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Echoes of 1815: A Concert of Music from Napoleon’s 100 Days

Eton College, by permission

Performed by the Waterloo Singers, Katherine Hambridge (soprano) and Mark Austin (piano)

Ever wondered what they were singing at the Battle of Waterloo? On Monday 23 February 2015 we put on a concert of musical responses to Napoleon’s brief return to power in 1815 at the Warwick Arts Centre. Performed by a motley collection of academics and musicians, the repertoire ranged from popular song, satirical vaudeville, propaganda opera and sentimental art song from around the UK, France and German lands. The concert marked the launch of the online exhibition ‘The Last Stand: Napoleon’s 100 Days in 100 Objects’, a collaboration between Mark Philp from the History department, the AHRC-funded project ‘French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era’ led by Katherine Astbury, and the European History Research Centre.

N'Boudons pas, v'la l'bouquet

One of our songs was taken from a publication of 100-days war songs, L'élan de l'âme et du coeur . The volume contains pro-Napoleon songs written in popular language, though to what extent this is authentic and to what extent it’s a pseudo language of the people remains open to question. At the end of the text for 'N’boudons pas v’la l’bouquet' there is a note to say that it was published in March 1815 with a print run of 60,000 and sung at a number of banquets. It plays on the idea that Napoleon is the père la violette, or Corporal Violet: the violet had become the symbol of the Bonapartists, as you can see in the online exhibition entries for 3 and 20 March.

BONAPARTE, avec un bouquet, /Règne en paix dans la France;/ A tout fidèle il en remet /En signe d’alliance : / C’est l’emblême le plus certain/ D’une faveur secrète: / On ne te porte pas en vain, / Bouquet de violette.

LOUIS, tu ne pus triompher, /Ta cause était débile. / Tu dis: “on paraissait m’aimer”! / Ce n’était pas facile …. / Le lys quêta quelques regards; / Il faut qu’il se soumette. / Nous soupirions tous après Mars, / Pour voir LA VIOLETTE.

Européens, soyons amis! / Que de sa seule affaire/ Chacun se mêle en son pays,/ Sans être téméraire: /Ou le bouquet serait bien beau,/ Amis, on le répète,/ NOUS N’BOUDRONS PAS … Il ferait chaud…/ Avec LA VIOLETTE.

Boney's return to Paris

When news of Napoleon’s return reaches London in 1815, this song circulated to parody the flight of London society back from Paris where it had flocked during the Restoration.

Le Royaliste converti

Le royaliste converti, a vaudeville performed on 12 April 1815 – after Napoleon has arrived back in Paris – is a conversation between a ‘patriot’ and a ‘royalist’, in which the patriot gradually convinces the royalist of the Napoleonic cause.

This extract comes from the discussion of the reaction of the allied powers to Napoleon’s return. You can listen to a performance of the two songs by clicking on the links (the translation is below).

Le patriote:
Nous savons que l’empereur Alexandre, dès qu’il a appris le retour de NAPOLÉON-LE-GRAND dans sa capital, s’est rendu de sa personne au congrès, et voici à peu près ce qu’il a dit:

[Air: le Magistrat irreprochable!]
J’ai placé Louis sur le trône;
Il aurait dû s’y maintenir.
Redonne-t-on une couronne
Qu’un roi n’a pas pu soutenir!
Chez les Français, portant la guerre,
Je n’irai point ternir mon nom,
Lorsque je vois la France entière
Heureuse sous Napoléon.

Le royaliste:
Passe encore pour la Russie, mais l’Angleterre!

Le patriote:
[Même air]
L’Anglais peut, dans sa politique,
Contre Napoléon s’armer;
Mais la nation britannique
N’a pas cessé de l’estimer;
A ce héros rendant hommage,
Quand le sort trompa sa valeur
L’Anglais achetait son image
Que nous portions dans notre coeur.

The patriot:
We know that when the Emperor Alexander learned of the return of Napoleon-the-great to his capital, he went in person to the Congress, and this is pretty much what he said:

[To the tune: The irreproachable magistrate]

I put Louis on the throne;
He ought to have kept it.
You don’t give a crown back
To a king who couldn’t keep it.
Taking war to the French
Is not something I will tarnish my name with
When I see that the whole of France
Is happy under Napoleon.

The royalist:
That might be ok for Russia, but not England!

The patriot:
[to the same tune]
The English man can in his politics
Arm himself against Napoleon
But the British nation
Has not stopped esteeming him;
Paying homage to this hero
At the same time that fate was ignoring his merit,
Englishmen bought his image -
The one we carry in our hearts.

A Fédéré version of the Marseillaise

Napoleon returned in 1815 on a wave of popular support. Once in power, Napoleon attempted to harness this sentiment by emphasizing his own revolutionary credentials (reintroducing the Revolutionary tricolore cockade for instance), and he tolerated the organisations of neo-revolutionary fédérés that sprang up, even if he refused to arm them. One such group, in the Rhone valley, used the tune of the 'Marseillaise' for their ‘La Fédération’, sung at a meeting on 16 May.

