History of national anthems

Talk about the history of national anthems !

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Songs representing a nation, national anthems are sung during official ceremonies and major sporting events such as the Olympic Games. We propose you to discover the history and the characteristics of anthems of the whole world.

A national anthem is a song adopted as a symbol of a country. National anthems are therefore generally patriotic songs that exalt a sense of belonging to a nation.

Most countries in the world have adopted a national anthem. These anthems are sung or performed at official ceremonies and sporting events such as the Olympic Games.

Most anthems are also marches and are sung in the common language of the country (official language or language spoken by the majority of the population).

National anthems are often pieces of a country’s history : they tell of wars of independence, exalt national pride and patriotic feelings.

Many are solemn, some are copied from previous songs, some are so sad that it is hard to imagine them being played after an Olympic victory. But most of all, they have incredible and bizarre stories, involving both successful composers and complete unknowns.

The national anthem, a changing cultural heritage

Symbols of national identity

Like flags, capitals, currencies and national holidays, national anthems are also symbols of identity. They have the potential to reinforce values and civic sense internally and to enhance their image externally.

Like the Swiss Psalm, most national anthems were created in the mid-nineteenth century, when constitutional states were formed. While the states and the world of that time changed radically, many national anthems remained as they were or were only partially modified.

Therefore, today we often ask ourselves whether a national anthem is still necessary in the post-national and globalized era. The spontaneous answer is that as long as there are World Football Championships and Olympic Games, where national teams compete, there will also be national anthems.

But it is more complex. In many states, there is a re-evaluation of federal and regional cultural elements that create identities and communities, precisely because of globalization and transnational coalitions.

Anthems touch the mind, heart and senses

Alongside the names of nations, flags, coats of arms, official currencies and languages, capital cities, festivals and traditional dishes, anthems are also symbols of cultural identity of fundamental importance. The introduction of the euro on January 1, 2002, provoked heated debate about the feared loss of identity associated with the abolition of national currencies.

The ephemeral Italian lira banknotes were part of Italy like the salami, Gucci or the tower of Pisa. National anthems are also an important part of national identity. On the occasion of official visits of representatives of a nation and international sports events, nations present themselves with flags and anthems.

National anthems are the calling card on the outside and promote a sense of community on the inside. Music, voices, languages, the words and emotions of anthems touch the different senses and regions of the human brain. In the newer states of Africa or Eastern Europe, national anthems are even perceived as a kind of civil religion.

Differences in content, form and quality

The words and melodies of national anthems vary from country to country. Many anthems are based on the music of famous composers: the UN anthem by Pablo Casals, the European anthem by Ludwig van Beethoven, the German national anthem by Joseph Haydn and the Austrian national anthem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Many anthem lyrics are national-patriotic or more constitutional, peaceful or warlike, more religious than neutral, nostalgic or visionary, self-centered or open to the world. Many hymns praise the fatherland, the king and the flag above all. Others are hymns to mountains and rivers, while others are born after revolutions and struggles for independence and emphasize danger, help and oath.

More recent texts emphasize values such as freedom, unity and peace. Other nations praise their country in a masculine form (Vaterland), while the Sri Lankan anthem since 1948 has praised its country as a loving mother and as a flower.

Anthems to kings are the predecessors of national anthems. Since 1745, Britain has praised kings and the queen. Other countries with monarchies have two anthems.

Depending on whether the regent is present or not, one or the other anthem is sung (e.g. in Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Thailand. In several countries, the text of the national anthem like “Bionda aurora” is a hymn to God, as well as in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Hungary. Sweden and Thailand.

In several countries, the text of its national anthem as “Bionda aurora” is a hymn to God, as well as in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Hungary. Sweden and Thailand. In several countries, the text of its national anthem as “Bionda aurora” is a hymn to God, as well as in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Hungary.

Anthems without text, a forced solution

Since the lyrics of many national anthems were written over a hundred years ago, they do not express anything concrete about a given society and its character, values and ideals.

