The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Happy Bastille Day! But instead of militarism, let’s celebrate the holiday with revolutionary French music by a revolutionary French composer. What French music would you choose?

July 14, 2019
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is July 14, known in the U.S. as Bastille Day.

That is the day in 1789 when the infamous Bastille Prison in Paris was stormed by the masses and political prisoners were freed – marking the beginning of the French Revolution.

The tradition is to play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem that grew out of the revolution. Usually there is a military side to the arrangement of the anthem and the performance of it.

After all, it was a Bastille Day parade that even inspired President Trump to stage his egotistical “Salute to America” – satirically dubbed “Tanksgiving” — on the Fourth of July this year in Washington, D.C..

But The Ear has had quite enough of militarism and of the lying draft dodger who became commander-in-chief using patriotism to camouflage his un-American actions and ideas.

With no disrespect to those who served or are serving in the armed forces, there are many ways besides the military to be patriotic and even revolutionary.

So this year The Ear is choosing something subtle and less martial to mark the day.

It is a performance of “Feux d’artifice” (Fireworks), a prelude for solo piano by Claude Debussy (below), who described himself – in an age where German and Italian music ruled – simply as a “French musician.” But make no mistake: Debussy, who was rejected for admission to the Paris Conservatory, was indeed a revolutionary figure in music history for his innovations in harmony and form.

(Perhaps this past season, you heard Marc-André Hamelin give an astoundingly virtuosic performance of “Fireworks” as an encore after his Sunday afternoon concerto performances with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Listen carefully and at the very end you will hear a subtle reference to the Marseillaise that adds the right touch to the pyrotechnical celebration of  “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”

Added to that, the fiery performance in the YouTube video at the bottom is by Robert Casadesus, a deservedly famous French pianist.

Finally, The Ear thinks you can celebrate Bastille Day with any number of French composers and French works, many of which remain neglected and underperformed. (The Ear is particularly partial to the music of Gabriel Faure, below, who taught Maurice Ravel.)

Who is your favorite French composer?

What is your favorite French piece of classical music?

Leave a comment with, if possible, a YouTube link.

Happy Bastille Day!!


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Classical music: Here is a stirring version of “La Marseillaise” to mark Bastille Day and the French Revolution

July 14, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Bastille Day in France – July 14th or “Le quatorze juillet” — celebrating the beginning of the French Revolution when the public stormed and liberated the infamous Bastille prison in Paris.

To mark it, here is a YouTube video of a stirring version of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” It features the superstar opera tenor Roberto Alagna singing the arrangement done by the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.

And it is also a good time to recall how the French helped finance and wage the American Revolution, also known as the American War for Independence.


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
6 Comments

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:


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