Saturday, September 02, 2006

National Anthems

Was it just me, or was Andorra's national anthem as played before the international against England, a belting little tune? It's El Gran Carlemany (The Great Charlemagne), by Bons, was adopted in 1914 and after the opening bar has got the Marsellaise references out of the way, it's great.
Of course, because Andorra is so small one could drive across it in the time it takes to sing the national anthem, they don't get it on TV much. Shame.
National anthems are ipso facto vulgar and crude - they date from the era when modern nationhood and nationalism were invented and therefore reflect the worst and most bull-necked music of the mid-19th century. They are all epaulettes and brass and bluster; you can't ever imagine an anthem composed for an mbira, can you? But like Verdi - himself an Italian nationalist whose chest-out marches overshadow almost every single national anthem there is and certainly most of their arrangements - this in-your-faceness is not always a bad thing. Anthems can, taken as discrete texts, be cool. They rise to the occasion if the tune is good or the whole thing is mad as cheese, as per Inno de Mamelli (Italy) and Brazil's, which, according to the fabulous website, doesn't seem to have a title. Both sound like cast-offs from Gilbert and Sullivan but are enjoyable nonetheless. One of this writer's favourites is Denmark's, Der et en yndigt land (There is a lovely land, 1844) by Kroyer with words by the great Danish Romantic Oehlenschlager. Although they also have a 'royal' anthem. Confusing, isn't it?
Eric Blom's Dictionary of Music (1945) is amusingly instructive but sometimes vague about what's official and what isn't. And, as must be with national anthems, entirely reliant on the course of history. It lists the Abyssinian anthem (Etiopia hoy, des yibalish, since you asked); the Fascist and Nazi anthems of Italy and Germany respectively; Indore and Transvaal's anthems crop up; for 'Jewish', the dictionary suggests 'see Palestine'. Uh-oh. Sun Yat-Sen, no less, wrote the words to The Song of Kuomintang, the pre-Mao Chinese anthem. Iraq's was the wordless 'The Royal Salute' by someone called Murray. Zanzibar's ? 'An unidentifiable tune'. Thanks, Eric.
But a good tune - a really good one - is paramount, which is why the UK comes out so far down the list of anthems. Top? A forgotten one from Blom's anthology; The Internationale, originally written in a Lille pub in 1894 by Pierre Degeyter, a socialist from Ghent and with words by Eugène Pottier (Debout, les damnés de la terre), subject of much legal wrangling, nicked by the USSR in 1917 and officially their anthem until 1944 when Gymn Sovietskogo Soiusa, by Alexander Vassilievitch Alexandrov, took over. That was a cute one, too.
Next, IMHO: France (La Marsellaise); Australia (Advance Australia Fair); Spain (Marcia Royal)

No comments: