A national anthem is generally a patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions, and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation’s government as the official national song, or by convention through use by the people. The majority of national anthems are marches or hymns in style. The countries of Latin America, Central Asia, and Europe tend towards more ornate and operatic pieces, while those in the Middle East, Oceania, Africa, and the Caribbean use a more simplistic fanfare. Some countries that are devolved into multiple constituent states have their own official musical compositions for them; their constituencies’ songs are sometimes referred to as national anthems even though they are not sovereign states.
A national anthem is most often in the national or most common language of the country, whether de facto or official, there are notable exceptions. Most commonly, states with more than one national language may offer several versions of their anthem, for instance:
The “Swiss Psalm”, the national anthem of Switzerland, has different lyrics for each of the country’s four official languages.
The national anthem of Canada, “O Canada”, has official lyrics in both English and French which are not translations of each other, and is frequently sung with a mixture of stanzas, representing the country’s bilingual nature. The song itself was originally written in French.
“The Soldier’s Song”, the national anthem of Ireland, was originally written and adopted in English, but an Irish translation, although never formally adopted, is nowadays almost always sung instead.
The current South African national anthem is unique in that five of the country’s eleven official languages are used in the same anthem. It was created by combining two different songs together and then modifying the lyrics and adding new ones.
One of the two official national anthems of New Zealand, “God Defend New Zealand”, is commonly now sung with the first verse in Māori and the second in English. The tune is the same but the words are not a direct translation of each other.
“God Bless Fiji” has lyrics in English and Fijian which are not translations of each other. Although official, the Fijian version is rarely sung, and it is usually the English version that is performed at international sporting events.
Although Singapore has four official languages, with English being the current lingua franca, the national anthem, “Majulah Singapura” is in Malay and by law can only be sung with its original Malay lyrics, despite the fact that Malay is a minority language in Singapore. This is because Part XIII of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore declares, “the national language shall be the Malay language and shall be in the Roman script”
There are several countries that do not have official lyrics to their national anthems. One of these is the “Marcha Real”, the national anthem of Spain. Although it originally had lyrics those lyrics were discontinued after governmental changes in the early 1980s after Francisco Franco’s dictactorship. In 2007 a national competition to write words was held, but no lyrics were chosen. Other national anthems with no words include “Inno Nazionale della Repubblica”, the national anthem of San Marino, that of Bosnia and Herzegovina and that of Kosovo, entitled “Europe”.
The national anthem of India, “Jana Gana Mana”, has lyrics in the Bengali language, despite the fact that India has 22 official languages, with Hindi being the first official language and the most widely spoken of them.
Despite the most common language in Wales being English, the Welsh regional anthem “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” is sung in the Welsh language.
The national anthem of Finland Maamme was first written in Swedish and only later translated to Finnish. It is nowadays sung in both languages as there is a Swedish speaking minority of about 6% in the country.
National anthems rose to prominence in Europe during the 19th century, but some originated much earlier. The presumed oldest national anthem belongs to the Netherlands and is called the “Wilhelmus”. It was written between 1568 and 1572 during the Dutch Revolt and its current melody variant was composed shortly before 1626. It was a popular orangist march during the 17th century but it did not become the official Dutch national anthem until 1932.
The Japanese national anthem, “Kimigayo”, has the oldest lyrics, which were taken from a Heian period poem, yet it was not set to music until 1880.
The Philippine national anthem “Lupang Hinirang” was composed in 1898 as wordless incidental music for the ceremony declaring independence from the Spanish Empire. The Spanish poem “Filipinas” was written the following year to serve as the anthem’s lyrics; the current Tagalog version dates to 1962.
“God Save the Queen”, the national anthem of the United Kingdom and the royal anthem reserved for use in the presence of the Monarch in some Commonwealth realms, was first performed in 1619 under the title “God Save the King”. It is not officially the national anthem of the UK, though it became such through custom and usage.
