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French Revolution and War Periods Essay

After the French Revolution of 1848

The Goguettes, the predecessors of the café-concerts, appeared at the beginning of the eighteenth century. At these places, people were socializing, eating, drinking, and entertaining listening to various ensembles and solo singers. All theaters and musical halls belong to the government at that time, and Goguettes were the only alternative for people to listen to musical concerts and to watch theatrical performances. The themes of the songs before the French Revolution of 1848 and shortly before and during the time of the Paris Commune in 1871 were mostly political and revolutionary. For example, the song “Le Temps des Cerises” that was written in 1866 and is a vivid example of the so-called chanson française or the French song, considered a revolutionary anthem of the Communard movement (Aggarwal).

However, after the Revolution and before the Commune and after the defeat of the Commune, political songs were prohibited, and cabarets were under close supervision. The time between the Revolution and the Commune was the time when the term “café-concert” appeared, and during the “Belle Époque”, they were very popular (Aggarwal).

The Belle Époque

The term “La Belle Époque” is translated from French as “The Beautiful Era” and marks the period from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the beginning of the World War I in 1914. This was a time of the French Third Republic, a period of economic prosperity, regional peace, optimism, consumerism, and scientific, cultural, and technological innovations. At that time, the arts were flourishing, and many masterpieces of theater, music, painting, and literature were created. New forms of entertainment appeared at that time. Among them are the French can-can, café-concerts, and cabarets (Wilde).

After the prohibition of political songs, the main song themes in cabarets became sentimentality and erotica. At that time, women became dominating the stage, and prostitution became one of the main characteristics of the café-concerts. Thus, waitresses, singers, and other female workers sold their services along with their bodies (Wilde).

Even though the café-concerts were situated mostly in working-class areas, a significant part of the visitors was from the upper class, as for the lower class, there were other types of establishments called “beuglants” that is roughly translated as “honkers” and “bouis-bouis” meaning a combination of a small café and brothel (Aggarwal).

At the café-concerts, there were three types of female singers. The first type was pierreuses (streetwalkers) who worked at the lower-class cafés and considered ugly and wore dirty and ragged clothes. The second type was diseuses (speakers) who were singers and actresses and wore modest dresses. The third type was the chanteuses à voix (voice singers) who considered talented singers and often became famous. Among them are Eugénie Buffet, Jeanne Bloch, Thérèsa, and Yvette Guilbert. All three types belong to the working class and held on to their profession, as it gave women a certain degree of freedom and financial stability which was exceptional because women had very limited rights at that time (Wilde).

Chanteuse Réaliste

During the belle époque, café-concerts and cabarets were visited by everyone from the lower to the upper class. But after World War I, their clientele consisted mostly of bourgeois customers. Although the female singers, or as they were called at that time “chanteuses réalistes” performed songs about lower-class women, their difficult lives being prostitutes, and drugs and poverty, the price of their performance was rather high, and the cabarets turned into the music halls where food was not served (Wilde).

Despite having suppressed the movements of the working class, the French bourgeois, especially men came to the music halls in order to appreciate the performance of the popular working-class and remember the revolutionary roots of republicanism in France.

During the interwar period, France was more conservative than before the World War I. The chanteuse réaliste continued to be an important figure for the French identity, but its role began to change (Cordier 22).

The Post-World War II Period

The French Third Republic ceased to exist after its defeat to Nazi Germany in 1940. After World War II, in 1946, the French Fourth Republic was established. At that period, having preserved their popularity, chanteuses réalistes continued to sing about the life of the Parisian lower class and added nostalgic and tragic themes to their repertoire. The music halls were transformed into sound cinemas and movie theaters (Cordier 17).

Edith Piaf

Since the French chanson tradition began to change after the World War II, and more singers, such as Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour became popular, Edit Piaf is often regarded as the last great chanteuse réaliste, as she was the only one who preserved the initial traditions expressing fatalism and tragedy of the working class. Her singing career began before World War II. In the thirtieths, she also appeared in cameo roles in movies. But the popularity came to her after the war (Huey).

Edith Piaf continued to sing about the nostalgia for Paris of the Belle Époque, café-concerts, and the authenticity of the Parisian working class. The mourning for the French Third Republic was the main theme at that time, as people thought that that time had been “purer” than this when the dominance of the USA caused the appearance of corruption and consumer culture in France; and Edith Piaf when singing about this tragedy on stage was dressed in black and under the white light (Allen).

Edith Piaf had never changed her repertoire up until her death in 1963. For both French and non-French people, Edith Piaf was the embodiment of authentic “Frenchness”, as she remained the last example of the representation of the Belle Époque traditions (Briggs 9).

Works Cited

Aggarwal, Mamta. “.” History Discussion, 2015.

Allen, Jeremy. “.” The Guardian.

Briggs, Jonathyne. Sounds French: Globalization, Cultural Communities and Pop Music, 1958-1980. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Cordier, Adeline. Post-War French Popular Music: Cultural Identity and the Brel-Brassens-Ferré Myth. Ashgate Publishing, 2014.

Huey, Steve. “.” Allmusic, 2015.

Wilde, Robert. “.” ThoughtCo.

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