La Marseillaise

The French Revolution is often considered one of the most important revolutions in world history, because it was one of the most violent and yet romanticized series of events, and one of the most influential and impacting revolutions in history. For many, it served as a cautionary tale of what could happen to a country or a state if class struggles and separation became too great. (In fact, the French Revolution later impacted Karl Marx’s views toward capitalism and elitism. He came to see it as a step towards a proletarian revolution and heading down the path he was thinking.) However, such a revolution would not have occurred had it not been for those who inspired it with their speeches, their songs, or their essays. A state of discontent or disapproval is not enough to get a revolution started, rather, someone needs to stir the proverbial pot and provide a rallying cry around the misfortune. It’s quite ironic that the composer of one of the most famous pieces of the French Revolution was a royalist, who wrote it while defending France against the Austrians.

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((“La Marseillaise, French National Anthem (Fr/En),” YouTube video, 5:21, posted by “bursty13,” September 1,

La Marseillaise Sheet Music ((Rouget de Lisle, Claude Joseph. La Marseillaise. Retrieved from,_Claude-Joseph%29 ))


“La Marseillaise,” composed and written in April 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836), was quite the revolutionary piece of music. The song itself follows much like a march, and has an easy and catchy tune. The refrain of the piece, or the repeated part of music, has simple words and simple notes, and therefore makes it easy for everyone to sing, hum, or whisper along. Thus, it intrinsically represents one of the ideals presented by John Locke, and that many revolutionaries believed in – equal opportunity. More specifically, it presents the opportunity for everyone who wants to sing along to be able to sing along. The piece’s style, therefore, in itself makes it revolutionary.

Secondly, the lyrics make the song revolutionary as well. Often times, the lyrics express the need to defend the “fatherland” (verse one, line one) against the enemies “tyranny” (verse one, line three) and “savage soldiers” (verse one, line seven). The lyrics therefore express the unification of one group of people facing the oppression or aggression of another individual/group. Such a description also depicts what is considered to be a revolution. To be put simply, during the French Revolution, the suppressed impoverished and middle class unified to take on the oppression of royalty and nobility. Lastly, the second verse highlights the need for the defense of liberty and freedom, also a rallying cry of the French Revolution.

Lastly, the song generated lots of controversy in the years following the French Revolution due to its root history. Despite being declared France’s national anthem in the years following the Revolution, Napoleon I banned the piece soon after becoming ruler in France. Following this, the song underwent periods of being banned and legal for the next three quarters of a century. It appears that, for many, the piece’s revolutionary undertones were too much for the rulers that followed and as such, the piece consistently was controversial and under scrutiny. However, following its reinstatement as the national anthem in 1879, it has remained that way since then.

Possible Questions to Consider:

Do you agree with my argument that the song’s catchy nature makes it effective as a revolutionary song?

Why might a song be especially effective at transmitting attitudes and thoughts? Or rather, what might make a song more effective than an essay or a novel/book?

Are there any other famous revolutionary songs that you may be able to compare this one too?


Revolutionary Popular Thought and Culture in France

The French Revolution transformed France from a society based on the tradition of divine right rule of kings and fixed social status of clergy, nobility, and peasantry, to a new political order based on the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The new political order sought to change virtually everything the monarchy had established. The tax system was abolished and decision-making was taken out of the hands of the monarchy and clergy. The third estate was able to attain the rights to land ownership, which provided financial relief such that a larger more diverse population could now live prosperously. This empowered the people. The popular cultural mindset of the revolution was based on individual freedoms and equality.

The Age of Enlightenment brought significant changes to popular culture. Institutions were confiscated from the church and turned into secular based schools, and churches themselves became temples of reason. The old scientific academies were replaced with ones that used the new scientific method. The metric system was established and days of the week were extended from seven to ten. Society was moving away from a religious based culture to one of reason and virtue.

Music had the most significant influence on the people, and served to propel the revolution. Not only was the song culture a method to build solidarity among the working class and the illiterate, it delivered strong political messages. Songs played a vital roll in unifying the citizenry and ultimately created an early French feeling of nationalism. Music was so easily transferred and contagious that it became a revolutionary weapon. Through music, the people joined forces, regardless of social class, and became united in purpose. Today, the French populace continues to rally through song at social events, and will always find significance in their national anthem, La Marseillaise.

