The first talk of the new season was given by Chris Tracey and featured La Marseillaise. It was a talk that had been intended for quite some time and final planning coincided with controversy in the French media about the national anthem. Some of that polemic was included in the presentation.
The story started with Rouget de Lisle being asked by the mayor of Strasbourg to compose a stirring chant de guerre for the army of the Rhine. The year was 1792 which turned out to be a critical period of French history.
Chris explained how the battle song got its name and distributed copies of the lyrics for members. He explained how the song was at times in and out of favour as revolutionary fervour ebbed and flowed.
Directing members' attention to various YouTube sources - type in La Marseillaise and you will find hundreds of renditions - he explored the importance of the anthem to France in times of national crisis.
Next it was on to those polemiques beginning with Serge Gainsbourg's association with La Marseillaise. In 1979 he had recorded a reggae version entitles Aux Armes et caetera which had provoked outrage. Later he would bid at auction for a copy of the song, in which Rouget de Lisle had abbreviated his chorus using that same wording. This YouTube link conveys some of the tension of that controversy.
Another controversy involved President Jacques Chirac who left the stand at a football match when some supporters whistled during the playing of the anthem. In lighter vein, there was some bemusement when at an entertainment for G8 leaders, Jules Holland performed the Beatles song, All you need is love. The French president, mistaking the opening bars for La Marseillaise immediately stood to attention prompting other world leaders to do the same.
More recent controversy surrounded France's Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira who likened the public singing of the anthem to Karaoke. Her observation was a riposte to those who had criticised her for not singing along when it was performed at a public ceremony to commemorate the abolition of slavery. She made the point that when a soloist was giving the rendition it was all the more poignant and she preferred to listen on such occasions. The controversy rolled on over the summer with French actor, Lambert Wilson deploring what he called the xenophobic lyrics of the song. Both sides of that argument were considered.
Finally, a possible replacement or at least revision of the song was played. This had been produced by the organisation for a new Marseillaise and is available here. Opinion was divided among members perhaps proving that controversy and the anthem go hand in hand.. or step by step.