National plagiarism 2: plagiat national!

In a piece for the BBC this week, I wrote about the insane number of national anthems that seem to be plagiarised.

But I stupidly forgot to mention the biggest example of them all: la Marseillaise. The omission was all the more bizarre since I write about it in my book, so sorry about that!

Where did la Marseillaise’s music come from? Below is a piece by the Italian violinist, Giovan Battista Viotti written in 1781 – 11 years before Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle wrote France’s anthem. You only have to listen to it for a moment to hear the resemblance.

Some people claim it wasn’t written by Viotti either, but by Jean-Baptiste Grisons in 1787. That I don’t understand since it’s six years later, but here’s his Oratorio d’Esther anyway.

Yes, it’s the same again.

Did Rouget steal one of these tunes? Here’s a quote from Frédéric Frank-David, former director of the Memorial de la Marseillaise, and the man who should know:

“There is a certain amount of probability that Rouget had been inspired by Viotti’s tune, be it consciously or unconsciously…”

So there you go!

But the problem I have with calling Rouget a plagiarist is it takes away from his achievement. Even if he stole it, “just choosing that melody – knowing that it was the one to inspire – there’s art in that too” (to narcissistically quote my own book!). There’s more art in that than most songs you can name, in fact.

Plus, the rest of Rouget de Lisle’s life was such a disaster, I think he should be given this one thing. Read my book for more on that. It’s a story that’s frankly unbelievable at times, but I promise I haven’t plagiarised it from any novel.

It’s Bastille Day! Grab the pétanque set and sing the Marseillaise!

It’s France’s national day today. I would suggest you all storm the nearest prison in tribute to what happened in Paris on 14 July 1789, but why not sing the country’s amazing national anthem instead with the help of this video?

Sorry to anyone who’s seen it before. I made it last year while travelling across France.

It’s now somehow past 1,000 views (at least 10 of those by people other than my mum). At current  rates, it’ll hit a million views in 664 years, so if you haven’t watched it before, I suggest you do now. I mean, you wouldn’t want to miss out on cinematic history, would you?

The Marseillaise sung by the people of France!

What do you get when you convince 16 French people, four Belgian students and a bloke on a bike to sing the French national anthem?

The MOST AMAZING YOUTUBE CLIP EVER (to feature 16 French people, four Belgian students and a bloke on a bike singing the French national anthem)!

I recently made this last while cycling the historical route of the Marseillaise, from Marseille to Paris.

I was interviewing people about the song along the way, and it seemed fun to get them to sing too.

If you want to know the words, click through to the Youtube clip. They’re in English and French in the description box. And for a diary of my trip, including an explanation of why I did it, click here.

Merci, et désolé, à tous les participants!