French National Anthem

French Revolution

The French national anthem is known as La Marseillaise, translated in English as The Song of Marseille. It is often heard on Bastille Day and this French traditional song commemorates the French Revolution of 1789.

History of the French National Anthem

La Marseillaise was written on April 4, 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in Strasbourg. It was originally titled, Chant de Guerre pour L'Armée du Rhin or The War Song for the Army of the Rhine. The song was written as a response to the invasion of France by Prussian and Austrian forces who were later defeated at the Battle of Valmy.

A young doctor from Montpelier, François Mireur, had sung it in Marseille at a patriotic banquet. Printed copies were handed out and the song spread through the city. When French revolutionaries from Marseilles entered Paris, they marched to the Tuilleries singing the song. From then on it was known as La Marseillaise.

Rouget de Lisle was in fact a loyalist supporter of the monarchy who barely escaped the guillotine. Mireur went on to fight in Napolean's army and died at the age of 28.

Adopted then Banned

The instability that followed the French Revolution of 1789 affected the national anthem. La Marseillaise was initially adopted by the National Convention on July 14,1795. However, when Napolean I came to power in 1799, the song was banned because of it's revolutionary associations.

After the abdication of Napolean, the Royalists installed Louis XVIII who ruled during the Second Restoration. La Marseillaise remained banned until the July Revolution of 1830.

La Marseillaise was last banned when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became Emperor of the Second French Empire in 1852. It was finally reinstated in 1879, and has been the official French National Anthem ever since.

Lyrics of La Marseillaise

The first lines of La Marseillaise are probably familiar to most people due to frequency in films and music. This opening is a rousing call to arms:

  • Allons enfant de la Patrie - Children of the Fatherland, go forth
  • Le jour de gloire est arrivé - The day of glory has arrived

Since this anthem was written in the midst of a foreign invasion, it is a battle song. It is therefore asks for a passionate response as opposed to evoking quiet memories of beautiful landscapes. There is much in the song about fighting tyranny as well as many graphic descriptions of the violence being visited upon the citizenry. It is calls for people literally fight for freedom, and even today inspires deep and heartfelt emotions when heard and sung. The refrain calls directly to march forth:

Lyrics to La Marseillaise
French English
Aux armes citoyens! To arms, citizens!
Formez vos bataillons Form up your battalions
Marchons, marchons! Let us march, Let us march!
Qu'un sang impur That their impure blood

Abreuve nos sillons Should water our fields

The following websites provide the full text of La Marseillaise and include English translations as well as recordings:

Other Anthems

During the reign of Napolean I Veillons au Salut de L'Empire was the unofficial anthem. It was originally composed by D'Aleyrac in 1791. Partons pour la Syrie is a French military song about Napolean I's campaign in Egypt. It became popular among bonapartistes during the first restoration of the monarchy and then became the official anthem known as Choral du Peuple until the end of the Second Empire.

La Marseillaise in Music and Films

Composers such as Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz and Robert Schumann all produced famous arrangements of the La Marseillaise. The French national anthem has appeared in numerous films for example:

La Marseillaise is a rousing anthem that celebrates France's proud history of resisting tyranny and fighting for freedom.

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French National Anthem