French music & philosophy: Pocket-sized Guides to France

Do you dream of acing your next dinner party in France? Imagine discussing Voltaire with ease over your apéro. As French learners, studying aspects of French culture like music and philosophy can help us succeed in conversations just as much as brushing up on our grammar and vocabulary.  

Luckily, French philosophy and music don’t have to be overwhelming topics. We’ve rounded up six pocket-sized guides to France that make it simple to dive into French culture. Here is the Ultimate Guide to French music and philosophy. Get ready to impress at your next dinner party

French philosophy

1. Jean Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher who believed that each individual has the freedom to change things and make a real difference. Sartre believed that “existence precedes essence”.³ This means that humans are not born with a purpose; we find our own purpose during our life. Therefore, our existence comes before our essence.

Sartre argued that all things except humans are designed for a purpose, and he used the analogy of a paper-knife to illustrate this argument. A paper-knife is created for a particular reason: to cut paper… Read more

2. Voltaire

‘MyFrenchLife™ ‘MyFrenchLife™ - French music and philosophy - voltaire

Voltaire was a French philosopher and writer who challenged the status quo of 18th century France. According to Voltaire, babies are not born with the ideas and principles that they live by. These ideas and principles are a result of one’s upbringing and experiences. As no ideas are known from birth, no ideas are necessarily correct and therefore every idea can be challengedRead more


‘MyFrenchLife™ ‘MyFrenchLife™ - French music and philosophy - beauvoir

3. Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir was a French existentialist philosopher whose book ‘The Second Sex’ challenged the accepted role of women in society. She noted that throughout history, humanity had been defined by males, and therefore, from a male perspective.

De Beauvoir argued that society was “codified by man”¹ and that women should define themselves rather than conforming to society’s definition of a woman: as a wife, a mother or a domestic goddess… Read more

3. René Descartes

René Descartes was a French philosopher credited with the most famous philosophical quote of all time: “cogito ergo sum” – “I think therefore I am”. Descartes’ theories caused much scepticism about our knowledge of what we believe to be true.

This French philosopher used his ‘method of doubt’ to build a strong foundation of truth and knowledge. Descartes recognised that most of what he believed to be true came from his senses, and that his senses sometimes deceived him. For example, objects change colour depending on the light that enters our eyes.… Read more


French music

‘MyFrenchLife™ ‘MyFrenchLife™ - French music and philosophy - Composers

1. Romantic composers

Although some French composers left their mark in the Baroque period, such as Rameau and Couperin, the ‘high era’ of French classical music was the middle of the 19th century. Composers such as Bizet, Berlioz, and Debussy were at their most creative and productive during the Romantic era. It is interesting to remember that the beginning of this period of creativity in music coincides with the emergence of Impressionist Art, which also first developed in France… Read more

2. French popular music

The French aren’t just known for baguettes and wine. It appears that their music is also getting some attention. What makes francophile listeners go Oh là là ? The words? The music? The images they evoke? 

Ask any francophile to describe French popular music and they’ll mention accordions, sultry raspy voices, gypsy-like sounds, and longing melodies. All invoke romance and fantasy with dreamy, nostalgic images, inducing a world of make-believe, a distant memory, or imagined love affair… Read more

How much did you already know about French music and philosophy? What’s your favorite topic? Do you have suggestions to add to this Ultimate Guide? Share your thoughts in the comments, below.

Your subscription (free or paid) will be gratefully received and will help me continue to build ‘le Bulletin’ to be even more rich – the weekly newsletter of Magazine – Merci Mille Fois

Image credits:
1. Jean-Paul Sartre, via Wikimedia
2. Atelier de Nicolas de Largillière, portrait de Voltaire, détail (musée Carnavalet) via Wikipedia
3. Second Sex, via Wikipedia
4. Renatvs Des Cartes, by Stifts – och landsbiblioteket i Skara
5. Portraits by Paul Helm
6. Ellernelle via Amazon 

Further Reading:

1. 10 Most celebrated French Philosophers via The Guardian
2. 16 French philosophers and intellectuals who made Paris their home via culture trip
3. A beginner’s guide to popular French music for 2020 via The Connexion France

4. Is Music a Universal Language? via Psychology Today
5. For true immersion in French music we invite you to enjoy this extraordinary archival resource – 20+ articles with c.100 musical features – a substantial series named: French Music Monday


The Ultimate Series
French music & philosophy: 6 Pocket-sized Guides to France

1. French philosophy: Jean-Paul Sartre
2. French philosophy: Voltaire
3. French philosophy: Simone de Beauvoir
4. French philosophy: René Descartes
5. French music: Romantic Composers
6. French music: French popular music

About the Contributor

Judy MacMahon

Experience FRANCE beyond the CLICHÉ with MyFrenchLife is for Curious Savvy Francophiles wherever you are. Meet Francophiles in France, online, and/or wherever you live. You’re very welcome to join us - Judy MacMahon -

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One Comment

  1. Judy MacMahon Jul 11, 2023 at 1:02 PM - Reply

    What a great series

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