National anthems are a snapshot of history and speak volumes about patriotism, language and devotion at the time of the state’s founding. While the melodies are preserved and are appreciated even after centuries, the content and language of the texts are greatly affected by the passage of time.

For this reason, many nations have gradually replaced entire texts or partially adapted or deleted them. It may happen that some countries have to forcibly give up the texts of the past. In Spain, the text of the anthem associated with the Franco regime has not been sung for 70 years.

After the Second World War, Germany cancelled the first two verses of the anthem. After the Balkan War, Bosnia and Herzegovina in February 1998, in order to avoid problems with the Serbian and Serbo-Croat speaking citizens, elevated a folk song without text to the rank of new national anthem.

Even Beethoven’s European anthem “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony, which respects the linguistic plurality in the EU, exists only in a musical version, without text.

A few years ago, Austria reformulated the purely male parts of the text, making them neutral. without text. A few years ago, Austria reworded the purely male parts of the text, making them neutral. without text. A few years ago, Austria reworded the purely masculine parts of the text, making them gender-neutral.

Renewing an anthem, a democratic process

In 2008, the Spanish Olympic Committee launched a competition for a new anthem text. More than 7,000 proposals were received. The winning entry is now slowly gaining ground. Even in Lebanon, Mexico, Thailand and Iran, national anthems are the result of competitions between artists. Initiatives for a new national anthem are currently underway in France and Italy, Canada and the United States, among others. In these and other nations, there is strong resistance from certain circles who fear losing their national and personal identity with the change of the anthem.

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Culture between tradition and change

Should anthems and other cultural symbols of identity be anchored in legal regulations and norms? In addition to being a normative regulation, should the constitution also protect cultural heritage, serve as a cultural self-portrait and be an expression of the degree of cultural evolution ?

In many states, the name, flag and coat of arms, currency and official languages, capitals and ordered holidays, as well as the national anthem, are anchored in constitutions and are established by laws and decrees.

National Anthem stories to tell your friends (History of national anthems)

There are dozens of beautiful and interesting stories out there, and the person who has done the best job of putting them all together in one book is Alex Marshall, a journalist who published a book in August 2015 called “The Republic or Death! Journeys in Search of National Anthems.“. We’ve chosen 15 national anthems, some of the most famous or with the most interesting stories.

In the meantime, to warm up: did you know that the national anthem of Burkina Faso was written by the Marxist revolutionary Thomas Sankara, who became president of the country in 1983 and was assassinated in 1987? Sankara was also called the “African Che Guevara”.

Nepal – We are hundreds of flowers

Nepal’s national anthem is the only one in the world played on a keyboard from Casio, the Japanese company that produces electronic goods. It was written in 2006, at the end of a 10-year civil war between the Maoist rebels and the king, and – with all due respect – it sounds a bit like a school ditty.

It says things like “we are hundreds of flowers, a crown of Nepal”, but make no mistake: this is one of the most political hymns in all of Asia, as it extols unity, courage and pride.

The lyrics are by the Nepalese poet Byakul Maila, who had to undergo several interviews with the Maoist authorities to prove that at no time in his life had he been loyal to the king.

Poems that also contained a contribution from the king. Some Maoists in power today would have liked a stronger and more revolutionary anthem. The Nepali anthem, entitled “We are hundreds of flowers”, was officially adopted on August 3, 2007.


Italy – Song of the Italians

The anthem of the Italian Republic is called “Song of the Italians”, although “Inno di Mameli” is the name by which it is best known.

The melody was written by the Genoese musician Michele Novaro, while the text on which it is based, full of classical and historical references that are difficult to grasp, was written in 1847 by Goffredo Mameli, a young Genoese poet barely twenty years old.

Two years after writing the hymn, Mameli enlisted in the militia led by Giuseppe Garibaldi who had conquered Rome and proclaimed the Republic. In February 1849, Mameli was wounded in the leg and died of gangrene a few days later at the age of 21.