Spain’s national anthem, the “Marcha Real”, written in 1761, was among the first to be adopted as such, in 1770. Denmark adopted the older of its two national anthems, “Kong Christian stod ved højen mast”, in 1780; and “La Marseillaise”, the French national anthem, was written in 1792 and adopted in 1795. Serbia became the first Eastern European nation to have a national anthem – “Rise up, Serbia!” – in 1804.
“Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu”, the national anthem of Kenya, is one of the first national anthems to be specifically commissioned. It was written by the Kenyan Anthem Commission in 1963 to serve as the anthem after independence from the United Kingdom.
The Welsh regional anthem “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” was the first such to be sung at an international sporting event when it was sung in a Rugby game against New Zealand in Llanelli. This was done to counter the famous New Zealand haka.
National anthems are used in a wide array of contexts. Certain etiquette may be involved in the playing of a country’s anthem. These usually involve military honours, standing up/rising, removing headwear etc. In diplomatic situations the rules may be very formal. There may also be royal anthems, presidential anthems, state anthems etc. for special occasions.
They are played on national holidays and festivals, and have also come to be closely connected with sporting events. Wales was the first country to adopt this, during a rugby game against New Zealand in 1905. Since then during sporting competitions, such as the Olympic Games, the national anthem of the gold medal winner is played at each medal ceremony; also played before games in many sports leagues, since being adopted in baseball during World War II. When teams from two different nations play each other, the anthems of both nations are played, the host nation’s anthem being played last.
In some countries, the national anthem is played to students each day at the start of school as an exercise in patriotism, such as in Tanzania. In other countries the state anthem may be played in a theatre before a play or in a cinema before a movie. Many radio and television stations have adopted this and play the national anthem when they sign on in the morning and again when they sign off at night. For instance, the national anthem of China is played before the broadcast of evening news on Hong Kong’s local television stations including TVB Jade and ATV Home. In Colombia, it is a law to play the National Anthem at 6:00 and 18:00 on every public radio and television station, while in Thailand, “Phleng Chat” is played at 08:00 and 18:00 nationwide.
The use of a national anthem outside of its country, however, is dependent on the international recognition of that country. For instance, Taiwan has not been recognized by the Olympics as a separate nation since 1979 and must compete as Chinese Taipei; its National Banner Song is used instead of its national anthem. In Taiwan, the country’s national anthem is sung before instead of during flag-raising and flag-lowering, followed by the National Banner Song during the actual flag-raising and flag-lowering. Even within a state, the state’s citizenry may interpret the national anthem differently.
Most of the best-known national anthems were written by little-known or unknown composers such as Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, composer of “La Marseillaise” and John Stafford Smith who wrote the tune for “The Anacreontic Song”, which became the tune for the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The author of “God Save the Queen”, one of the oldest and most well-known anthems in the world, is unknown and disputed.
Very few countries have a national anthem written by a world-renowned composer. Exceptions include Germany, whose anthem “Das Lied der Deutschen” uses a melody written by Joseph Haydn, and Austria, whose national anthem “Land der Berge, Land am Strome” is sometimes credited to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The “Anthem of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic” was composed by Aram Khachaturian. The music of the “Pontifical Anthem”, anthem of the Vatican City, was composed in 1869 by Charles Gounod, for the golden jubilee of Pope Pius IX’s priestly ordination.
The committee charged with choosing a national anthem for Malaysia at independence decided to invite selected composers of international repute to submit compositions for consideration, including Benjamin Britten, William Walton, Gian Carlo Menotti and Zubir Said, who later composed “Majulah Singapura”, the national anthem of Singapore. None were deemed suitable.
A few anthems have words by Nobel laureates in literature. The first Asian laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote the words and music of “Jana Gana Mana” and “Amar Shonar Bangla”, later adopted as the national anthems of India and Bangladesh respectively. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote the lyrics for the Norwegian national anthem “Ja, vi elsker dette landet”.
Other countries had their anthems composed by locally important people. This is the case for Colombia, whose anthem’s lyrics were written by former president and poet Rafael Nuñez, who also wrote the country’s first constitution. A similar case is Liberia, the national anthem of which was written by its third president, Daniel Bashiel Warner.
