A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Malbrough
MALBROUGH, or MALBROOK. The date of this celebrated French song, and the names of the authors of both words and music, are doubtful; but there is reason to believe that the couplets called 'Mort et convoi de l'invincible Malbrough' were improvised on the night after the battle of Malplaquet (Sept. 11, 1709), in the bivouack of Maréchal de Villars, at Quesnoy, three miles from the field of battle. The name of the soldier, who perhaps satirised the English general as a relief to his hunger, has not been preserved, but in all probability he was well acquainted with the lament on the death of the Duke of Guise, published in 1566. In fact, the idea, the construction, and many details in the two songs are very similar, though the rhythm and position of the rhymes are different, and they cannot be sung to the same music. The following is the air, admirably adapted to the words:—
Chateaubriand, hearing the tune sung by Arabs in Palestine, suggested that it had been carried there by the Crusaders, either in the time of Godfrey de Bouillon, or in that of Louis IX. and Joinville; but no musician can entertain this idea for a moment. The breadth of the phrasing, the major mode, and the close on the dominant, are as characteristic of the popular tunes of the time of Louis XIV. as they are unlike the unrhythmical melodies of the middle ages.
It is not surprising that neither words nor music are to be found in the many collections of both: nowadays the merest trifles appear in print, then all songs were sung from memory. It would probably have died out had not Madame Poitrine used it as a lullaby for the infant dauphin in 1781. Marie Antoinette took a fancy to her baby's cradle-song, and sang it herself, and 'Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre' was soon heard in Versailles, Paris, and at length throughout France. Beaumarchais introduced it into his 'Mariage de Figaro' (1784), which still further contributed to its popularity. It then became a favourite air for couplets in French vaudevilles; and Beethoven brings it into his 'Battle Symphony' (1813) as the symbol of the French army. The air is now equally popular on both sides of the Channel. Many an Englishman who would be puzzled to recognise Marlborough under the guise of Malbrook is familiar with the tune to the convivial words, 'We won't go home till morning' and 'For he's a jolly good fellow.'The piece was made the subject of an opera-bouffe in 4 acts, words by Siraudin and Busnach, music by Bizet, Jonas, Legouix, and Delibes, brought out at the Athénée, Dec. 15 [App. p.708 "Dec. 13"], 1867.
[ G. C. ]