Usually, the second part of the hymn is not played and its lyrics can seem really strange. For example, it should be sung: “Every Ferruccio man / has a heart, has a hand”,

It was only in 1946, after the proclamation of the Republic, that the Canto was chosen as a “provisional anthem”; but it’s been seventy years, and we are still here singing it.

Kazakhstan – Il mio Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is the only country in the world to have a national anthem written by a president still in office, more or less. In 2006, Nursultan Nazarbayev, not quite the prototype of a democratic president, decided to replace the old national anthem with a new one.

The old one was written after Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991: among the authors was also the poet Zhadyra Daribayeva, one of the few women ever to have participated in the writing of a national anthem. Nazarbayev did not put much effort into it: he took a very popular song released in 1956, “My Kazakhstan”, kept the music the same and changed a few words: and hey, the new anthem.

An alternative version of the Kazakh anthem was written by Sacha Baron Cohen, a British actor and comedian who, among other things, created the character of the Kazakh journalist Borat, the one in the film Borat – Cultural Study of America for the benefit of the glorious national team of Kazakhstan . Borat’s anthem, which speaks of the sectarianism of Kazakh society and is highly critical of Nazarbayev, was mistakenly performed at an international shooting trophy ceremony in 2012 in Kuwait. The organizers had downloaded it from the Internet, mistaking it for the real thing.

France – La Marseillaise

The French anthem is La Marseillaise, a song written during the French Revolution and one of the most recognizable and well-known in the world. Over the years, “La Marseillaise” has become the quintessential Republican anthem, but – get this – it was written by a monarchist military man.

Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle was a French monarchist army officer, but he was in favor of the introduction of a Constitution and therefore a supporter of the first phase of the Revolution.

On the advice of the mayor of Strasbourg, who was also his friend, Rouget de Lisle wrote a series of patriotic songs including “La Chanson de guerre pour l’armée du Rhin”, dedicated to the French armies defending France from the restoration attempts of the European powers. .

The song was adopted by volunteers from Marseille who came to defend Paris, and thus it became “La Marseillaise”. A few weeks after the first performance of the song, however, the king was arrested by the new revolutionary regime.

Rouget de Lisle protested, was expelled from the army and degraded, and only managed to survive the period of the Terror, during which the revolutionary Jacobins killed hundreds of supporters of the monarchy.

Netherlands – William

The Dutch anthem was written and composed in 1570 and is probably the oldest in the world. Its only competitor in this particular field is the Japanese anthem, whose text dates back about 12 centuries but which was never set to music until the 1930s.

The Dutch anthem is called “Wilhelmus” (William) and is also special for other reasons. The text is a first-person speech by the historic founder of the Netherlands, political leader William of Orange. When the anthem was written, the Netherlands was fighting a fierce battle to become independent from Spain.

Curiously, in the first few verses, William makes a point of emphasizing that he “always honored the king of Spain,” as if to say that it was the latter’s fault that a bloody revolt was underway at that time.

Another curious thing is that the verse about the King of Spain is still sung today, making Dutch the only hymn in the world in which a foreign monarch is celebrated. You can sell the story to yourself at the next Netherlands-Spain soccer match.

Mexico – Mexicans, to the war cry!

The Mexican national anthem is not particularly exciting to listen to, but it has a history that one does not believe. It was written in 1853 by the poet Francisco Bocanegra, somewhat by accident.

Bocanegra, a 29-year-old native of San Luis Potosí, the capital of the Mexican state of the same name, had no intention of entering the government’s competition for a new national anthem.

However, Bocanegra’s fiancée, Guadalupe, disagreed and in late November 1853, she invited him to her home, locked him in a room and told him that she would not let him out until he had written the anthem.

Four hours later, Bocanegra slipped the lyrics of the song under the door. The Mexican national anthem is called “Mexicans, the Battle Cry!” and it’s a typical military march.

Bocanegra never got the award promised by the contest organized by the Mexican government. He died of typhus on April 11, 1861, at the age of 37.

