National Anthems & Should We Pick A New One?

One of the few things that every country shares is that they all have a National Anthem.  A National Anthem generally evokes and memorialises the struggles and achievements of the people in the land or at least of the land itself.

I don’t know about you but I have my favourite national anthems and my own isn’t amongst them.  In fact, whilst some countries make a big deal of their national anthems with people or even school children encouraged to sing them with patriotic fervour at regular intervals and almost any opportunity.

In the U.K., we hardly ever play our national anthem and the idea that people might passionately sign theirs is probably thought by many here to be either threatening, odd or a little bit quaint.   That probably says a lot about us too!  In fact, I have never sung my national anthem and I don’t know anyone who has and my wife often tells me I shouldn’t joke about sports-people who are so obviously encountering strong emotions by singing their anthem, sometimes close to tears or with one hand clutching their heart.  I don’t even think at funerals or graduations have I been 10% so emotional,for good or for bad.

Part of that is of course that the British and especially the English don’t really do patriotism, we’re not proud of out birthland and to be so would be a little rude.  Part of it is also the fact that we have probably the worst national anthem in the world… except for perhaps some quirky Middle-Eastern anthems but they, at least, are good comedy value to western ears.

God Save The Queen / King may be about the oldest National Anthem but it says little about the nation except for we have a monarch and we hope that person lives a long life which I’d hope would be taken for granted for everyone.  It says nothing about our land, our people, our epic history and heritage or indeed our future.  What makes it worse is that it is now played at a very slow processional pace when hundreds or years ago it would have been sang at twice and almost three times the speed, rather like a football chant.

None of this impacts on our lives in anyway except when it comes to sporting events.   Our players and fans generally don’t know the words as we don’t sing anthems, the anthem is awful and so there is little in the way of a rallying call before an event.  As such there is now a motion going through Parliament to finally give England a national anthem (Scotland and Wales already have theirs).

I’ve always been a big fan of the French national anthem.  Surely it is the most rousing and patriotic anthem in the world.  It makes us all proud to be French…. but then I read the words yesterday and even in the anthem world of battles, victories and glory, the French anthem is a little bit over the top.  It is all about war, burning, death, invasions.  A brilliant tune but not the sort of one that I can imagine anyone here singing.

Another one of my favourites has always been the German anthem.  It’s a great tune, easy to sing and sounds very German.  However, the problem with any anthem is that it tries to make the people of that nation think they are better than everyone else just on the total bit of luck of where they were born.   However it is is an undeniably beautiful piece of music.

Germany, Germany above everything,
Above everything in the world,
when, for protection and defense,
it always stands brotherly together .
From the Meuse to the Memel,
From the Adige to the Belt,
|: Germany, Germany above everything,
Above everything in the world!

The South African national anthem is a great one, it has verses in numerous languages in an attempt to foster a national identity.  It helps of course that so many South Africans have great singing voices.  I can listen to this one often and think it is wonderful.

I was always a big fan of the Soviet National Anthem, it always sounded wonderfully Russian and possibly the best thing to come out of the Soviet Union in the second half of the 20th century.  Interestingly, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia adopted a new anthem, without any words.  It proved unpopular and even after a competition to find some rousing verbal accompaniment it was not to be and was replaced by the old Soviet National Anthem which both illustrated that by Soviet it was really Russian and also that it being brought back by Putin in the year 2000 was one of the early indicators of where his heart lies.  Still, that doesn’t change anything on how rousing the old Soviet Anthem is?  It’s enough to get me waving my red flag out for the comrades.   But then I remember some of the awful Middle-Eastern renditions in recent times of this anthem.  If you want a giggle then listen to this one in Egypt.

My wife is from Romania and it’s a fair bet that most people reading this won’t have heard the Romanian National Anthem before unless perhaps they enjoy gymnastics at The Olympic Games.  It’s another patriotic song and ticks all the boxes of what a traditional Anthem should say, especially in Europe and is about war, the overthrow of tyranny and showing the world what Romanian blood is made of and says a lot of the tough history it has been through in recent years.

I’ve always been rather partial to the Canadian national anthem.  It seems to get over to me of what Canada is about, in a nice non-threatening way.  It is of course so often overshadowed by the American National Anthem.   The Star Spangled Banner only became the national anthem there after having a number of earlier anthems, one of which was even sung to the tune of God Save The Queen.    It’s definitely a rousing song and it can sound really great.  Unfortunately, it can sound really awful, this is usually due to the trend of getting current “stars” to sing it and rather than stick to the tried and trusted standard, they all go off and do their own thing and often that thing really grates on me.  Obviously, I’m not alone in this belief as you can hear 10 epic fails right here.  My word, I could sing it with much better and I’m not American or a singer.   The thought of anyone mangling our awful God Save The Queen in such a manner might liven things up but it would be awful and it should be borne in mind when deciding on a future English anthem.

I’ve always been a fan of the Scottish and Welsh anthems, they are both very stirring and wonderful to listen to.  Aren’t they great?   England though has never had an anthem and always been lumbered with God Save The Queen which is actually the anthem to the United Kingdom, not England.

