High on the list of things that are usually part of the tradition of international football tournaments but probably won’t be for much longer are the national anthems. For those of us watching at home, the national anthems are one of the great traditions of these tournaments, and are also one of the ways in which we can learn anything from football. If you were to ask 1000 British people to hum the Brazilian national anthem, I would personally guarantee that every single person that could do it at all would be able to do it because of the tune’s ubiquity at the World Cup.
At least for those of us watching on the television, the national anthems are on the endangered list. At the last World Cup, ITV frequently disgraced itself by breaking away from the national anthems to show some adverts and, as television heads further and further down the road marked “mindless banality”, others will be likely to follow, seeing them as old fashioned and outdated. After all, who wants to listen to a pair of stupid old hymns that no-one knows the words to when you could be listening to three old pros “bantering” in the studio?
So, national anthems are outdated, often unfathomable and mean nothing to anyone that isn’t from the countries that they represent. They have, however, become a musical genre of their own. Sometimes hymns, sometimes military marches and sometimes tribal songs, national anthems are as good a starting guide as any to the psyche of a nation. So, here’s a full down if which is which (in MIDI form, partly to facilitate quicker downloading and partly, well, because they sound funnier in MIDI form), along with a brief synopsis of how they came about and what the words mean, and some helpful suggestions on how they might be updated.
Austria – “Land Der Berge, Land Am Strome”: Literally, “Land Of The Mountains, Land On The River”, the Austrian national anthem is sung, perhaps unsurprisingly, to the melody of the last complete of music ever written by Austria’s most famous ever son, Mozart. The words (which were adopted in 1946) are fairly innocuous sounding, but it’s probably worth remembering that finding 1946 was a, well, “transitional” period for the country.
Could Be Replaced With: “Vienna”, by Ultravox.
Croatia – “Lijepa Naša Domovino”: You might have expected Croatia (still one of Europe’s youngest countries) to have an up to date, zippy national anthem, possibly underscored with blips, bleeps and break-beats. Not Croatia. They chose to stick with the national hymn, that dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Curiously, the words came first with “Lijepa Naša Domovino” (translation: “Our Beautiful Homeland”) in 1835, with the tune following eleven years later. Even the Communists recognised its importance, making it the Croat national anthem in 1972.
Could Be Replaced With: The theme tune to “The Banana Splits”.
Czech Republic – “Kde Domov M?j”: Woe betide you if you answer the question that forms the title of the Czech national anthem (“Where Is My Home?”) by saying “Czechoslovakia”. They haven’t been doing that since 1992. They (somewhat boastfully) describe themselves in the words as “Tender souls in agile frames, Of clear mind, vigorous and prospering, and with a strength that frustrates all defiance”. The sudden jump in tempo may alarm the uninitiated.
Could Be Replaced With: “I Want Your Czechs”.
France – “La Marseillaise”: There can only be one winner in this category, can’t there? As such, “La Marseillaise” gets a full MP3 outing, rather than a mere feeble MIDI. Whether it’s the uplifting opening, sudden pace change in the middle or the crashing fanfares of its closing six bars, this is the water mark by which all the others are judged. Words such as the following: “The braying of these ferocious soldiers? They are coming into our midst To cut the throats of our sons, our wives!”, cut to the chase of the French Revolution. Perfect.
Could Be Replaced With: Well, it couldn’t really, could it?
Germany – “Das Deutschlandlied”: Right. Hands up. How many of you thought that the German national anthem was called “Deutschland Uber Alles”? Thought so. Whilst “Deutchsland Uber Alles” (“Germany above all”, with above in the sense of “before” rather than “over” – this is another myth of the much-maligned German anthem) is the first line of the first verse of the song that it is taken from (and was Hitler’s choice as the national anthem), only the third and final verse (which makes no reference to being above, before or over anyone or anything) has the country’s national anthem since 1952.
Could Be Replaced With: Anything by The Beetles, I would have thought.
Greece – “Hymn To Liberty”: Or, as the Greeks would say, “????? ??? ??? ??????????”. Adopted in 1865 (surprisingly recently, if you think about it), “Hymn To Liberty” is also the official national anthem of Cyprus (although Turkish Cypriots may have a thing or two to say about that), albeit without any words. It has two sets of words, too – one for monotonic orthography (modern Greek, officially simplified in 1982) and one for polytonic orthography (traditional Greek).
Could Be Replaced With: “Whatever Athens”, by Michael Jackson. Or anything by Randy Rhodes.
Italy – “Il Canto Degli Italiani”: Not as well loved as “La Marseillaise”, but still one of the more unique of the national anthems, “Il Canto Degli Italiani” is notable for having a separate verse and chorus, which gives it the feel of being two shorter songs pushed together. First adopted in 1946, the extended version (which is, unsurprisingly, not used publicly) makes fairly unflattering references to Austrians, Poles and Cossacks.