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Russia – National Anthem of the Russian Federation (History of national anthems)

The Russian anthem has a very eventful history. With the fall of the tsar and the communist revolution, the nascent Soviet Union decided to adopt the Socialist International as its anthem, which is the traditional song of socialist parties around the world (you’ve heard it a thousand times, right) .

It was a special anthem, very engaging, with which the Soviet leaders wanted to make the world understand that the Soviet Union was not a state like any other, but the world vanguard of the workers’ movement.

In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, the message of the Socialist International was no longer relevant: the Soviet Union was under attack by the Nazi army and needed the help of the great Western democracies.

The International was abandoned and replaced by a new melody, written by Alexander Vasilevich Alexandrov, with ultra-nationalist lyrics and numerous references to Stalin, which were eliminated after the death of the dictator.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviet anthem was eliminated along with other symbols of the former regime. A new melody without words, the “Patriotic Song”, was chosen in its place, but it did not last long. In 2000, shortly after becoming president, Vladimir Putin reintroduced the old and powerful Soviet anthem of Alexandrov, to which a new text was added.

Kosovo – Europe

The melody of the Kosovo anthem was written by composer Mendi Mengjiqi and approved by the Kosovo Parliament in June 2008, a few months after the country declared independence from Serbia and a few days before the adoption of the national constitution.

Before the adoption of the new anthem, official ceremonies in Kosovo were accompanied by the music of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy: it was also the day of the declaration of independence.

“Europe” is an anthem without words, as are those of Spain, Bosnia-Herzegovina and San Marino : the Kosovar government did not want to risk antagonizing the Kosovar Serb minority by officially adopting a text in Albanian, the language of the majority of the population of Kosovo.

The result ? Many people in Kosovo do not know the song chosen as the anthem and sing instead the national anthems of Albania or Serbia.

Israel – Hope (History of national anthems)

This is one of the saddest national anthems in the world, it has nothing to do with the most common military and patriotic tunes. It was written even before the birth of the State of Israel and expresses the hope of having its own land.

Hope, “Hatikvah” in Hebrew, originated as a nine-stanza poem in 1878, written by the Jewish poet Naftali Hertz Imber and inspired by the ideas of the “Lovers of Zion,” a pre-Zionist movement that spread in the 1980s.

In the decades that followed, its popularity grew considerably – for example, it was used as an anthem by the Zionist movement at the 18th Zionist Congress in 1933 – although not everyone liked the song. It was criticized by, among others, Theodor Herzl, who is now considered the founder of Zionism.

Herzl did not like Imber at all, let alone his way of life: Imber died of alcoholism, in poverty, in New York in 1909. At the birth of the State of Israel in 1948, part of the poem was adapted into a national anthem, but it was not until 2004 that the song was officially recognized by the Israeli parliament as an anthem.

It may not be the most suitable to listen to on an Olympic podium, but it knows its stuff.

Sant’Elena Island – Oh my island of Sant’Elena

Let’s start with the basics: Sant’Elena is an island in the South Atlantic Ocean, between Africa and Latin America, more displaced towards Africa. It is a British overseas territory, so its head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, and it is known to have been the site of Napoleon’s last exile, from 1815 until his death six years later.

It is not an independent state and has no official national anthem (the official one is “God Save the Queen”, from the United Kingdom), but the song that acts as an unofficial anthem is so bizarre that it is worth listening to and devoting a few words to.

It was written in the 1970s by Dave Mitchell, a radio DJ from AFN Volcano on Ascension Island, which is part of the same overseas territory as Sant’Elena. Mitchell was introduced to islanders from St. Helena who lived on Ascension Island by his friend Charlie Renn and began throwing parties and playing music for them.

Renn suggested that Mitchell write a song for St. Helena. Mitchell was reluctant, also because he had never been to St. Helena: so Renn brought him postcards of the island, which Mitchell used as inspiration to compose the song on guitar.

The unofficial hymn was recorded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1975 and sent to St. Helena. The response was enthusiastic.

