The Hymn as French comic opera? Tell it to the Marines!
By tradition, the Marines’ Hymn was written by an anonymous Marine somewhere in Mexico at some time during or immediately following the Mexican War.
But a summary of an alternative view may be found on the web site of the Albany (Georgia) Marine Corps Band: http://www.ala.usmc.mil/band/hymn/hymnhistory2.asp which provides information about the ultimate source of the Hymn’s melody:
<<A serious attempt to trace the tune of the Marines' Hymn to its source is revealed in correspondence between Colonel A.S. McLemore, USMC, and Walter F. Smith, second leader of the Marine Band. Colonel McLemore wrote.
<<"Major Richard Wallach, USMC, says that in 1878, when he was in Paris, France, the aria to which the Marines' Hymn is now sung was a very popular one." The name of the opera and a part of the chorus was secured from Major Wallach and forwarded to Mr. Smith, who replied: "Major Wallach is to be congratulated upon a wonderfully accurate musical memory, for the aria of the Marine Hymn is certainly to be found in the opera, 'Genevieve de Brabant'...The melody is not in the exact form of the Marine Hymn, but is undoubtedly the aria from which it was taken. I am informed, however, by one of the members of the band, who has a Spanish wife, that the aria was one familiar to her childhood and it may, therefore, be a Spanish folk song."
<<In a letter to Major Harold F. Wingman, USMC, dated 18 July , John Philip Sousa wrote: "The melody of the 'Halls of Montezuma' is taken from Offenbach's comic opera, 'Genevieve de Brabant' and is sung by two gendarmes." Most people believe that the aria of the Marines' Hymn was, in fact, taken from "Genevieve de Brabant," an opera-bouffe (a farcical form of opera, generally termed musical comedy) composed by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), and presented at the Theatre de Bouffes Parisiens, Paris, on November 19, 1859.>>
A Library of Congress web site at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cocoon/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200000011/default.html adds some pertinent details.
<<The "Marines' Hymn" has an engaging history. Its tune originally came from the "march" section of Jacques Offenbach's comic opera Genevieve de Brabant. First presented as a melodramatic work in 1859, Offenbach's material was subsequently reshaped into a comic opera that opened in Paris in 1867. To that production the composer added the "march of the men of arms."
<<It is not known when the first words of the "Marine's Hymn" were added to the Offenbach music, nor by whom. One, or possibly two, early verses have been traced to Colonel Henry C. Davis who wrote them during the early part of the twentieth century....
<<The first version of the song was copyrighted, published and distributed in 1919 by The Leatherneck - a Marine Corps magazine printed in Quantico, Virginia....>>
Another LofC web site at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cocoon/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.100010540/default.html shows the first page of a manuscript sheet music display of the Marines’ Hymn with hand-written lyrics and a notation: “Melody from ‘Genevieve de Brabant’ by J. Offenbach, 1867 -- Arrange by A. Tregina, U.S. Marine Band, 1919.” In typeset marginalia, the LofC identifies the lyricist as L.Z. Phillips.
Excerpts of the original words and music may be heard at Amazon.com by searching on the home page for Genevieve de Brabant under Classical Music. The third playback selection (Genevieve de Brabant: Galop) on the CD “Offenbach in America” plays enough of the melody to give you the drift. The fourth playback selection (Genevieve de Brabant: Gendarmes) on the CD “Golden Operetta” plays some of the lyrics in English, including the refrain, “We run them in....” Presumably, complete renditions are to be found on the CDs themselves.
If you don’t find these CDs on Amazon’s site menu, search for them separately by title.
Is there any information as to how Offenbach’s music got appropriated for the Marines’ Hymn? Can A. Tregina or L.Z. Phillips be identified?
To Join the Company of Military Historians click here