La Marche des rois – Chant trad. provençale repris x Bizet dans L’Arlésienne (partition,sheet music) Easy Piano Solo arr.
The March of the Kings or The March of the Three Kings or, in Provençal, La Marcho di Rèi is a popular Christmas carol of Provençal origin celebrating Epiphany and the Three Kings. Its revival by Georges Bizet for his Arlésienne popularized the theme.
The precise origins of both the tune and the lyrics are uncertain and debated.
The words are regularly attributed to Joseph-François Domergue (1691-1728), priest-dean of Aramon, in the Gard, from 1724 to 1728, whose name appears on the first manuscript copy dated 1742 and kept at the library of Avignon.
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The text is published in the Compendium of Provençal and Francois Spiritual Songs engraved by Sieur Hue published in 1759. Subsequently, the work was included in the various editions of the Provençal Christmas collection by the poet and composer of the 17th century Nicolas Saboly (1614-1675) to which it has often — and erroneously — been attributedNote.
According to the 1742 document, the song uses the air of a Marche de Turenne1. This mention corresponds to the established practice of noëlistes consisting in placing their texts on “known” French songs spread by the printing press. One hypothesis is that this Marche de Turenne would be a military march dating back to the 17th century, in honor of the victories of Marshal de Turenne, which some authors wanted to attribute to Lully, although no document corroborates this attribution.
An Avignon tradition rather dates the Marche de Turenne back to the 15th century, at the time of King René (1409-1480) while certain authors from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century leaned towards a reference to Raymond de Turenne (1352 -1413), known as Le Fléau de Provence, grandnephew of Pope Clement VI and nephew of Pope Gregory XI.
In the 21st century, several American researchers postulate that the March of the Kings has a medieval origin dating back to the 13th century; it could then be one of the oldest Christmas carols listed with Veni redemptor gentium, and perhaps the first entirely composed in the vernacular language, and not in Latin.
According to research carried out by the scholar Stéphen d’Arve at the end of the 19th century, the only known score is that of Étienne-Paul Charbonnier (1793-1872), organist at the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence , who — perhaps taking it from the chain of its predecessors — had reconstructed it from memory, modifying its orchestration as new instruments were introduced.
Henri Maréchal, an inspector of the Conservatoires de France who did research at the request of Frédéric Mistral, thought, for his part, that ‘La Marcha dei Rèis’ must have been composed by the Abbé Domergue himself.
Covers and adaptations
The March of the Kings is one of the themes of the overture to L’Arlésienne (1872), incidental music composed by Georges Bizet for a drama on a Provençal subject by Alphonse Daudet.
According to the musicologist Joseph Clamon, Bizet was able to find the melody of this march in a book published in 1864. After the failure of the drama, Bizet drew from incidental music a suite for orchestra (Suite no 1) which met with immediate success.
In 1879, four years after the composer’s death, his friend Ernest Guiraud produced a second suite (Suite no 2) in which the March of the Kings is taken up in canon in the last part of the revised work.
Certain passages are also found in Edmond Audran’s operetta Gillette de Narbonne, created in 188219. The words of a song ‘M’sieu d’Turenne’, which can be sung to the tune of the March of the Kings, are due to Léon Durocher (1862-1918).
The March of the Kings has become a traditional French song and one of the most common Christmas carols in the repertoire of French-speaking choirs. It has had several covers by performers such as Tino Rossi, Les Quatre Barbus, Marie Michèle Desrosiers or, in English, Robert Merrill. The piece has been adapted many times, notably by the organist Pierre Cochereau through an improvised toccata in 1973 for the Suite à la Française on popular themes.
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