La Fédération’ (to the tune of 'allons, enfants...')

Comment, une ligue étrangère,
Viendrait, en nous dictant ses lois,
Porter une main téméraire,
Sur les plus sacrés de nos droits!
Sur les plus sacrés de nos droits!
Faut-il, sous la verge allemande,
Courber un front humilié?
Français, ont-ils donc oublié
Que Napoléon nous commande?
Aux armes, fédérés! Sauvez l’aigle vainqueur!
Marchez! Marchez ! Vous défendrez la patrie et l’honneur!

What? Should a foreign league
Come, dictating their laws to us,
And, with a reckless hand,
Touch the most sacred of our rights!
Touch the most sacred of our rights!
Under the German rod, must we
Bow our humiliated brows?
Have the French forgotten then
That Napoleon is in charge of us?
To arms, federates! Save the victorious eagle!
March! March! You will defend the motherland and honour!

'Cadet Buteux législateur ou la constitution en vaudevilles'

This vaudeville sets new words to pre-existing melodies to create a narrative. Published anonymously in May 1815, we have no record of its performance, though it may have been put on in one on Paris's private singing societies, where writers would try out new material.

Cadet Buteux is a character who appears in a number of vaudevilles from this period; generally an 'everyman', his songs here are written in an approximation of colloquial French. He was often used to give a satirical and cynical take on current affairs, and this vaudeville has him deciding to run the country himself. While outlining his constitution, Cadet Buteux mocks the idea that new constitutions are ever different from old ones. Here are 4 verses from the vaudeville:

1. D’puis long-temps chacun s’pique,
Pour accrocher d’zemplois,
D’régler la politique
Et d’fabriquer des lois.
Moi, qu’ai de l’ambition,
De l’adresse et d’l’audace,
J’vas bacler un’constitution;
Ça décid’ra p’t-êt’ la nation
A m’donner zun’ bonn’ place.

1. For a long while, every one’s been getting in a tizzy,
To hook a job,
To sort out politics
And to make laws.
I, who have ambition,
Skill and audacity,
I am going to knock up a constitution;
Maybe it will make up the nation’s mind
To give me a good position.

20. Si j’demand’ l’approbation
De tous les habitans d’la France
Sur cett’ nouvell’ Constitution,
C’est pour la frim’, car j’trouv’rai, j’pense,
Pus d’un normand, pus d’un gascon
Qui n’voudra dir’ni oui ni non.

20. If I ask for approval
From all the inhabitants of France
On this new Constitution,
It’s just for show, ‘cause I’ll find, I think,
No more Normans, no more Gascons
Who will want to say either yes or no.

21. Mais je m’pass’rai d’leur suffrage,
Et pour prév’nir les débats
Adroitement j’me ménage,
L’zhomm’s en place et les soldats;
J’f’rons approuver mon ouvrage
Par ceux qui n’ s’raient rien sans moi
Les plus forts feront la loi.

21. But I can manage without their votes,
And to forestall the debates
Skillfully I’ll make sure there are
The right men in place and soldiers too;
We will have my work approved
By those who would be nothing without me
The strongest will make the law.

26. J’ pouvons répondr’ stapendant
Au critiqu’ qui nous sermonne
Qu’ ma constitution s’ra bonne
Si j l’observons fidèl’ment;
J’avons vu tant d’fois en France
Des promess’s de c’t’ importance!
Avec la dernier’, quand j’pense,
On nous a tant fait aller,
Que j’dis qu’un’ charte est l’image
D’un’ bell’ fill’ qui reste sage
Tant qu’ell’ n’ se laiss’ pas violer.

26. We will be able to reply however
To the critic who lectures us
That my constitution will go well
If we observe it faithfully;
We have seen so many times in France
Promises of this importance!
With the last one, now I think about it,
We were strung so far along,
That I say that a charter is the image
Of a beautiful girl who stays good,
As long as she doesn’t let herself be raped.

A Viennese Lied inspires a Prussian volunteer

This Viennese Lied, or art song, sets a text by the famous war-poet, volunteer fighter, and martyr of the Wars of Liberation, Theodor Körner, and both demonstrates the variety of artistic engagements with the war of 1815, and the different ways that patriotic sentiment circulated. This song, which appeared in Stephen Franz's collection of Sechs Gedichte von Theodor Körner zum Gesang und Fortepiano (1814), was not to be sung communally, but by a soloist, in a salon or more informal domestic gathering, and Franz has fully embraced the lyric mode of the text: his fruity harmonic language, and swooping vocal lines emphasise Körner's portrayal of the Romantic subjectivity of the volunteer, both heroic and conflicted. The poem set here, which dates from 1813, appears on the first page of a Prussian volunteer’s diary from 1815; on hearing of Napoleon’s escape from Elba, Carl Ernst Eduard Pfitzner travelled across Europe to join the fight against him, and used Körner’s words to express his feelings on leaving home: 'Leb wohl, leb wohl, mit dumpfen Herzenschlägen'.

