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Discover the musical history of the First and Second Empires through our downloadable "Words and Music".
Christened "brother of the Marseillaise" by the soldiers of An II, the Chant du Départ in other words Song of the Departure of the Troops (which Napoleon preferred to the Marseillaise) became almost the national anthem of the First Empire. It was however first and foremost a song of the Revolution. The author of the words was Marie-Joseph Chénier (1764-1811), one of the best-known playwrights and poets of his generation. His cooperation with Etienne-Nicolas Méhul (1763-1817), one of the most popular composers of the time, formed a sort of 'dream team'. Indeed after their song's first performance at the Jardin National on 4 July, 1794, in celebration of the taking of the Bastille, 18,000 copies were sent to the army.
The Song of the Departure of the Troops (whose original title, Hymne de la liberté, Robespierre changed to that currently used) is a musical tableau or picture in which each of the seven stanzas is sung by different individual or group of actors, namely, a Député, a mother, two old men, a child, a wife, a young girl and finally three warriors. In the first stanza, the Député addresses some conscripts as they leave the city (passing the gates or 'barrière'), singing their victory as they go. Next, a 'Spartan' mother says she will shed no tears, it is the enemy kings who will weep. Two old men talk of the conscripts' swords (once their father's property). The old men say that they will wait at home for the valiant soldiers to return to bring them the news of victory, at which point they may die happy. A child then sings of Barra and Viala, two heroes who died gloriously for the Republic while yet very young (one 12, the other 13). When surrounded by Vendéens, Barra refused to swear allegiance to Louis XVII, preferring to cry 'Vive la République', for which he was bayoneted on the spot. Viala was shot attempting to cut with an axe the ropes of the attacking enemy's pontoon bridge. His dying words were said to have been 'I am dying, but it was for Liberty'. The engravings designed by Trimolet and executed by Garnier (1 and 4) and Boilly (2 and 3) graphically illustrate these two tales. Wives and girlfriends sing their devotion to their loved ones in stanzas 5 and 6, whilst in the final seventh stanza the departing conscript heroes reply, swearing to live up to all exhortations of the preceding singers and to bring liberty and peace to the world.
Like the Marseillaise, the Song of the Departure of the Troops was to survive the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. It is still sung by the French army (French President during the 1970s', Giscard d'Estaing, had it played at official events alongside the Marseillaise) and is an excellent and stirring martial air.
- Dictionnaire Napoléon, ed. J. Tulard, Paris: Fayard, 1999, s.v., 'Chénier' and 'Méhul'
- Bouzard, Thierry, Anthologie du chant militaire français, Paris: Grancher, 2000, pp. 30-32
- Chants et chansons populaires de la France, ed. H.-L. Delloye, Paris: Garnier Frères, première série, 1843, "Le chant du départ".
Partant pour la Syrie or Le beau Dunois
Music by Queen Hortense de Beauharnais, words by Comte Alexandre de Laborde. (to download the 'score')
Partant pour la Syrie, traditionally dated to 1807, is a classic example of a song or 'romance' in the mediaevalising Romance/Troubadour style, a genre invented during the First Empire. Although initially attributed to Napoleon's step-daughter Hortense de Beauharnais, it was re-attributed by musicologist Arthur Pougin to a certain Louis-François-Philippe Drouet (1792-1855), flautist at Louis's court in Holland. The words were written by the archaeologist Comte Alexandre de Laborde (1774-1842). Recent research has however revealed Pougin's re-attribution to be driven by anti-Second Empire sentiment and restored Partant… to its rightful owner, Hortense. As she wrote in her memoirs 'Partant pour la Syrie was done at Malmaison while my mother was playing tric-trac' (Mémoires, vol. 3, p. 119).
The poem recounts the story of a courtly crusader, Dunois, who prays to the Virgin Mary (just before leaving for the crusades in Syria) that his love may be the most beautiful and that he may be the bravest. Dunois' prayers are answered; he is the boldest in battle and on his return he is granted the hand of his lord's very beautiful daughter, Isabelle. The apparent reference to the historical figure of the Comte de Dunois, famous for being the companion of Joan of Arc, is however misleading. The poem is entirely fanciful: the historical Dunois never fought in Syria, nor did he marry Isabelle, the daughter of his lord. That the 'romance' was closely associated with the First Empire regime is shown by the fact that the Bourbons of the restoration considered the song seditious - it was also a Bonapartist rallying cry in the 'dark days' before the Second Empire.
Partant pour la Syrie was enormously popular not only during the First Empire but also during the Restoration and the Second Empire. Louise Cochelet, Hortense's lectrice, wrote in her memoirs concerning Hortense (vol. 1, pp. 45-47) that Le beau Dunois 'was sung to such an extent that the hurdy-gurdies repeated it ceaselessly in the streets, promenades, everywhere. In the end, it was played to such an extent that, even though the romance is charming, one ended up being tired with it.' But it's popularity was not to diminish. Over the following decades it was to be transcribed and arranged for numerous different combinations of instruments by composers from Bochsa to Dussek. A set of variations was even published written for the penny whistle! Hortense's romance reached its zenith however when it became the Second Empire's 'national anthem', to be played at almost every official occasion. Apart from remaining as a song sung by the French army, it has today been almost completely forgotten.
