Here are ten pieces of classical music that were written about, or for, France.
1. De Lisle/Berlioz: La Marseillaise
Its origin was as the anthem of the French Revolution, and La Marseillaise is today perhaps the most stirring of all national songs. The original was written by Rouget de Lisle; the arrangement that is best known today is that below, by the great composer, Hector Berlioz. Its opening lyrics declare:
Arise, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody banner is raised,
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into our arms
To cut the throats of our sons, our women!
2. Bizet: La Patrie
Georges Bizet composed this concert overture to celebrate France’s role in the Franco-Prussian War.
3. Ibert: Paris
A Parisian by birth, composer Jacques Ibert wrote this symphonic suite in 1930 to honor his city. The suite contains six movements: 1. The Metro; 2. The Suburbs; 3. The Mosque of Paris; 4. Restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne; 5. The Steamship lle-de-France; 6. Parade at the Fair.
4. Machaut: Messe de Notre Dame
Guillaume de Machaut’s 14th-century work, the first known, full setting of the Roman Catholic Mass, was written for the Cathedral at Reims.
5. Honegger: Joan of Arc at the Stake
Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher is a hybrid opera/oratorio by Arthur Honegger, set to a libretto by Paul Claudel.
6. Fauré, Requiem in D minor
Gabriel Fauré’s Mass for the Dead was first performed at the Madeleine Church in Paris at a funeral mass.
7. Offenbach: La Vie Parisienne
Jacques Offenbach’s comic operetta, premiered in 1866, satirized modern portray contemporary Parisian life and has remained popular since its debut.
8. D’Indy: Symphony on a French Mountain Air
Vincent d’Indy used a French folksong as for the main melody for his Symphonie sur un Chant Montagnard Français of 1886. Unusually, the symphony features a prominent part for a piano.
9. Josef Strauss, Fireproof (Polka française for orchestra)
The younger brother of the famous “Waltz king,” Johann Strauss II, Josef called his Feuerfest a “Polka française,” though there are no discernible French characteristics in this lively piece, which prominently features an anvil. It would be nice to think that “Fireproof” describes the mettle of the French people.
10. Haydn: “Paris” Symphonies
Franz Josef Haydn wrote this set of six symphonies (Nos. 82-87 of his 104) on a commission by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, music director of the Paris orchestra, Le Concert de la Loge Olympique. They were first performed in the Tuilieres Garden in Paris. Marie Antoinette was so taken with No. 85 that it earned the nickname, “The Queen.”
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