One possibility is Land of Hope & Glory, always a popular anthem particularly associated with the Last Night of The Proms.  However it is a little bombastic and that might not be what we are looking for… or maybe it’s just we are looking for after centuries of God Save Our Queen.   You can see and hear it here.   Another popular choice would be I Vow To Thee My Country, famously highly rated by Sir Winston Church and Princess Diana.  It’s always been one the I like too and in an ideal world, it may be my choice too.  Have a listen and like the German or South African anthems, you don’t have to be a local to appreciate it… performed here by the wonderfully talented Katherine Jenkins.

Probably the most popular choice would be Jerusalem.  In fact, it was sung at our wedding. It has the advantage of not being triumphalist or superior, having a rousing but also emotional appeal and, of course, being a song that everyone in England can sing.

 

It is often thought that Jerusalem is a hymn, though it never was intended to be so and in some ways is a satire on the idea of nationalism itself.  Though it makes reference to the idea that Jesus may have visited these islands, the theme of Jerusalem is not in anyway related to the Holy Land but rather to make our country a better place, a paradise on Earth or as would have been said when the hymn was created soon after WW1, a Land Fit For Heroes.

So my choice would happily be either Jerusalem or I Vow To Thee My Country.  I think in the modern world, a truly confident and secure country should be able to be proud of itself without any reference to wars or the idea of being better than anyone else.

Whilst God Save The Queen would still be used at political and national events, in the future England could have its own long overdue national anthem which is something even King George in the 1930’s was all in favour of.

Let’s hope when a decision is made, it turns out better than the poll in Spain which had a vote to put words to their wordless national anthem only for no-winner to be deemed good enough and the vote then ignored.

Which is your favourite national anthem, aside from your own of course?   Which of the prospective three English anthems do you like best?

 

 

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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10 Responses to National Anthems & Should We Pick A New One?

  1. Francis says:

    Agree with your choices :French national anthem is best although it was actually composed by an Italian in London . (See youtubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRDKpNjGcgs )
    I vow to thee would make a superb english anthem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know that about the French national anthem, it doesn’t surprise me though as they went through a phrase of “borrowing” Italian ideas 🙂 Nice to see London player a part too!

      I will check out the link now.

      I’m glad you agree about I Vow To Thee, it’s such a beautiful hymn.

      Like

  2. Francis says:

    I should also state that your Jerusalem link is with elgars incomparable arrangement. Wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have been listening to both Jerusalem and I Vow To Thee several times since I posted the blog. Also, my Airbnb guest this week is Russian and she come to find me singing along the Russian anthem, well humming loudly, and she was on a Skype call to Moscow so the three of us sang along. Quite surreal 🙂 hopefully it will only help me get a visa when I get to go on the Trans-siberia express.

      Like

  3. merrildsmith says:

    I heard a story about this on NPR here a few days ago. They also played the roast beef song. 🙂 http://www.npr.org/2016/01/13/462950417/u-k-parliament-supports-call-to-adopt-national-anthem

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Boyer Writes says:

    Stephen, I really like I Vow To Thee My Country. Even after hearing it, I find it following me later on in my mind. As an American, we are taught patriotism from an early age and the pledge of allegiance to the flag. It is quite common to stand at attention when the National Anthem is sung or played. However, I have noticed that there is less respect in the past years and people continue to talk….even our President was called to task at first that he did not put his hand over his heart. He’s decided later that perhaps he should. I agree strongly with you about those who sing our American National Anthem and have to jazz it up to the point one can not sing along. When we finally hear a good rendition, we often comment “Now they know how to sing it!” Katherine Jenkins has a beautiful voice. Thanks for sharing that video. Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Morning Nancy, I’m glad that you like I Vow To Thee My Country. I really like it too and how it expresses love and belonging but in a non triumphalist way. I remember the first time I heard it was at the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. It is quite different here, we’re taught that patriotism is generally but not always bad and it tends to make us a little uneasy as we think of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and China or unpleasant Middle-Eastern regimes where people are brainwashed into a love of their leader or flag. There is though a small group in the U.K. that would like to be more patriotic though not to the extent of the USA or France and that is a more popular thought but as it is, our national day isn’t even a national holiday so that is a long way off! There should be a middle-ground where you can be patriotic but not blindly led. Oh yes, those renditions of the American National Anthem make me cringe, there should be an agreed way to sing it publicly. It’s too good an anthem for a singer to think they can improve it. When I hear it sung right I wonder to myself why can’t everyone do it properly! Katherine Jenkins does have a beautiful voice, she is very talented and can sing anything with a tune. She has lots of CDs available online which I’d recommend. Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Like

  5. I love “I Vow To Thee My Country” too…but I can’t go past my own national anthem. Although I live in Australia, I’m a New Zealander, and I think ours “God Defend New Zealand” rates among the best. It’s now always sung in English and in Maori, which makes it even better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the New Zealand one too and it is great that it is sung in Maori as well as English. It says a lot about New Zealand and its people. I wonder if apart from South Africa, any other nation has an anthem for all its people. Plenty of South American countries could do with following that example as well as the obvious candidates. I’d be very happy if I Vow To Thee My Country becomes the English National Anthem too.

      Liked by 1 person

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