A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Marseillaise, La
MARSEILLAISE, LA. The words and music of this popular French hymn are the composition of Claude Joseph Rouget De Lisle, a captain of engineers, who was quartered at Strasburg when the volunteers of the Bas Rhin received orders to join Luckner's army. Dietrich, the Mayor of Strasburg, having, in the course of a discussion on the war, regretted that the young soldiers had no patriotic song to sing as they marched out, Rouget de Lisle, who was of the party, returned to his lodgings, and in a fit of enthusiasm composed, during the night of April 24, 1792, tbe words and music of the song which has immortalised his name. With his violin he picked out the first strains of this inspiriting and truly martial melody; but being only an amateur, he unfortunately added a symphony which jars strangely with the vigorous character of the hymn itself. The following copy of the original edition, printed by Dannbach of Strasburg under the title 'Chant de guerre pour l'armee du Rhin, dédié au Maréchal Lukner' (sic), will be interesting from its containing the symphony, which has been since suppressed, and from an obvious typographical error, a crotchet being evidently intended for a quaver.
[App. p.711 Second stave the quaver in the second bar should be C, not B. Fourth line, the last note should be a quaver, not a crotchet.]
The 'Chant de Guerre' was sung in Dietrich's house on April 25, copied and arranged for a military band on the following day, and performed by the band of the Garde Nationale at a review on Sunday, the 29th. On June 25 a singer named Mireur sang it at a civic banquet at Marseilles with so much effect that it was immediately printed, and distributed to the volunteers of the battalion just starting for Paris. They entered Paris on July 30, singing their new hymn; and with it on their lips they marched to the attack on the Tuileries on August 10, 1792. From that day the 'Chant de guerre pour l'année du Rhin' was called 'Chanson' or 'Chant des Marseillais,' and, finally, 'La Marseillaise.' The people, shouting it in the streets, probably altered a note or two; the musicians, Edelmann, Grétry, and most of all Gossec, in their accompaniments for pianoforte and orchestra, greatly enriched the harmonies, and soon the 'Marseillaise,' in the form we have it now (and which need hardly be quoted), was known from one end of France to the other.
The original edition contained only six couplets; the seventh was added when it was dramatised for the Fête of the Fédération, in order to complete the characters—an old man, a soldier, a wife, and a child—among whom the verses were distributed. Rouget de Lisle had been cashiered for expressing disapproval of the events of the 10th of August, and was then in prison, from which he was only released after the fall of Robespierre, on the 9th Thermidor (July 28), 1794. The following fine stanza for the child was accordingly supplied by Dubois, editor of the 'Journal de Littérature':—
'Nous entrerons dans la carrière,
Quand nos ainés n'y seront plus;
Nous y trouverons leur poussière
Et la trace de leurs vertus.
Bien moins jaloux de leur survivre
Que de partager leur cercueil,
Nous aurons le sublime orgueil
De les venger ou de les suivie.'
Dubois also proposed to alter the concluding lines of the sixth stanza:—
'Que tes ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire'
'Dans tes ennemis expirants
Vois ton triomphe et notre gloire.'
These are minute details, but no fact connected with this most celebrated of French national airs is uninteresting.
That Rouget de Lisle was the author of the words of the 'Marseillaise' has never been doubted—indeed Louis Philippe conferred a pension upon him; but it has been denied over and over again that he composed the music. Strange to say, Castil-Blaze (see 'Molière musicien,' vol. ii. pp. 452–454), who should have recognised the vigour and dash so characteristic of the French, declared it to have been taken from a German hymn.
In F. K. Meyer's Versailler Briefe (Berlin, 1872) there is an article upon the origin of the Marseillaise, in which it is stated that the tune is the same as that to which the Volkslied 'Stand ich auf hohen Bergen' is sung in Upper Bavaria. The author of the article heard it sung in 1842 by an old woman of 70, who informed him that it was a very old tune, and that she had learnt it from her mother and grandmother. The tune is also said to exist in the Credo of a MS. Mass composed by Holtzmann in 1776, which is preserved in the parish church of Meersburg. (See the Gartenlaube for 1861, p. 256.) Recent enquiry (August, 1879) on the spot from the curate of Meersburg has proved that there is no truth in this story.
Fétis, in 1863, asserted that the music was the work of a composer named Navoigille, and reinforces his statement in the 2nd edition of his 'Biographie Universelle.' Georges Kastner ('Revue et Gazette Musicale,' Paris, 1848) and several other writers, including the author of this article (see Chouquet's 'L'Art Musical,' Sept. 8, 1864–March 9, 65), have clearly disproved these allegations; and the point was finally settled by a pamphlet, 'La Vérité sur la paternité de la Marseillaise" (Paris, 1865), written by A. Rouget de Lisle, nephew of the composer, which contains precise information and documentary evidence, establishing Rouget de Lisle's claim beyond a doubt. The controversy is examined at length by Loquin in 'Les mélodies populaires de la France,' Paris. 1879. The 'Marseillaise' has been often made use of by composers. Of these, two may be cited—Salieri, in the opening chorus of his opera, 'Palmira' (1795), and Grison, in the introduction to the oratorio 'Esther' (still in MS.), both evidently intentional. Schumann uses it in his song of the Two Grenadiers with magnificent effect; and also introduces it in his Overture to Hermann und Dorothea. [App. p.711 "another instance of Schumann's use of the tune, though in a disguised form, occurs in the 'Faschingsschwank aus Wien.'"]A picture by Pils, representing Rouget de Lisle singing the 'Marseillaise,' is well-known from the engraving.
[ G. C. ]
- In the Maison Böckel, No. 12, Grand Rue