We’ve been listening to some of the finest national tub-thumpers from around the globe. Here are five that have particularly sparked our curiosity…
One of the few current national anthems written by a well-known composer is Germany’s Deutschlandlied, composed by Joseph Haydn in 1797. And, of course, Haydn didn’t actually write it for Germany (not least because the country didn’t exist as such at the time) but for his own Austrian homeland. It was in 1922 that Germany chose to adopt it, sharing it with the Austrians until 1946, when the latter decided to dispense with it. Most people today may associate the melody with images of German footballers lining up before yet another World Cup final, but classical music fans will also know it as the basis of the second movement of Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 76, No. 3.
You don’t need to listen too carefully to Liechtenstein’s national anthem, Oben am jungen Rhein, to spot its similarity to Britain’s very own God Save Our Gracious Queen. This is because the two tunes are exactly the same, but sung with different words. The reason for this lies in the fact that, in the early days of national anthems, several countries started out by simply borrowing the British one – Blighty got there first when it came to such matters – and adapting it for their own purposes. One by one, other countries eventually got round to writing their own, but Liechtenstein chose to stick with what it was familiar with… and still does today.
How are your language skills? Most countries simply have one national anthem in one language. A fair few diplomatically have one anthem that can be sung in two or more different translations, depending on where (and by whom) in the country it is being sung. And then there’s South Africa’s, which has five different languages in one single hymn, beginning in Xhosa then making its way over the following three stanzas through Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. The current anthem was adopted in its present format by president Nelson Mandela in 1997, derived initially from a combination of the Xhosa hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and the former Afrikaans national anthem Die Stem van Suid-Afrika.
Of course, one way to avoid diplomatic pitfalls over the choice of language in one’s national anthem is to have no words at all. And that is exactly what marks out Spain’s Marcha Granadera. The anthem itself dates back to the 18th century and the years between have seen various attempts to add lyrics but, given a population that consists not just of Spaniards but also Basques, Catalonians, Galicians and others, choosing a language – not to mention national sentiment – that is acceptable to all has proved a nigh-on impossible task. Bosnia, similarly, has chosen to go wordless with its national anthem.
You may want to sit down and make yourself comfortable before listening to Uruguay’s national anthem, Orientales, la Patria o la tumba. Do pour yourself a glass of wine and put the cat out too. Composed by Francisco Jose Debali in 1845, and inspired equally by bel canto opera and hatred for the Spanish, this is the longest national anthem in the world. By the time you’ve got through the orchestral introduction and 105 bars’ worth of Debali’s Bellini-style twists and turns, more than five minutes will have passed. That’s roughly nine God Save Our Gracious Queens end to end.
You can read more about the weird and wonderful national anthems of the world in our here.
• What’s love? Knowing when to lock your fiance in a room. (external link)