In Peace and Harmony

Towards the end of the summer Markus was roped in to perform with the Fanfare de Lamastre.  I say ‘roped in’ because brass band music is not really his thing.  But in this case he was repaying a favour.  The choir master in Arlebosc had planned an ambitious repertoire of music – something along the lines of the Last Night of the Proms – for his summer concerts and asked Markus to play multiple horn parts.  This was something of a challenge, since Denis’s arrangements frequently required Markus to change instruments in mid section, which is tricky if you are juggling different techniques and instruments – trumpet, cornet and trombone – at speed.  He spent an intensive period of hard work at the start of the lock down as he wrestled with the scores. Listening to him rehearsing I really came to like the William Tell Overture, especially what he refers to as the Moto Guzzi section on the trombone.  One frequently hears only the final part, which hardly represents the piece as a whole, with its wonderful opening section for cello. 

Anyway all that has been cancelled of course and he’s now just messing around on the trombone, accompanying me on piano rags at the piano. 

So the trombone.  Markus has an impressive array of instruments, from piccolo to accordion and much in between, including a selection of horns.  But no trombone.  Plus he doesn’t play the trombone, and the slide technique isn’t something that you just pick up in an afternoon.  But he thought he knew where he could track down a valve trombone and so he approached the bandmaster of the Lamastre Fanfare, who very kindly agreed to lend him an instrument.  The Harmonie-Fanfare de Lamastre, to give it its correct name, since it includes woodwinds, is seriously short of brass players, especially cornets, so come the summer when Markus was asked to play for an evening market event in town he felt he could hardly refuse.  He had no time to rehearse with them and was relieved to discover that he did not have to play whilst marching, the music balanced precariously on his cornet, but still you can see it’s not quite his scene – he’s even wearing the wrong coloured shirt!

The Fanfare is now sadly reduced in splendour from its glory days but its significance is rather fascinating and worth a little study.

Historically there were always two of everything in Lamastre: two pharmacies, two doctors, two florists, two banks.  Where there were more than two –  butchers, bakers, grocers and so on, each had its own exclusive clientele, determined by which of the two places of worship they frequented: the Eglise de Macheville, perched up in the old town or the Temple Protestant, located in the area closer to the river which was developed in the mid 19th century.  By that time of course the terrible violence and periodic repression of Protestantism were over, but the two communities kept themselves largely separate even into the 1970’s and beyond.  Memories are long and traditions die hard. We have been told that, during the Occupation, if messages needed to be sent amongst the local Resistance there were always two messengers, one Protestant the other Catholic, just to be on the safe side. 

Time for a bit of context.

Being located not too far from Geneva, home of the Reformation, protestant ideas spread easily into the Vivarais, where they readily took root.  In 1598 King Henry IV’s famous Edict of Nantes put an end to the religious wars in France and granted civil rights and legitimacy to protestants.  The two Lamastre communities co-existed peacefully, even sharing the same cemetery in Macheville. But after the revocation of the Edict in 1685 the faithful endured a century of persecution, a period which is known as le Désert, in reference to the Exodus of the People of Israel into the Sinai Desert.  Reformed church buildings were destroyed, pastors arrested and hanged, illicit religious meetings, held outdoors in remote rural locations, were violently broken up by the Royal Dragoons, and the participants imprisoned, sent to the galleys or executed.  It was a terrible time, which has left its mark on our region. 

The inverted heart, a protestant symbol. If you look carefully you will see one over both windows.

Most notably, since officially there were no more Protestants, they had to deal with their dead as best they could.  A law of 1712 obliged doctors to warn all patients that they must confess on the second day of any illness otherwise they would no longer be treated.  If a patient subsequently died without receiving the Last Rites from a priest he or she would be considered to have fallen into heresy, meaning not only that the body could not be buried in consecrated ground, but that it was dragged to the gibbet and hanged there by the feet.  As a final punishment, the goods of the deceased were confiscated by the state. 

Not unsurprisingly the truly faithful went without doctors, treated illnesses themselves and died quietly in their own homes.  A lasting witness to this period is the number of tiny private graveyards still to be seen close to certain farmhouses.  Some have been abandoned, when the family died out but many are still tended, indeed a friend of ours still maintains her family’s burial area in a beautiful woodland spot on their property.  She has recently renewed the official authorisation and fully intends to be buried there herself when the time comes, close to her parents, aunts and uncles. 

Family burial ground.

Rather more bizarrely, other friends, who bought a remote property which they renovated and now live in year-round, discovered that they had also acquired the last resting place of a former owner, overlooking the spot where they installed their pool. The grave site is maintained and regularly visited by surviving members of the family.

So, coming back to Lamastre, there were obviously two marching bands: the Catholic Clique and the Harmonie-Fanfare, founded in 1880 and characterised as “Municipale et Republicaine”.  The first, smartly turned out in white shirts and breeches with broad green cummerbunds, sashes and white berets, accompanied the numerous religious processions of the Catholic calendar. 

The Fanfare, no less smart, sported dark trousers and blazers, with white peaked caps similar to those worn by French naval officers in the 1930’s and was closely associated with civic life and the events of the Republic. 

It was entirely fitting therefore that, on 8th June 1944, just two days after the Normandy landings, the Comité de Libération of Lamastre met at the premises of the Fanfare to decide upon their course of action and to draw up a declaration to the population.  There followed a peaceful handover of authority and a ceremony in front of the town hall on June 11th, featuring the Fanfare (now wearing patriotic berets) and the members of the local Resistance.

The Harmonie-Fanfare 11th June 1944
The Liberation Committee on the balcony of the Town Hall

Although its numbers have dwindled the Fanfare still turns out to mark significant moments in the life of the Republic.  Their next engagement will be the ceremony held on the 11th November to honour all those who have died in war in the service of the French Republic.  But probably without Markus.

  • IMAGE CREDITS:
  • Family burial ground. Musée virtuel du Protestantisme
  • La Clique and La Fanfare. Guy Dürrenmatt, Bertille ma Grand-Mère, Ed Dolmazon
  • June 11th 1944. Lamastre.net

9 thoughts on “In Peace and Harmony

  1. What a wonderful story! Markus playing his coronet at the Lion of Lucerne monument is one of my favorite travel memories.
    My best to you both.

  2. Loved listening to this. Brought back fond memories of my childhood, as portions of this music was used in the cartoons I used to watch, and of course, Disney’s “Fantasia”. My favorite part, always, will be the end, the most well known portion of the piece. Listening to it made me smile, and remember my Dad and I watching “The Lone Ranger” , from his childhood and youth, together in his living room during his last years. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!

    Marcus, keep playing your instruments! Kate, please keep writing!!

  3. Fascinating glimpse of life in a town with a complicated religious part. Does the clique still exist?
    William Tell overture always brings back childhood memories of the Lomé Ranger, but it was also used for a Robin Hood series on ITV in the 50s starring Richard Greene which Kate might remember? There were word too – it began “Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen, Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his merry men…

    1. As far as we know, the Clique no longer exists and certainly there are no more religious processions. The two pharmacies have now amalgamated and very little remains of the duplication, although older people stick to their family allegiances. You’ll remember that this was an important theme in Welcome to the Free Zone.

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