La Marseillaise, a song of war and hymn to Freedom

La Marseillaise became the official anthem of the French Republic on July 14, 1795.

La Marseillaise - French Revolution
La Marseillaise – French Revolution

Rouget de Lisle wrote the Chant de guerre pour l’armée du Rhin à Strasbourg – Song of war for the army of the Rhine at Strasburg in the night of 25 to 26 April 1792, after France declared war to Austria.

Baron de Dietrich, who was then mayor of Strasbourg, lamented at a dinner at which he had invited the officers in garrison in his city, that France had no national anthem.

He thus asked Rouget de Lisle, who was then stationed in his city, to compose a war song.

According to the legend, Rouget de Lisle returned to his room and wrote the song of war in one go, in a fiery surge of patriotism!

The first public rendition of his war song took place on Place Broglie, Strasbourg city hall square.

The song was renamed La Marseillaise when it became national anthem in 1795.

Rouget de Lisle composed several other songs during his lifetime, but returned to civilian life after the Revolution of 1830.

He was buried in the cemetery of Choisy-le-Roi, south of Paris, but his ashes were transferred to the Invalides on July 14, 1915.

The Marseillais sing La Marseillaise

The Republican soldiers of Marseille turned Rouget de Lisle’s war song into a revolutionary hymn.

It all started when a young volunteer from Montpellier, Francois Mireur, sang it for the first time at a patriotic gathering in Marseille.

The city’s volunteers who marched on Paris in 1792 after the insurrection of the Tuileries kept singing it as they traversed the country on foot.

The hymn spread like wild fire, from village to village, and became the rallying call for the Revolution.

The Marseillais entered Paris on July 30, 1792, triumphally singing the hymn that became named after them.

La Marseillaise, forgotten then loved again!

La Marseillaise was a revolutionary hymn and was banned under the Napoleonic Empire and the Bourbon Restoration, but the revolutionaries re-instated it briefly during the Revolution of 1830.

It was restored as French national anthem in 1879, under the Third Republic, and the War Ministry adopted a first official version in 1887.

However, the Constitutions of 1946 and 1958 confirmed his status as France’s national anthem.

Finally, you might be interested to know that the law of April 23, 2005 makes the learning of La Marseillaise compulsory in our primary schools!

One song, several versions

Since its creation, La Marseillaise has been set to music in various forms, with or without vocals.

Pierre Dupont, Head of the Republican Guard’s music, adapted – at the request of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing – the version of 1887 that is played today at the official ceremonies.

La Marseillaise – First verse and first chorus

The lyrics are a rallying call to the French Army and people to fight the Prussians and Austrians witout mercy.

The latters attacked Strasbourg a few days after Rouget de Lisle composed the song, but were defeated at the Battle of Valmy on September 20, 1792.

La Marseillaise on Arc de Triomphe
La Marseillaise

Allons enfants de la Patrie, Arise, children of the Fatherland,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé! The day of glory has arrived!
Contre nous de la tyrannie Against us, tyranny’s
L’étendard sanglant est levé, (bis) Bloody standard is raised, (repeat)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes Do you hear, in the countryside,
Mugir ces féroces soldats? The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras They’re coming right into your arms
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes! To slit the throats of your sons, your women!

Aux armes, citoyens, To arms, citizens,
Formez vos bataillons, Form your battalions,
Marchons, marchons! Let’s march, let’s march!
Qu’un sang impur Let an impure blood
Abreuve nos sillons! Water our furrows!

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