It’s out there. Need to describe it? Let’s try: it’s like Johnny Cash playing a waltz and being born in the Caribbean.

South Africa – National Anthem of South Africa (History of national anthems)

The South African national anthem is the result of the fusion of two songs that have marked the musical history of the country, “Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrica” (“God bless Africa”) and “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” (“The call of South Africa”).

Not only that, but it has five stanzas, each composed in a different language, and has the distinction of changing pitch, something it shares only with the Mameli hymn.

“Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrica” was composed in 1897 by the Methodist minister Enoch Sontonga and quickly became a kind of pan-African liberation anthem.

For much of the 20th century it was the quintessential anti-apartheid song, and in the turbulent 1960s it became the national anthem of four independent countries : Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe (it is still the anthem of Tanzania today).

“Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” was born more as a poem, written in 1918 by Cornelius Jacobus Langernhoven. It was set to music three years later. From the 1920s, it became a widely played song on South African radio stations and from 1938 it became the national anthem along with “God Save the Queen” (South Africa was a British colony at the time).

But it was not very popular with black South Africans, who associated it with the apartheid regime because of a verse dedicated to Afrikaners.

In 1994, with the end of apartheid, the new government decided to adopt both songs as national anthems, both “Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrica” and “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika. The hybrid version, the current one, was adopted three years later.

The transition from one anthem to the other was not without pain. Before a final decision on the anthem was made, the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid party, banned the singing of “Die Stem” at rugby matches, a sport played almost exclusively by whites in South Africa. .

In 1992, the South African national team played a friendly match against New Zealand and during a pre-game minute of silence, South African spectators spontaneously began singing “Die Stem.

Three years later, at the suggestion of the national team, the South African rugby players memorized “Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrica.

“Then, before the game, “Die Stem” was sung by a choir of black singers in the presence of Nelson Mandela. It was the latest in a series of initiatives sponsored by Mandela to complete the post-apartheid transition and bring white and black South Africans together. And it is a story with a happy ending, with a few tears.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – National Anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina (History of national anthems)

The Bosnian national anthem has a remarkable history. It was written by Dušan Šestić, a Bosnian Serb violin teacher and former conductor of the Yugoslav army, and was officially adopted in June 1999. Šestić did not compose it out of patriotic pride, but only because he wanted to win it.

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Alex Marshall, the journalist who wrote an entire book on national anthems, told that Šestić entered the contest organized by the Bosnian government to pay the bill for the hotel where he wanted to spend his first vacation since the end of the Bosnian war.

After learning that the winning anthem of the contest was written by a Bosnian Serb, Šestić’s life suddenly became very complicated : “Bosnians were asking themselves, ‘Why the hell is our national anthem written by a Serb?’, and Croats were asking themselves the same thing,” Marshall said.

Among other things, in 2009 it was discovered that the anthem’s melody was almost identical to the one accompanying the opening credits of Animal House , a 1978 student comedy by John Landis starring John Belushi.

The Bosnian anthem is known as “Intermezzo”, as this was the name of the “motto” that Šestić gave to its composition when it was submitted to the competition organized by the government. Its official name, however, is “National Anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

It is one of the four national anthems without words, along with those of Kosovo, Spain and San Marino.

Japan – The Emperor’s Reign

The Japanese national anthem is called “The Emperor’s Reign” (“Kimigayo”). It is the oldest hymn in the world and also one of the shortest in use today. The text takes a waca, a particular ancient Japanese poetic form, written by an anonymous author of the Heian period (794-1185), while the music was chosen in 1880.

“The Emperor’s Reign”, as the name suggests, was the official anthem of the Japanese empire from 1868 to 1945, but it remained an unofficial anthem even after World War II, when sovereignty passed from the emperor to the people (officially, Japan is still a hereditary parliamentary monarchy, but the role of the emperor is only symbolic) .

It again acquired the status of an official national anthem in 1999, after the Japanese Parliament passed the National Flag and Anthem Act.

For some time now, “The Emperor’s Reign” has been the focus of debate and controversy. Critics believe that the text expresses submission to the emperor and recalls the aggressive and militaristic attitudes of the past.