‘Abschied nach Wien’
Leb' wohl! Leb' wohl !- Mit dumpfen Herzensschlägen
Begrüss'ich dich und folge meiner Pflicht.
Im Auge will sich eine Träne regen.
Was sträub'ich mich? Die Träne schmäht mich nicht.
Ach! Wo ich wandle, sei's auf Friedenswegen,
Sei's wo der Tod die blut'gen Kränze bricht:
Da werden deine teuren Huldgestalten
In Lieb'und Sehnsucht meine Seele spalten.
‘Farewell to Vienna’
Farewell! Farewell – With dull heartbeats
I salute thee, and follow my duty.
A tear will form in my eye.
What am I resisting? A tear does not dishonour me.
Oh! Wherever I walk, whether it be in the ways of peace,
Or where death bursts the bloody wreaths:
There your dear graceful figure
Will split my soul in love and longing.

Komisches Jubellied

This is a light-hearted South German response to the battle of Waterloo, simply titled a 'Komisches Jubellied', a comic celebration song. The words were written to a tune from a smash-hit Singspiel – that is, a popular German language-opera – that premiered in 1793 in Vienna: Das neue Sonntagskind. A drinking song in the opera, 'Wer niemals einem Rausch gehabt', the number was quickly extracted from its stage setting to become a popular drinking song offstage too.

‘Komisches Jubellied’

Hellauf! mit frohem Rundgesang
Stimmt alle fröhlich ein,
Der Bonapart wird nimmer lang
Der Menschenfresser seyn;
Verlohren ist sein ganzer Spaß
Jetzt gehts aus einem andern Faß.

Kaum kam er so mit gutem Wind
In Frankreich unter Dach,
So lief ihm gleich das Lumpeng’sind
Fast alles wieder nach;
Und alles rief in einem Ton
Es lebe hoch Napoleon!

Mein guter Bartel war nicht faul
That wieder was er kann,
Macht den Franzosen wieder s’Maul
Und alles hieng ihm an;
Er zog sodann mit sauß und brauß
So gegen die Alliirten aus.

Doch dießmal, tausend Sapperment!
Hat Herr Napoleon,
Die lange Nase recht verbrennt
Beym Herzog Wellington;
Der heitzte ihm so ziemlich ein
Was müßt der Brand von Moskau seyn.

Nun kam der Marschall Vorwärts an;
Jetzt giengs ihm erst noch schlimm
Ganz preußisch machte dieser dann
Den Garaus noch mit ihm;
Nun floh er über Stock und Stein
Als käm der Teufel hinten drein.

So floh auf einmal unser Held,
Sah nimmer hinter sich;
Und ließ im reichen Thatenfeld,
Nun und Maus im Stich;
Hätt man die Hose visitiert,
Gewiß hat er darein hofiert.

Nun war der Tanz auf einmal aus,
Da alles sprang und lief;
Sein Adler kam jetzt in die Maus,
Und hieng die Flügel tief;
Wie übel kammst du da nicht zu
O du allmächt’ger Kaiser, du!

So ist es einmal aus mit dir,
Du stolzer Pharao!
Den Teufel freut es selbst – und wir,
Sind alle herzlich froh;
Bald feyern wir den Friedenschmauß
Jetzt blase uns den Hobel aus.

Hurrah! Everyone joins in gladly
With joyful roundelay
Bonaparte will never again
Be the ogre
Gone is all his fun
Now it’s quite another story.

He had scarcely arrived under good wind
And come back home to France
When immediately almost all the riff-raff
Dashed back to him once again;
And all exclaimed in one voice
Long live Napoleon!

My good Bartel was not lazy
He did again what he could,
Gave the French false hope again
And everybody followed him;
He set off in high splendour
Against the Allies.

But this time, a thousand Zounds,
Mr. Napoleon got
His long nose properly burnt
By Duke of Wellington;
Who gave him hell
Like at the burning of Moscow.

Then Marshall Vorwärts [Blücher] arrived;
Then it only went worse for him
In wholly Prussian fashion the former
Finished him off;
Then he fled over hill and dale
As if the devil were coming along behind.

So fled at once our hero,
And didn’t ever look behind;
And in the rich field of deeds
Forsook all and sundry
Had you seen his trousers
Certainly he would have left his mark.

Now the dance was over at once,
Since all jumped and ran;
His eagle turned into the mouse
And the wings drooped;
How badly things went amiss,
O you Almighty Emperor, you!

So it is once again all up with you,
You proud Pharaoh!
Even the devil himself is pleased- and we
Are all heartily glad;
Soon we’ll celebrate the peace-feast
Good riddance to it all.