This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Music as Metaphor

17 January 2015

This is not a band. There are caricatures of cornets, saxophones, trombones, and tubas, but this is not a band. There is even a fancy French musical title, Concert Patriotique Francais, but this is not a band.

It is actually a joke.

None of the men pictured on this postcard were musicians. They were in fact prominent French politicians, journalists, and writers from the 1890s and 1900s. This postcard, printed in Paris but never posted, shows a satirical drawing of 21 members of the French political right arranged as musicians of a wind band. The title translates as French Patriotic Concert.

I must confess to being disappointed that they were not principal musicians of some grand band as I had originally thought when I purchased the card. Fortunately the artist provided some last names which made research somewhat easier, and I was able to find almost all of the men. The connecting link was that each was associated with the Ligue des Patriotes  or League of Patriots, a right wing society founded in 1882 by the nationalist author and politician Paul Déroulède (pictured in the top right corner). This society was established to demand revanche or revenge for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. It also promoted military training which included gymnastics and rifle shooting.

Marcel Haber (18621937)
Source: Wikipedia
The man in the top left corner is Marcel Habert (18621937), a French nationalist politician who became Déroulède's right hand man in managing the Ligue des Patriotes. They were both part of this radical faction's effort to overturn the government of France in 1899 following the intense divisions caused by the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Both men were arrested and brought to trial which resulted in their banishment from France for a period of time and an end to their society. Habert, like most of the other men in this "band", was a notorious anti-Dreyfus and anti-Semitic.

François Coppée (1842 – 1908)
Source: Wikipedia

The harp player in the center was François Edouard Joachim Coppée (1842 – 1908), a French poet, playwright, and novelist. Much of his work focused on expressions of sentimentality and patriotism, but he became involved in the Ligue des Patriotes and made public attacks against Alfred Dreyfus.

Maurice Barres (1862 – 1923)
Source: Wikipedia

The horn player at the top left, who is actually holding a cor de chasse, was Maurice Barres (1862 – 1923), a French writer and politician. He became a major leader in the nationalist movement in the 1890s and remained a notable figure during the Great War of 1914-18.

I think it safe to say that all of the men pictured on this postcard are now footnotes of history. Though a few did become parliamentary ministers in various governments of pre-war France, their books, plays, and poetry are now forgotten. This volatile period of political debate in France was a constant struggle between the working classes and the interests of money and privilege. There were also shades of religion, monarchism, colonialism and militarism that were distinctly French issues. Many of the arguments from the far-right Ligue des Patriotes would show up again in 1914 when French nationalism and honor forced the European powers into war.

Source: The Internet

Did these politicians laugh at being portrayed as musicians in a wind band? Did they appreciate the musical metaphor? Was the intent of the satire to praise them for harmony or treat them foolishly as so much brassy noise? I can't say I can tell. Humor never ages well.

The postcard is not uncommon but I've never found one that has a postmark. My best guess is 1900 to 1904, though the original illustration is likely an older newspaper or magazine poster that was reprinted. My postcard is missing a sub-title that is found on other examples where a caption on the lower edge reads: 
La Marseillaise

This is of course, the title of the national anthem of France  written and composed in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle during the French Revolution. It was adopted as the official anthem of the French Republic in 1795 and remains one of the most recognized national tunes of the world.

The horrific events in France this past week at the newspaper offices of Charlie Hebdo have focused the world's attention on the importance of protecting freedom of expression and especially that of satire. How can any civilized society explain a joke to barbaric people so enveloped by fanaticism that they are insensible to humor? Alas too many disputes in the world today seem to get lost in translation. So just as Je suis Charlie  – I am Charlie, we all become French citizens after this terrible tragedy. 

On January 13, 2015 the lower house of the French parliament, the National Assembly, met for the first time since the terrorist attacks. The assembly leader called for its members to stand for a moment of silence in memory of  the victims. After a few seconds, a single voice begins to sing and then the whole chamber joins in singing the national anthem, La Marseillaise. Apparently this was the first time it has been heard in the assembly since 1918.   

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It is a rare occasion of unity through the power of music. But there is a strange confusion on some of the faces and I think it is not because they are uncomfortable singing in public. I suspect the difficulty is in the anthem's words themselves, written at a time when nationalism and patriotism had connotations of revolutionary violence that seems out of place in the light of current events.

Perhaps the price of liberty, equality, and fraternity is irony.

Here are the words commonly sung from the first stanza and an official English translation from the French department of information. 

La Marseillaise
Allons enfants de la Patrie,

Le jour de gloire est arrivé !

Contre nous de la tyrannie,

L'étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?

Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Egorger vos fils, vos compagnes !

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu'un sang impur

Abreuve nos sillons !

Arise you children of our motherland
Oh now is here our glorious day!
Over us the bloodstained banner
Of tyranny holds sway!
Oh, do you hear there in our fields
The roar of those fierce fighting men ?
Who came right here into our midst
To slaughter sons, wives and kin.

To arms, oh citizens!
Form up in serried ranks!
March on, march on!
And drench our fields
With their tainted blood!

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where every picture tells a story.


Unknown said...


Anonymous said...

Such a thought provoking post. It's a long while since I've looked at a translation of the French National Anthem. I'll simply say that I much prefer the sentiments expressed in our Australian National Anthem.
Australia's sons let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in Nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In hist'ry's page, let ev'ry stage
Advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.

Postcardy said...

I wonder where they usually sing that anthem. It seems anachronistic and politically incorrect.

Jofeath said...

I think La Marseillaise is probably better known for its stirring rythms than its words. Here in Australia our leading politicians who legislate stridently against asylum seekers appear to have forgotten the wording in the second verse of our anthem, two lines of which are as follows:
'For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share'.

Bob Scotney said...

Unfortunately I don't think we have seen the last of the fallout from the Charlie Hebdo satire.
Politicians are fair game it appears in most western countries at least.

La Nightingail said...

I enjoyed your post very much. Having grown up up with a dry-witted father & have a husband with a dry, almost sarcastic sense of humor, I understand & enjoy satiric humor. But as you point out, not everyone does. And as national anthems go, many were written long ago & the meaning of the words no longer ring true. 'America The Beautiful' is not our national anthem, but we sing it often enough and I am very uncomfortable when we come to the phrase "Our alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears." because, of course, it's no longer true. More often than not I simply stop singing until we get past that part. I wish someone would change the words. I don't know why we can't? We've 'cleaned up' a lot of other old songs we like to sing.

Little Nell said...

So often National Anthems, themes or hymns seem totally inappropriate in retrospect (My own school hymn made no sense even at the time!). Well done for mentioning both satire and Paris in the same sentence this week. Even Sepia Saturday can be a conduit for free speech!

Wendy said...

Politicians in a wind band -- makes sense to me!

When I took French in high school, we had to learn the French National Anthem. We sang it daily. I can still sing most of it - not that anyone ever requests that I do so.

Boobook said...

A perfect post for Sepia Saturday, the purpose of you blog and for the events in France this past week.

Tattered and Lost said...

History is rarely kind to extremists. For awhile the sane people laugh at them, unaware that the extremists are once again busy plotting behind the scenes. Ever vigilant and informed seems to be the only way to stay ahead of them.

And I so wish our national anthem was America the Beautiful with no trace of war as its theme.


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