The Composers’ Union and Sustainability

Elephantine marches and songs of the Motherland…these are some thoughts that might come to mind when thinking about music in Soviet Russia. Although there is some truth to these popular assumptions, there is much more detail about music under Stalinist Soviet Russia. Specifically, there is the detail of Stalin’s creations of creative unions. These unions had various sects for artists such as architects, cinematographers, and writers, just to name a few. This paper will focus on the union for composers. The union for composers was a time of chaos with the shift of power with the renaming of these unions at various times, a period of control, as exemplified in Dmitrii Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and an era of great artistic achievement for the State, as seen in the creation of the new national anthem. Additionally, sustainability played a part in these unions. Sustainability is the maintaining of social, economic, and environmental aspects. When all three of these are coevolving and present, sustainability is met. How does sustainability fit in the Union of Composers? What is the history of this union?


Organized musical structures in Russia can be traced back to the Russian Musical Society, which formed in 1859. In the 1920s, two associations of Russian music dominated: the Association for Contemporary Music and the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians. The Central Committee passed a resolution in April of 1932, eliminating these two associations. The resolution called for the creation of a new artistic organization. This is when the creative unions came into being. The musical sect of these artistic unions was called the Composers’ Union. The resolution eliminated all professional artistic unions except the artistic unions created by the State. However, when these unions had just begun, the Soviet government showed little leadership in the musical details of the union[i]. So, the larger cities such as Moscow and Leningrad began forming their own municipal composers’ unions. These municipal unions were highly efficient, having different departments to oversee various tasks. As these unions gained more publicity, the Soviet government formed a new, powerful committee. The Committee on Artistic Affairs, formed in January 1936, wanted to revitalize the arts in Soviet Russian. The rise of this new governmental committee eventually created a powerful, united, all-USSR composers’ union.

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Bibliography: The Union of Composers in the Soviet Union

My final project will be on the Union of Composers in the Soviet Union. The project will explore the different aspects of the union including its effects on the composers’ compositions and artistic expression, as well as society. The sources provided above share some insight from many different perspectives on the subject. I hope they are of help to anyone interested in music during the Soviet Union time period.


On Saturday night I went to see Professor Ben Shute’s faculty recital of four works by Tchaikovsky, including the violin concerto in D major, considered to be one of the most important in this category of violin literature. During intermission, I remembered that the last time I heard Tchaikovsky played by a live orchestra was at Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow. A performance in Rubendall, despite its amazing transformation last year, does not quite achieve the same effect as one in the Russian state concert hall. The inside is old-fashioned – completely white with columns framing a giant organ above the stage surrounding hundreds of white painted wooden seats, resembling none of the concert halls I have seen in the United States.

This is where the International Tchaikovsky Competition is held, and the musicians receive considerable press. First prize of the competition is so prestigious that sometimes it is not even awarded, and the top two contestants instead share the second prize, particularly in the violin category. The competition was established at the height of the Cold War in 1958 to showcase the sophistication of Culture. When American pianist Van Cliburn won first prize that year in an upset, he earned an eight-minute standing ovation at the finale. The nervous judges felt the need to ask Premier Khrushchev permission to present the award to an American. Cliburn became an overnight celebrity, and would later perform for future Premiers and American presidents.

The second half of the concert was the concerto, and despite the fact that Professor Shute is an expert in Bach, his style of playing was very well suited to this type of extremely technical piece. He and his accompanist were extremely connected and suited each other very well. As the third movement built to the end, the excitement was building in the room and with the final chord the audience quickly stood. This was one of the best concerts on campus this year, and earned he ovation that was appropriate, but after the two curtain calls that are requisite for a Dickinson concert, the clapping was over in just a few minutes. I wondered what the response would have been in Tchaikovsky Hall. No doubt the clapping would have lasted twice as long, and likely would have settled into an even rhythm as Russians are prone to do. I mentioned this to my friend with whom I was sitting, but perhaps I should have started clapping in time.