Hortense de Beauharnais, Mémoires de la reine Hortense, (éd. Jean Hanoteau), Paris: Plon, 1927, 3 vols
Bernard Chevallier, La reine Hortense: une femme artiste. Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Château de Malmaison, 27 may to 27 September, 1993, éd. Bernard Chevallier, Paris: RMN, 1993, 110 p. Section entitled "Hortense et la musique", "La Reine Hortense et la musique", by Dorothea Baumann, "Inspiration et renommée; les romances de la reine Hortense dans leur époque", par Alain Pougetoux, p. 21-24
Louise Cochelet, Mémoires sur la reine Hortense et la famille impériale, Paris: Ladvocat, 1836-38, 4 vols
Arthur Pougin, Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique, Paris, 1878-80.
Hortense published several collections of Romances, notably:
Romances mises en musiques par S.[a] M.[ajesté] L.[a] R.[eine] H.[ortense], each with facing acquatint (also by Hortense)
Romances composées par Hortense, duchesse de Saint-Leu. Huit romances nouvelles, Paris: Pacini, s.d., which opens with "Le beau Dunois" or "Partant pour la Syrie"
Douze Romances dédiées au prince Eugène par sa soeur, published before 1825
Album artistique de la reine Hortense, 1853, Heugel et Co, a luxurious edition of twelve romances including lithographs and title pages in chromolithographs.
Allegro (feu roulant, canons, l'ennemi reçoit des renforts, les Français sont repoussés et font retraite jusqu'à St. Juliano, le Ier Consul arrête ce mouvement rétrograde),
All[egr]o assai (le corps commandé par Dessaix charge l'ennemi à la baïonnette. Ce général est blessé mortellement),
All[egr]o vivace (les troupes qu'il commandait brûlant de venger sa mort se précipitent avec fureur sur la première ligne ennemie. L'ennemie se replie sur sa deuxième ligne, les deux lignes réunies chargent à leur tour les Français. Kelermann à la tête de la cavalerie française charge l'ennemi, galop des chevaux, coups de sabre, l'ennemi est culbuté, il est forcé de prendre la fuite, il est poursuivi jusqu'au delà de Marengo),
Lento (plaintes des blessés et des mourants),
Allegro (Trompettes annonçant la victoire, coup de canon).
Ier. Air après la victoire Allegro
2ème. Air dans le genre egiptien All[egr]o
3ème. Air Pas redoublé Allegro
Coda (coup de canon).
French music teacher, composer and music dealer, Bernard Viguerie was born in Carcassone circa 1761. He died in Paris in March 1819. In Paris he studied with Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier, where he completed his studies at the age of 22. In 1795, he opened a 'Magasin de Musique et d'Instrumens' based at 38, rue Vivienne, Paris. He is particularly known for his piano method (c.1795) of which it has been said 'There are few works that are more mediocre or of more questionable utility than this so-called method; there are few, however, which have been more successful or run to so many editions'. Viguerie compositions comprise 13 opus numbers: opp. 1-5 were announced with the opening of the shop in 1795. The opus 13 Douze Préludes appeared ten years later. The work here, Bataille de Maringo (sic), Piece Militaire et Historique pour le Forte Piano avec accompagnemt de violon et basse. Dédiée à l'armée de réserve (opus 8), one of two battle pieces - the other being entitled Prague - should be dated before 1805 (the date of the opus 13 set) but after 14 June 1800, the date of the Battle of Marengo. A manuscript copy of the piece (unattributed) is also found in the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome Manuscript. 2533 (Olim: O.IV. 110), fols. 22-39, with the instructions translated into Italian and the work prescribed for 'young ladies'.
The piece itself is a remarkable example of a programmatic work (that is, it literally tells the story of the battle), where the effects of canon blasts, sabre thrusts, cavalry charges are all indicated not only in the music but also such words are printed above the stave at the relevant moment. I imagine that the pianist or his page-turner would read these titles out to the drawing room audience as the pianist was playing. The canon blasts are the subject of special instructions and an invented symbol. The player is invited to use his stretched out right forearm and his two hands to play every single note of the bottom three octaves of the piano at once, holding them down until the vibrations have almost died away. Once the battle is over, there are three victory airs, one of which in the Egyptian style. Quite naturally the whole work finishes with one final blast of the canon!
Fétis, F.-J., Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie de la musique, (2ème éd., 1860-67), Paris : Librairie de Firmin Didot frères, fils et cie., vol. VIII (1867), p. 347.
Faure, G., La musique française de piano avant 1830, Paris : Didier, 1953.
The New Grove : Dictionary of Music and Musicians ®, Stanley Sadie (éd.), London and New York : Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1999, vol. 19, p. 757.
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