02 July 2014

Did You Know...? Part 12

Where La Marseillaise came from

Contrary to what the name would have you believe, La Marseillaise, France's national anthem, was not born in the south but in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

It was the end of April 1792, and France had just declared war on Austria when the municipality of Strasbourg (perhaps the mayor himself according to one version of the story) asked Joseph Rouget de Lisle, "captain of the engineers and amateur musician", to compose a marching song for the French troops.

Originally titled "War song of the Army of the Rhine", the song became a popular marching tune and spread quickly to other parts of the country.

Copies of the lyrics found their way into the hands of soldiers from Marseille who sang it as they marched into Paris later that summer.  The Parisiens re-baptised the song La Marseillaise, which became the anthem of the revolution and later, on 14 July 1795, the national anthem.

Below are the French and English versions of the Marseillaise commonly heard today, although the official song comprises another six verses.

La Marseillaise
Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L'étendard sanglant est levé
Entendez-vous dans nos campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras.
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

Aux armes citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Marchons, marchons
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons

Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny's
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts

To arms citizens Form your battalions
March, march
Let impure blood
Water our furrows

Here's a YouTube video of Edith Piaf singing La Marseillaise in its entirety.

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