Could Be Replaced With: The music from the start of “The Italian Job”. That would be awesome.
Netherlands – “Het Wilhelmus”: The Japanese national anthem is the oldest in the world, but until music was added in the nineteenth century, it was just a poem rather than a song. “Het Wilhelmus”, however, was written in the 1570s, making it (although it wasn’t officially recognised as such until 1932) the oldest national anthem in continuous use in the world. The full length version, which thankfully isn’t played before football matches, runs to fifteen stanzas.
Could Be Replaced With: “Strange Brew” by Cream.
Poland – “Mazurek D?browskiego”: Also known as “Poland Is Not Yet Lost” (which, I suppose, not unreasonably reflects their Poland’s position for most of the twentieth century as one of Europe’s worst-treated political footballs), “Mazurek D?browskiego” is a surprisingly sprightly number. The music was also the national anthem of Yugoslavia until Serbia and Montenegro until those two countries went their separate ways in 2006, with neither of them choosing to share Poland’s national anthem any longer.
Could Be Replaced With “I Warsaw Her Standing There”.
Portugal – “A Portuguesa”: Portugal replaced its national anthem when it replaced its constitutional monarchy in 1910. It had started, prior to this, as a revolutionary song in Oporto, in the north of the country. In one verse and one chorus, it makes two references to the sea, and the final line had to be cleaned up, replacing the notion of marching against the British with marching against cannons.
Could Be Replaced With: Something by Weird Algarve Yankovic.
Romania – “De?teapt?-Te, Române”: It may sound like the sort of thing that you’d shout at a Romanian that had fallen asleep on your sofa, but “Awaken, Romania!” is a patriotic song that dates back to the nineteenth century. It has banned by the Ceauscescu regime from 1947 until the early 1970s – a decision that they must have come to regret by 1989, since it was widely sung by the crowds that eventually congregated in Bucharest and, one would imagine, by those that executed them. It was also the national anthem of Moldova from 1991 to 1994.
Could Be Replaced With: “Simply The Bucharest”.
Russia – “Hymn Of The Russian Federation”: A controversial choice. “Hymn Of The Russian Federation” had been, in a lyrically modified form, the national anthem of the Soviet Union from 1944 until the end of Communism, whereupon it was replaced by “The Patriotic Song” in 1991 (which, ironically, had no words for much of its time as the national anthem, because no-one could agree on what they should be). Vladimir Putin changed it back in 2000 – it’s a tune that is eerily familiar to anyone that remembers the Cold War.
Could Be Replaced With: “Russia Hour”, by Jane Wiedlin.
Spain – “Marcha Real”: One of the few national anthems left to have no official words, in no small part of the Franco legacy. The president of the Spanish Olympic Committee, Alejandro Blanco, thought it would be a great idea to have a national competition to find some words for it and, with the government steering well clear of the issue (to avoid the chagrin of Basque and Catalan nationalists), a competition was launched. The winning selection was widely criticised and, after having been announced at the start of this year, was quietly dropped after five days. So, if you see the Spanish players mouthing words to it before the start of a match, they’re making up their own words on the spot.
Could Be Replaced With: “Y Viva Espana”, obviously.
Sweden – “Du Gamla, Du Fria”: In the sense that it has never been formally “adopted”, Sweden is the only country at Euro 2008 to not, in the strictest sense, to have a national anthem (England would have been in the same boat, had they qualified). In 2000, the government considered adopting it officially, but decided, after much deliberation, that such a move would be “unnecessary”. How very Swedish.
Could Be Replaced With: “Great Meatballs Of Fire”.
Switzerland – “Swiss Psalm”: As a multilingual nation, the Swiss national anthem has four sets of words, in German, Italian, French and Romansh (a direct descendant of Latin, now spoken by less that 1% of the Swiss population). Between 1961 and 1981, the Swiss national anthem was called “When You Call My Fatherland”, and had the same melody as “God Save The Queen”.
Could Be Replaced With: “Berne Baby Berne, Disco Inferno”.
Turkey – “Independence March”: Written, unsurprisingly, for the formation of the secular Turkish state in 1923, and also the national anthem of (you guessed it) Northern Cyprus. Only two of the ten stanzas are used. It features possibly the most elaborate words of any of the sixteen anthems, the most florid lines being the first couplet of the second stanza: “Frown not coy crescent for I am ready to die for you. Smile upon my heroic race. Why this anger? Why this wrath?”. Why, indeed.
Could Be Replaced With: “Istabul, Not Constantinople”, by They Might Be Giants.
I think we’ve all learnt something – now you’ve got no excuse to not sing along, TV companies permitting.