Tuesday, July 14, 2009

La Marseillaise

Happy Bastille Day! This is the 220th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille Prison in Paris during the French revolution. In France, today is a day of national celebration. The storming of the Bastille was an important marker in the development of the modern French nation.

The storming of the Bastille predates the composition of the Marseillaise by three years. The song was written by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a supporter of the monarchy, at the behest of the mayor of Strasbourg after France declared war on Prussia and Austria. War song for the Rhine army was written on April 25, 1792. The song was soon published as Border armies' war song. A group of revolutionaries who had gathered in Marseille adapted the march and sang it as they entered Paris on July 30, 1792. It was called La Marseillaise by Parisians after those revolutionaries from Marseille.

On July 14, 1795, La Marseillaise became a national song of France. It was banned during the Empire, but came back with the July revolution of 1830. Berlioz made a well-known arrangement of the song. An "official version" was adopted in 1887. La Marseillaise was recognized as the national anthem in the constitutions of the 4th and 5th Republics.

Like the American national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, La Marseillaise celebrates war. But the French anthem also celebrates a citizen's call to arms in defense of the nation. The two anthems also share a sometimes call for a less bellicose song to replace each one. But both songs represent important parts of the nations' histories.

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