While most national anthems are in the major scale, there are a number of notable exceptions. For example, these anthems are in the minor scale:
“Nad Tatrou sa blýska”‘
“Shche ne vmerla Ukraina”
“Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka”
“Afghan National Anthem”
“Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu”
These anthems use pentatonic scales:
“Wodefit Gesgeshi, Widd Innat Ityopp’ya”
“Ertra, Ertra, Ertra”
“Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu”
And these anthems have unique modes/modulations:
“Garaşsyz, Bitarap Türkmenistanyň Döwlet Gimni” uses the Mixolydian mode
The “Afghan National Anthem” uses parallel key modulation
“Forged from the Love of Liberty” starts in the minor key and then modulates to major key
“National Anthem of Mauritania”
National Anthem of Nepal: नेपालको राष्ट्रिय गान
सयौं थुँगा फूलका हामी, एउटै माला नेपाली
सार्वभौम भै फैलिएका, मेची-महाकाली।(2)
प्रकृतिका कोटी-कोटी सम्पदाको आंचल
वीरहरूका रगतले, स्वतन्त्र र अटल।
ज्ञानभूमि, शान्तिभूमि तराई, पहाड, हिमाल
अखण्ड यो प्यारो हाम्रो मातृभूमि नेपाल।
बहुल जाति, भाषा, धर्म, संस्कृति छन् विशाल
अग्रगामी राष्ट्र हाम्रो, जय जय नेपाल।
Sayaũ thũgā phūlkā hāmī, euṭai mālā nepālī
Sārvabhaum bhai phailiekā, Mecī-Mahākālī
Prakṛtikā koṭī-koṭī sampadāko ā̃cala,
Vīrharūkā ragatale, svatantra ra aṭala
Jñānabhūmi, śāntibhūmi Tarai, Pahāḍ, Himāla
Akhaṇḍa yo pyāro hāmro mātṛbhūmi Nepāla
Bahul jāti, bhāṣā, dharma, sãskṛti chan viśāla
Agragāmī rāṣṭra hāmro, jaya jaya Nepāla!
[sʌjʌũ tʰũɡa pʰulka ɦami, euʈʌi mala nepali]
[saɾvʌbʱʌum bʱʌi pʰʌilieka, metsi-mʌɦakali]
[pɾʌkr̥itika koʈi-koʈi sʌmpʌdako ãtsʌlʌ]
[viɾɦʌɾuka ɾʌɡʌtʌle svʌtʌntɾʌ ɾʌ ʌʈʌlʌ]
[dzɲanʌbʱumi, ʃantibʱumi tʌɾai, pʌɦaɖ, ɦimalʌ]
[ʌkʰʌɳɖʌ jo pʲaɾo ɦamɾo matr̥ibʱumi nepalʌ]
[bʌɦul dzati, bʱaʃa, dʱʌɾmʌ, sãskɾiti tsʰʌn viʃalʌ]
[ʌɡɾʌɡami ɾaʃʈɾʌ ɦamɾo, dzʌjʌ dzʌjʌ nepalʌ]
Woven from hundreds of flowers, we are one garland that’s Nepali
Spread sovereign from Mechi to Mahakali.
A shawl of nature’s wealth unending
From the blood of the braves, a nation free and non-moving.
A land of knowledge, of peace, the plains, hills and mountains tall
Indivisible, this beloved land of ours, our motherland Nepal.
Of many races, languages, religions, and cultures of incredible sprawl
This progressive nation of ours, all hail Nepal!
Singable English translation
Woven from hundred flowers, we are garland Nepali
Sovereignly extended from Mechi to Mahakali.
Millions of natural beauties, history like a shawl
Bloods of the braves make it free and immotile.
Land of peace, knowledge in the plains, hills and mountains
One-piece beloved country, motherland Nepal.
Races, languages, religions, cultures in-credible
Progressive nation, I salute Nepal-aa!