Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

MUSIC OF THE IMPERIAL GUARD.

___

The piano in the sound files is played by Greg Gorsuch.

One could make a history of our nation based on the warlike songs, anthems and marches, which emerged at each period of our civil disorders, our successes and our disasters.

The air: Ah! ça ira (Ah! It will be fine), manifesting the wishes of the people of the streets, in 1792, would open a march; then the Marseillaise would come, which so many times led battalions to victory, and thus the hideous Marseillaise voiced around the scaffolds was redeemed; then, le Chant du départ (The Song of Departure), which would arise under no less glorious auspices; finally, all these burning inspirations caused by the fever of freedom, would be succeeded, in calmer times by, le Réveil du peuple (The Awaking of the People), an eloquent and splendid protest against revolutionary excesses.  The older generation owes it to remember how much enthusiasm was felt when these beautiful opening lines, as: “French people, people of brothers, etc,” still raised by a music full of majesty, were applauded, like this air: Veillons au salut de l’Empire (Let us Look to the Security of the Empire), drawn from an opera of the old repertory of Feydeau; and to finish the nomenclature, these two airs: Où peut-on être mieux qu’au sein de sa famille? (Where can one be better than within his family?) the famous duet of Lucile, by Grétry; and the La Victoire est a nous! (Victory is with Us!) from the grand opera of la Caravane du Caire (The Caravan of Cairo), also by Grétry, which both found a happy application to the glorious events of the country.

It is worth remarking that Napoleon, General in Chief, Consul and Emperor, constantly made a very-moderate use of patriotic songs.  At the siege of Toulon, a colonel of infantry, marching to assault the advanced works built by the English troops, deciding himself to play, with the musicians of his regiment, the Marseillaise.  Bonaparte galloped to the face of the column, and shouted in a strident voice:

“No music! but the charge*; only the charge, you should hear!”

*It is only at the time when the French infantry was organized in regiments, that is to say, in the time of our kings of the third race that this drum beating was carried out.  Under the kings of the first and the second race, drums were not invented, but footmen went into combat while striking a meter on their shields with their swords or their battle-axes.  These cadenced blows were translated later on the drum.

Obeying, the bastion was carried with bayonnettes, to the sound of the fifes and the drums.

Indeed, the father Daniel, in his History of the French Militia, known as: “Our forefathers, the Franks, became animated, while going into combat, by a small flute extremely sharp and strongly screaming, which had the double advantage of marking the rate of the march and of covering the cries of the casualties, complaints which are always painful for the soldier to hear, they were usually accustomed that is, at the beginning of an action and before the combat is well underway.”

The majority of the marches of the Consular Guard and the Imperial Guard had been composed, by the bandmasters of these various corps, on a theme sometimes borrowed from a grand opera of the time. Thus the beautiful warlike symphony entitled, Marche du camp de Boulogne (March of the Camp of Boulogne), resembled the splendid chorus of devils, in the opera Alceste, by Gluck.  This chorus, of which all the parts are written for bass voices, was to produce magic indeed, carried out by the military musicians of the Consular Guard, which was then the first army corps of music.  As for the Marche de la Garde consulaire à Marengo (March of he Consular Guard at Marengo), nothing was to be more imposing and more terrible than this troop of elite maneuvering; as if on parade, in the plain of San-Juliano, with the sound of this noisy harmony, in front of an enemy army which had only to tighten its two immense wings to crush it and to destroy it!

According to Quinte-Curée, Alexander the Great celebrated the funeral of Ephestion, his dear friend, with a magnificence, which exceeded all that one had hitherto seen; more marvelous than in the funeral plays of Greece .  Napoleon, also, had like Alexander, his Ephestion in the form of Marshal Lannes, the most intrepid of his lieutenants.  The loss of the Duke of Montebello, mortally wounded at Essling, in 1809*, was for France a mourning which was transformed into universal regret.

*See in Book IX the report of this campaign.

Paris will remember a long time the luxury that the Emperor employed for the transfer of the mortal remains of Marshal Lannes, to the Home of the Invalides in the Pantheon.  It was not a procession, it was an army in its entirety that marched, with lower arms and flags behind the cenotaph of the hero.  Nothing was more beautiful than the defiling of a funeral army in the middle of Paris, and nothing was more impressive than these flags of victory, forty in number, which escorted the colossal hearse, and which were mixed, with heavy silver draperies of its dome, their silk folds riddled by grapeshot.

This funeral march was by the famous Beethoven, which had for these kinds of compositions all the suitable science and all the inspiration.  This funeral march was stopped, five minutes in five minutes, by the rolls, deafening and prolonged like thunder, of three hundred drums.  This formidable noise, in these lugubrious accents which sprang from copper kettles, with the rolling of the cannons and howitzers with open mouths, would have made one believe they attended the undertaking of a giant, of the terrible Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, who, killed at Roncevaux, made the enemies flee only by the noise that the shock of his armor produced against the granite of the Pyrenees…

One evening, Cherubini being with the Queen of Holland, was put at the piano, on the invitation of the princess, and improvised a military march, which, later being published, obtained a unanimous success.  In 1811, the Regiment of the Pupils of the Guard having been formed, the colonel of this new corps, which had heard the march of maestro, had it played by the musicians of his regiment.

As for the seamen of the Guard, it had, while going into combat, a dark and terrible march; like the storm.  One called this march, la Branle-bas général des marins (The General Quarters for the Seamen); and, certainly, it was well named, because this battalion, which performed with extraordinary valor in Germany , in Spain , in Russia and in the campaigns of France , was untamable with the bayonet.  This general quarters was composed of the common drum roll of drummers called the charge, and a whirl of copper instruments, such as trumpets and trombones.

According to the testimony of the general officers who did not cease being at the head of grenadiers of the Old Guard during the Battle of Waterloo, music was constantly played, with various reprises during the adventures of that bloody day, from pieces drawn from the opera of Fernand Cortés, of Spontini; among them, a warlike march composed by Guebeauer (Sr.), bandmaster of the 1st Foot Grenadier Regiment.  With the rumble of this electrified music, the Old Imperial Guard threw back all on their route…There is no doubt the allies had not been beaten at Waterloo as they had been the day before at Fleurus and Ligny, if destiny had not ordered it any differently.  The music was kept silent, covered by the supreme cry of Vive l’Empereur! given out by ten thousand mutilated warriors, who were soon nothing more but corpses!

 

[Pas de Charge of the Consular Guard at Marengo.]

[Victory is Ours!]

[Funeral March for a Dead Hero*, Composed by L. V. Beethoven]

and played at the funeral of the Duke of Montebello

*Composed in 1801, explicitly labeled a “funeral march on the death of a hero” this is the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 12, Opus 26 in A-flat major.

[La Favorite, March of the Pupils of the Guard.]

[Fanfare of the Standard for the Guides]

[The General Quarters of the Seamen of the Guard]

[Let Us Look to the Security of the Empire!]

[March of the Grenadiers of the Old Guard at Waterloo]

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2007

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