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The Departure of the Volunteers (The Marseillaise)
François Rude, Arc de triomphe, Paris. © RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz
La marche des Marseillais
Sheet music. © RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz
The Marseillaise is the patriotic hymn of the French Revolution, officially adopted by France as its national anthem in 1879.
During the night of 25-26 April 1792, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a young officer of 31, composed a war song to instil courage and bravery in the hearts of French troops in their war with Austria. At that time he was stationed in Strasbourg in an evocatively-named battalion: "Les enfants de la patrie" [Children of the Nation].
Within a month, the song had made its way all around France and arrived in Paris in July 1792, sung by troops from Marseille who had come to save the country from danger. A few weeks later, the hymn had found its title: La Marseillaise. It was so successful that it was declared the national anthem on 14 July 1795.
Forbidden during the Empire and the Restoration, the Marseillaise was restored to its place of honour during the Revolution of 1830 and Berlioz wrote an orchestration that he dedicated to Rouget de Lisle. It was not until 14 March 1879, however, the Marseillaise was officially recognised as the national anthem and became one of the emblems of the French Republic.
In 1887, a commission composed of professional musicians published an official version with modified, text, melody and harmony. The version played today at official ceremonies is an adaptation of this 1887 version, faithful to the origins of the work and its slower rhythm.
Its status as national anthem was reaffirmed in the constitutions of 1946 and 1958.