Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836)
Hymne à la Liberté (La Marseillaise)
The importance of music to the Revolution is illustrated by
the speed with which the Marseillaise became a symbol of popular commitment to the
cause. Both words and music were written on the 24th April 1792 by a young army
engineer, Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, who was stationed in the border town of
Strasbourg to defend France in her week-old war against Germany. Shortly afterwards, the
National Guard of Marseilles set out for Paris and sang it in every village on their
route, waving their hats and swords at the words, ’Aux armes, citoyens!’, and
singing with particular enthusiasm as they entered the capital on 30th July.
From then on, the Marseillaise was heard everywhere as a statement of revolutionary
fervour, and in January 1793 a decree required theatres to play it ’whenever the
public demands it’, even if this interrupted a play. Gossec arranged the work for a
chorus and military band, with an introductory fanfare, for Robespierre’s Fête à
l’etre Suprême in 1794, and I have rescored this from a piano reduction which was
made before Gossec’s original disappeared.
By 1792, the Band had expanded considerably, and members
also taught at a music school which Sarrette established that year to ensure a continued
flow of good wind and brass players. He was anxious to extend tuition to all instruments,
however, and by organising a concert at the National Assembly on 8th November
1793, persuaded officials to develop his school into the national music college which is
today known as the Paris Conservatoire.
© John Humphries