Saturday, July 14, 2012

Happy Bastille Day Grandmere!

Francois Rude, La Marsellaise from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 1833 - 36

The distinction between “citizen” and “subject” may only be a technicality these days.  There probably isn’t much practical difference between being a citizen of the Republic of France and being a subject of the Queen of the Netherlands.  And yet, that distinction is still there, and continues to have meaning for some of us.  I think of the distinction between a sovereign monarch and the sovereign people every time a bailiff commands officials and spectators in court to rise when the jury enters.  I would much prefer to be a citizen than a subject.

Happy Bastille Day to all!  LIBERTE, EGALITE, FRATERNITE!

In keeping with blog tradition, here is Placido Domingo singing the Hector Berlioz setting of La Marseillaise.

I wonder if any other country has banned its own national anthem as much as France.  La Marseillaise was composed in 1792, adopted by the First Republic as a national anthem in 1793.  Napoleon then banned it (Tchaikovsky got it wrong in the 1812 Overture, the French invaded Russia to some other tune).  The kings of the Bourbon Restoration also banned it.  After the July Revolution, the ban was lifted, but Louis Philippe did not exactly encourage it, and neither did the Second Republic which replaced him in 1848.  Louis Napoleon banned it again during the Second Empire.  The revolutionaries of the Paris Commune in 1871 made La Marseillaise their official anthem, but so did their enemies in the Third Republic.  Today, the status of La Marseillaise as the national anthem is written into the constitution of the Fifth Republic.

Other countries banned this song during the 19th century.  Before the Internationale was written, this was the international anthem of revolution, especially left wing revolution.

For my annual indulgence in French gloire, I present a selection of Musique Militaire, some famous French marches, all from the Third Republic and written soon after the Franco Prussian War of 1870.

La Pere La Victoire by Louis Ganne. I have no idea if there is any connection between this march and Clemenceau whose partisans called him The Father of Victory.

Le Regiment de Sambre et Meuse by Joseph Rauski ably performed here by an old Soviet band.

And finally, as the Bastille Day parade traditionally ends with the Foreign Legion, so we end with their official march, Le Boudin, a title that refers to a type of blood sausage, a reference to the appearance of the pack rolls that the Foreign Legion used to carry.   Laurel and Hardy in the Flying Deuces make a cameo in this clip. And how many remakes of Beau Geste are there really?

And this Bastille Day, how many of us remember that Josephine Baker was a war hero?.

She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, the daughter of a washerwoman and a drummer.  She arrived in Paris and became Josephine Baker, singer, dancer, celebrity, and international sex symbol.
During the Second World War, she used her celebrity to gain access to important people in order to gather intelligence and serve as a courier for the French Resistance.  She frequently posed for pictures and signed autographs for German soldiers who never suspected that the sheet music in her limo was covered with secret messages.  She used her fame to gain access to North African leaders, especially to King Farouk to persuade them either to support the Free French forces or to look the other way.  She helped hundreds of refugees to escape Occupied and Vichy France, usually through North Africa.
After the war, she was awarded the Medal of Resistance with the rosette, and inducted into the Legion of Honor.
She continued to resist all her life, urging a boycott of the very high class Stork Club in New York because of its racist employment policies, and publicly taking on the very pro-segregation Walter Winchell.

Josephine Baker not only fought for Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, she lived it.

Here she is at the 1963 March on Washington.  She is wearing the Legion of Honor medal next to the lapel of her uniform.

And finally in the interest of continuing the Franco American friendship, and yes, we are friends no matter how much we hate each other, here is an American adaptation of a French military march.

The march Sambre et Meuse has long been popular with American marching bands.  The marching band of Ohio State University made it part of their tradition.  Here they are performing their remarkable adaptation of Sambre et Meuse while doing their trademark "dotting the i" drill.

Wasn't that amazing? That drum major should be headed for Broadway. I'd like to see the Garde Republicaine in Paris do this (or even better, The Household Regiment in London).


Today's military review on the Champs Elysee complete with President Hollande not getting rained on for a change in pictures.  Sent in by Susan H.


June Butler said...

Thank you, Counterlight. A Happy Bastille Day back to you.

Marchons, marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

March, march
Let impure blood
Water our furrows

Sounds more like a Tea Partier than
moi. ;-)

Counterlight said...

Yes, the Marsellaise is particularly bloodthirsty. Don't forget the part where the invaders (ie the Austrians) beg for mercy and they get none.

June Butler said...

We had to learn to sing the Marseillaise in French in my RC high school...I think not all the verses, as only the first and last seem familiar. Our French teacher was a very French Louisiana nun, who spoke the language fluently...French French, not Cajun French, the same as my grandmother.

Counterlight said...

I'm surprised. I would think the tune was too revolutionary for the Catholic Church, lots of bad memories of Robespierre. But, I suppose Louisiana is far enough away from all that to matter.

Do your remember much of the French French you learned, or has it all been subsumed into Cajun? Either way, you're several steps ahead of me. I doubt I could get very far beyond "Bonjour."

June Butler said...

The nun was a true Francophile. Learning the song was not school policy, but the teacher's wish.

Alas, in my home and my grandmother's home, the adults spoke French only when they did not want the children to understand what they were saying. Still I picked up a little just by hearing the language. Then I studied it in high school and university, though not as a major. Later, I took a conversational course with Alliance Francaise. I did pretty well getting by with the basics during my visits to France. Once, I was there for 3 weeks, and by the third week, I was proud of my French, limited though it was. Now...if you don't use it, you lose it. I can read pretty well, but conversation comes hard.

I understand very little Cajun French, as the accent is quite different, though folks who speak Cajun French tell me they do very well in France.

JCF said...

Whereas my mom in French learned Joyeaux Noel ("O Holy Night"), along w/ Stille Nacht (Silent Night) in German. Not quite as bloodthirsty.


IIIIIIII love a parade!!!!


Le Sigh: I can remember in college, that my closest friends and I planned to be in France for *their* Bicentennial (1989).

I've still never been to France. :-/

Happy Belated Bastille Day!

Counterlight said...

I've never been to France, though I did set foot on French territory once (an afternoon on the French side of Saint Marten in the Caribbean).