Many Japanese do not even know what it means, because it is written in ancient Japanese which is often not studied in school.

In recent years, the controversy has also ended in the courts : there have been conflicting decisions on whether local governments should force students in Japanese schools to sing the national anthem, which often happens in Japan during the school year. . But most of all: it is worth listening to, it is very solemn and very Japanese.

Barbados – In times of plenty and poverty (History of national anthems)

The national anthem of Barbados is special because it was written by an established singer, which is quite rare for a national anthem: Irving Louis Burgie, aka Lord Burgess. Okay, maybe that’s a bit much.

In any case, Lord Burgess was by no means an outsider: for example, he had written many of the songs of Harry Belafonte, a successful singer of the 1950s and a well-known civil rights activist.

Burgess – American father, Bajan mother (as the people of Barbados are called) – wrote the anthem because he was asked : he was on vacation there, the islanders were looking for a new anthem to adopt after independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, and that’s how it came about. The anthem was set to music by composer Van Roland Edwards.

It doesn’t sound like a very Caribbean anthem, listening to it sung like that, and not even an anthem to be sung at the top of your lungs on an Olympic podium. This Barbados podium thing hasn’t happened yet.

North Korea – The patriotic song (History of national anthems)

North Korea’s national anthem has no history for wanting to know everything and more, and listening to it doesn’t even have the idea that war is around the corner.

It’s a song that breathes patriotism through every pore, yes. It was adopted in 1947 to celebrate the end of the Japanese occupation on the Korean peninsula and has the same name as the South Korean one, and the melody is also similar, while the lyrics are different.

The music was written by Kim Won-gyun, a North Korean composer and politician who has had a long career close to the regime; the words are instead by Pak Se-yong, a poet and senior politician.

Fun fact: The North Korean anthem makes no mention of the Kim family, which ruled North Korea from the late 1940s to the present.

While “The Patriotic Song” is still the official anthem of North Korea today, since the 1980s, two other songs have become de facto national anthems, at least within the country : they reinforce the cult of personality of Kim Il-sung, founder of the North Korean state, and Kim Jong-il, his successor.

Say : the music of the song dedicated to General Kim Il-sung is still used today as a signal for detachment from the North Korean public broadcasting.

Anecdotes about national anthems (History of national anthems)

The British national anthem is called God Save the Queen or God Save the King, depending on whether the monarch is a queen or a king.

The French anthem, La Marseillaise, was preceded by another anthem: Domine, salvum fac regem (God Save the King).

The American anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, was adopted in 1931 but is based on a poem written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key.

The words of national anthems are not always written and sung in the official language of the country. For example, the anthem of Pakistan is not in Urdu but in Persian and the national anthem of Singapore is in Malay!

Countries that have several official languages, such as Switzerland, have several versions of their anthem. The Swiss anthem exists in French, German, Italian and Romansh.
The South African anthem is unique: five of the country’s eleven official languages are used, each in one verse of the anthem!

Finally, some anthems are without words, such as the Spanish anthem, the Kosovo anthem and the European anthem (since the choice of a single language would be problematic).

The oldest national anthem in Europe is the Dutch national anthem Het Wilhelmus written between 1568 and 1572 during the Eighty Years’ War.

Other European anthems are more recent:
– Spain: Marcha Real (The Royal March), 1770
– United Kingdom: God Save the Queen, first performed in 1775
– France: La Marseillaise, 1795
– Belgium: La Brabançonne, 1860
– Portugal: A Portuguesa (La Portugaise), 1911
– Germany: Das Lied der Deutschen (The Song of the Germans), 1922
– Italy: Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), 1946

It was during the 19th and 20th centuries that most nations adopted an anthem, sometimes after gaining their independence.

The former colonies were inspired by European anthems, as can be seen in L’Abidjanaise, La Nigérienne, La Congolaise and La Tchadienne. Obviously, La Marseillaise served as a model even in their titles.

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