The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Bastille Day, the celebration of the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. Here is a very popular YouTube video of acclaimed tenor Roberto Alagna singing a version of the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” as arranged by French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz. | July 14, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is July 14 or Bastille Day, the celebration of the beginning of the French Revolution of 1789 that overthrew the monarchy and began with the storming and freeing of the infamous Bastille Prison in Paris.

French Revolution

It has become fashionable in conservative circles to dismiss that revolution as a failure because it descended into a mass terror, as so many revolutions do.

Indeed, even the American Revolution has shameful incidents and bloody violence that we prefer to overlook or not to think about these days when we want to glorify only the best aspects of our own momentous history. But revolutions are not pure or fun. And the Americans founders themselves (below, in a famous painting of the signing of The U.S. Declaration of Independence)  knew very well what ideas and ideals they owed to the philosophers and politicians who inspired the French Revolution.

American Declaration with founders 5

Anyway, today is a national holiday in France, and the French Revolution set in motion many things that we Americans can give thanks for. And some historians even say that without France’s help, the American Revolution would have surely failed.

Whatever you think of it, the French Revolution was a great historical drama that deserves to be remembered and celebrated for fostering democracy and putting an end to monarchy and divine right rule.

Here is a YouTube video, with over one million hits, of Roberto Alagna singing “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, in a grand version by Romantic composer Hector Berlioz, that originated in the French Revolution:


  1. […] Classical music: Today is Bastille Day, the celebration of the beginning of the French Revolution in… ( […]


    Pingback by French Revolution too late in Dutch newspaper | Dear Kitty. Some blog — July 15, 2013 @ 6:06 am

  2. A stirring rendition indeed! Kudos to Berlioz (belatedly) and to you for sending us the link.


    Comment by Ann Boyer — July 14, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

  3. Mornin’ Jake, and Bonne Fete Nationale! Thanks for the YouTube clip you included in your post.

    For many years, Michele and I purchase the flowers for the altar in Grace Church’s nave on the Sunday closest to Bastille Day. The dedication in the bulletin is, “A Toutes les Gloires de Dieu et de La France.” It’s a modification of a huge inscription above the courtyard entrance to le Chateau de Versailles. Perhaps you have seen it.


    Comment by Bruce Croushore — July 14, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  4. Merci, Citoyen Ear!

    I also like the version with women and children taking verses.


    Comment by Ron McCrea — July 14, 2013 @ 11:48 am

  5. […] Classical music: Today is Bastille Day, the celebration of the beginning of the French Revolution in… ( […]


    Pingback by Milwaukee Marseillaise: Biggest Bastille Day in Wisconsin « Carl Anthony Online — July 14, 2013 @ 7:32 am

  6. Ah, those racy French. Ironically, French was the first foreign language I ever heard during a summer vacation in Maine when I was about 5 year old. At the time, I thought all human beings spoke English & when I was verbally accosted by a large woman speaking French, I thought she was assuredly a Martian and ran crying back to my mother assuming we’d been invaded by aliens.

    Larry Retzack


    Comment by buppanasu — July 14, 2013 @ 12:14 am

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