I was the only one in the audience to stand up and sing - since I am still a French citizen.

The Marseillaise is the patriotic hymn of the French Revolution, officially adopted by France as its national anthem in 1879.  In late April 1792, baron de Dietrich, the mayor of Strasbourg, mentioned during a party that he was sorry that Revolutionary France did not posses a national hymn able to galvanize soldiers and volunteers to fight for the "homeland in danger."  Touched by this remark, a young officer, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, composed a war song during the night of 25-26 April 1792 to instill bravery and courage in the hearts of French troops as they fought war with Austria.  It was originally called "War Song for the Army of the Rhine."  Rouget de Lisle was stationed in Strasbourg in a battalion named "Les enfants de la patrie" (Children of the Nation.)  Strasbourg was attacked several days later by the armies from Prussia and Austria but they were repulsed.

 Rouget de Lisle composant La Marseillaise, Auguste de Pinelli, French 1823-1890

Soon this war song was adopted by a troop from Marseille who had volunteered to fight.  They made it a popular patriotic and revolutionary melody when they marched into Paris on 30 July 1792 singing it in the streets.  They gave it a new name "Hymne des Marseillais" and then "La Marseillaise."  It was adopted as the nation's anthem by decree on July 14, 1795 and played until 1804.

During the Empire and the Restoration periods of France, the Marseillaise was forbidden but it was restored during the Revolution of 1830.  At that time Hector Berlioz, the French romantic composer (1803-1869) wrote a first orchestration that he dedicated to Rouget de Lisle.  In 1848 Berlioz wrote the final orchestration.  In early 1879 it became officially recognized as the national anthem of France and became one of the symbols of the French Republic.

Miss Darthy interpreting La Marseillaise by Gustave Brisgand, French 1867-1944

The Marseillaise became very popular and used by many composers as well as in movies.  In Russia it was used as a republican revolutionary anthem starting in the 18th century (almost as soon as it was written in France) and became the most popular song during the Revolution of 1905.  They called it "The Worker's Marseillaise" (In Russian: Рабочая Марсельеза, Rabochaya Marselyeza.)  In 1880 Russian composer Tchaikovski used the theme of La Marseillaise in his 1812 Ouverture.  I heard Tchaikovski's piece played during the 4th July fireworks celebration here and found it a bit bizarre that this Russian theme would be played here during an American patriotic time, but it is a rousing piece of music indeed.  Below is the French anthem played by the Millar Brass Ensemble.

" Allons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé ..."   Vive le 14 Juillet !


Miss_Yves said...

Merci pour ces hymnes , ce billet de circonstance et ces beaux partages !

✿France✿ said...

Bonsoir j'espère que tout se passe bien et la Marseillaise oui j'aime la chanter et je ne vis pas bien loin de Marseille
je ne suis pas sortie du tout pourtant hier c'était mon annif mais la foule me fait peur donc je sortirai un autre jour
et je n'ai pas vu le feu non plus alors tu sais j'en profite chez toi
et tes photos sont très belles et comment ne pas aimer le feu et toutes ces si belles couleurs
je te souhaite
une belle soirée gros bisous

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you for yet another informative post.

La Table De Nana said...

Long time no see!
I hope all is well with you~
I can only guess perhaps a town in Louisiana?

This is Belgium said...

Ah back to blogging!
Happy Quatorze!
So glad you enjoyed Brussels
Greetings from Alabama

Tamara said...

Another informative post. I love the music history you've collated here and the reference to the spirit of the revolution. I am forever amazing by the level of research you do and share with us here. I will refer people to your history post of le quatorze julliet. Merci. Thanks for popping in to our Paris in July post this week too.

Niall & Antoinette said...

Hope you had a very enjoyable 14 juillet yesterday. :-)
The weather gods smiled on our corner of France which was nice as we'd been having unseasonably cool rainy days for almost a week.

David said...

Vagabonde, I'm guessing that the French flag was flying either in Kennesaw or Rome Georgia. Thanks for another classy blog! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Terra said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog today; I do love how Venice is almost a character in Donna Leon's books. I was in Paris twice on Bastille day, and get goose bumps hearing The Marsaillaise, our Star Spangled Banner and now I appreciate Dixie too, after reading this post.

Ginnie said...

Talk about getting an education about my own country...through YOU, Vagabonde. I'm always learning from you. Thank you.

DJan said...

I join in with your other commenters, feeling that I've learned so much from your posts, and this one now has that music rolling around in my head. A lovely, rousing song indeed. :-)

Mae Travels said...

Fascinating historical information! I'm deep in my project about Edouard de Pomiane, French food writer and gastronome. I don't recall if you've ever said whether you are familiar with his cookbooks.

glad you are well & truly back to blogging...
mae at

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What an interesting story of the song Dixie. As a southerner, I always assumed it was written by a southerner. I had no idea of it's history or it's association with Marseillaise. By the way, I have no idea where the flag was flying, but I am curious.

sablonneuse said...

Another lovely and informative post.
I love the way July 14th is celebrated in every village. The fireworks are usually let off the night before where we live, but this year the weather was bad so they did it in the evening of the 14th.

Reader Wil said...

Thank you for the history of the national anthems. In the French national anthem it says that the tyranny must be driven away. It originates from the French Revolution. Our National Anthem originates from the revolution of the Dutch against Spain, of which we were a part. We also sing of the tyranny which must be driven away by the Prince of Orange.(1568 -1648)
Merci de votre visite et commentaire!
Wil. ABCW Team

Marie-Anne said...

J'en ai appris encore de choses sur les hymnes americains!!!!Merci, chere Vagabonde! J'espere que tu as passe un bon 14 Juillet!!!
Alors, quelle etait cette ville avec le drapeau francais??
Bonnes bises!!!

Magic Love Crow said...

Fantastic post! Thank you for all the great information ;o) Hope everything is well ;o)

sonia a. mascaro said...

Thank you so much for that informative and great post. I always learn when I read your posts.
As my English is not so good, I will translated it on Google to enjoy it better.
I like the video too!

Have a lovely weekend.

Jeanne said...

Such great history and photos here. I have missed seeing your posts for awhile as i have been spending less computer time. So good to see you , and enjoyed reading all you have here!

Sally Wessely said...

As have the other readers, I learned much here. Thank you for sharing the history, the photos, and the beautiful music. The event you attended must have been quite inspirational.

Elaine said...

Sounds like you had a good day! So many songs have interesting origins. If the music is good its bound to be remembered.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Hi , thank you for coming over to my blog and I am happy that you loved the photos, Yes I know what you mean about shutters being stuck on the outside next to windows, same here , annoying.

This is such a fantastic post and filled with such history , I am sure that everyone who was in Paris had a brilliant time, it looks amazing, one day I will see it . You certainly did a huge amount of research , thank you.

Jenn Jilks said...

It's a stirring song: Marseillaise. I've sung it in a large choir I used to sing with. I forget the occasion.

Perpetua said...

Vagabonde, I don't think I've ever read one of your posts without learning at least one thing and often several. This post was fascinating and took me back to when I was at secondary school and learning French. Our French teacher taught us some folk-songs and also the first verse of La Marseillaise, which I can still sing off by heart.

Jeanie said...

I had always wondered how the Marseillaise had come about -- thanks for answering that! I must have missed it but I didn't learn the city where you were hearing these songs. Nashville, perhaps, since it is music city, although as far away from France as I could imagine a city being!

Vicki Lane said...

I have always loved the Marseillaise - and Dixie too.
When I was in high school in Florida in the Fifties, at football games the band played The Star Spangled Banner -- and we stood up. And then we sat down and then the band played Dixie -- and we stood up again.

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