Why La Marseillaise is the only song that matters right now #Beekhaybee

The French national anthem is the greatest
anthem there is, and its history will likely only
increase your admiration for it, writes Alex

It feels right now like there is only one song in
the world anyone is singing: La Marseillaise, in
my opinion, the greatest national anthem of them
all. It has been played on radio stations in
between pop songs. It has been belted out in
concert halls, most notably by New York’s
Metropolitan Opera this weekend. Dozens of
people have been posting videos online of
themselves bellowing it at full volume. And
tonight, most spectacularly of all, some 70,000
football fans are going to sing it at Wembley
Stadium when France play England, something
most English football fans could never have
imagined themselves doing.
The song has become the ultimate symbol of
The song has in the space of a few days stopped
just being France’s national anthem: it has
become the ultimate symbol of solidarity, a way
for everyone in the world, no matter whether they
speak French or not, to express their unity with
Paris following last week’s tragedy, and show
they share the country’s defiance.
But one of the most remarkable things about
everyone singing the Marseillaise, though, is that
without realising it, every singer has tuned into
the song’s very original meaning.
La Marseillaise was written in 1792 by Claude
Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a 31-year-old soldier and
amateur violinist. He was in Strasbourg on the
night of 25 April fearing Austria was about to
invade, intent on rolling back the French
Revolution and restoring Louis XVI to full power.
The city’s mayor was desperate for something to
inspire the city as it faced devastation and that
night begged Rouget de Lisle to have a go at
writing something – anything – that might help.
Without realising it, every singer has tuned into
the song’s very original meaning
Rouget de Lisle ran back to his room half-drunk
from that meeting and in the space of just a few
hours wrote la Marseillaise. He probably stole the
music from a popular song of the day, and he
definitely stole half the words from graffiti
plastered around the city – but what he created
that night was undeniable, a song of defiance that
would give everyone who heard it hope.
Yes, he did make it incredibly bloodthirsty. One
line says, “Can you hear them in the countryside
coming to slit the throats of your wives and
children?” While the chorus cries out, “To arms,
citizens… let’s water the fields with impure
blood.” But Rouget de Lisle realised he needed to
make it so shocking to motivate. He also knew
those were not the song’s key lines. That goes to
this the opening of the first verse. “Arise children
of the fatherland, against us tyranny’s blood
banner is raised,” it says. It is those lines that
seem to be resonating around the world at this
If you do not think the Marseillaise is great
musically, you should only need to look at how
the song has been used by other musicians to
change your mind. Everyone from Wagner to The
Beatles, Debussy to Serge Gainsbourg has taken
it for their own. Perhaps most famously, it was
used by Tchaikovsky in his great 1812 Overture.
He meant it to symbolise France about to be
defeated by Russian troops, but it is such a
powerful melody, anyone listening would think
France is the real winner in that battle.
Everyone from Wagner to The Beatles, Debussy to
Serge Gainsbourg has taken it for their own
It is a song that has inspired French people
throughout the country’s history. A French
general once said it was worth 1,000 extra men in
battle. A German poet once wrote that it was
responsible for the death of 50,000 of his
countrymen. In both the first and second world
wars it was sung continually in France in an effort
to inspire (even though the Vichy Government
banned it). The famous scene in Casablanca of a
French crowd tearfully and resolutely singing it to
drown out some celebrating Nazi soldiers does
not in the slightest overplay the emotion the song
can invoke.
Tonight’s singing at Wembley is likely to be just
as emotional and powerful as any past rendition.
Get ready to join in.