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A national anthem (also national hymn, song etc.) is a generally 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.



Anthems rose to prominence in Europe during the nineteenth century; the oldest national anthem is "Het Wilhelmus", the Dutch national anthem, written between 1568 and 1572 during the Dutch Revolt. The Japanese anthem, "Kimi ga Yo", has its lyrics taken from a Heian period (794-1185) poem, yet it was not set to music until 1880.[1] "God Save the Queen", the national anthem of the United Kingdom and one of the two national anthems of New Zealand, was first performed in 1745 under the title "God Save the King". Spain's national anthem, the "Marcha Real" (The Royal March), dates from 1770 (written in 1761). The oldest of Denmark's two national anthems, "Kong Kristian stod ved højen mast" was adopted in 1780 and "La Marseillaise", the French anthem, was written in 1792 and adopted in 1795.

An anthem can become a country's national anthem by a provision in the country's constitution, by a law enacted by its legislature or simply by tradition. The majority of national anthems are either marches or hymns in style. The countries of Latin America tend towards more operatic pieces, while a handful of countries use a simple fanfare.

Although national anthems are usually in the most common language of the country, whether de facto or official, there are notable exceptions. India's anthem, "Jana Gana Mana", is a highly Sanskritized version of Bengali. States with more than one national language may offer several versions of their anthem: For instance, Switzerland's anthem has different lyrics for each of the country's four official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh). Canada's national anthem has different lyrics for each of the country's official languages (English and French), and on some occasions is sung with a mixture of stanzas taken from its French and English versions. The Sri Lankan national anthem was written in Sinhala, but a Tamil translation is also played on some occasions. On the other hand, South Africa's national anthem is unique in that five of the country's eleven official languages are used in the same anthem (the first stanza is divided between two languages, with each of the remaining three stanzas in a different language). Apart from God Save the Queen, the New Zealand national anthem is now traditionally sung with the first verse in Māori (Aotearoa) and the second in English (God Defend New Zealand). The tune is the same but the words are not a direct translation of each other. Another multilingual country, Spain, has no words in its anthem, La Marcha Real, although in 2007 a national competition to write words was launched[2].


National anthems are used in a wide array of contexts. They are played on national holidays and festivals, and have also come to be closely connected with sporting events. During sporting competitions, such as the Olympic Games, the national anthem of the gold medal winner is played at each medal ceremony. National anthems are also played before games in many sports leagues, since being adopted in baseball during World War II.[3] When teams from two different nations play each other, the anthems of both nations are played, the host nation's anthem being played last. The use of a national anthem outside of its country, however, is dependent on the international recognition of that country. For instance, the Republic of China is not recognized by the Olympics as a separate nation and must compete as Chinese Taipei; its National Banner Song is used instead of its national anthem.[4]

In some countries, the national anthem is played to students each day at the start of school as an exercise in patriotism. In other countries the 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.

There may also be royal anthems, presidential anthems, state anthems, etc for special occasions.

Certain etiquette may be involved in the playing of a country's anthem. These usually involve military honours, standing up, removing headwear etc. In diplomatic situations the rules may be very formal.

For parts of states

The Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, amongst others, are notionally held to be unions of many "nations" by various definitions. Each of the different nations may have their own "national anthem" and these songs may be officially recognized.

14 of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union had their own official song which was used at events connected to that republic. The Russian republic used the USSR's national anthem. Some republics retained the melodies of those songs after the dissolution of the USSR (see the article National anthems of the Soviet Union and Union Republics).

The United Kingdom's national anthem is "God Save the Queen" but its constituent countries also have their own anthems which have varying degrees of official recognition. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have a number of songs which may be played at occasions such as sports matches and official events. The song usually played for England is "God Save the Queen", though sometimes Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory may be played instead. Scotland has relatively recently adopted Flower of Scotland as its unofficial National Anthem, while Wales has sung Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land Of My Fathers) since the 19th century. Northern Ireland too has traditionally used "God Save the Queen" though Londonderry Air is also used.

Pakistan has two official Anthems; the first one is the Qaumi Tarana and the second one is the Watan Hamara Kashmir, which was sung during the 1965 war with India.[citation needed]

Czechoslovakia used to have an anthem composed from the first parts of Czech and Slovak modern anthems. After the splitting of Czechoslovakia both countries got their own anthems.

"O Canada" became Canada's national anthem on July 1, 1980[5], 100 years after it was first sung on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day / Fête Nationale du Québec, June 24, 1880. The music was composed by Calixa Lavallée, a well-known composer; it was intended to give French-Canadians something they could identify with. The Hymne was part of the movement by Québec to distinguish itself[citation needed], its language and culture being very different from that of British Anglo-Saxon lifestyle. Ironically, English-Canadians adopted it as their National Anthem even though in the second verse of the original French version, the lyrics refer to the Canadians that live proudly by the Fleuve Giant which is referring to the Fleuve Saint-Laurent). The people of Québec are once again without a National Hymne that they can uniquely identify with[citation needed]. One hymne that has been in preparation for a few years now, "Chante Le Pays" ("Sing About The Land"), written by songwriter Marcel Provost[6], seems to be gaining in popularity[citation needed].

International organizations

Larger entities also sometimes have 'national' anthems, in some cases known as 'international anthems'. The Internationale is the anthem of the socialist movement, the world communist movement, the Comintern and for a time by the Soviet Union. The tune of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is the European anthem; the United Nations[7] and the African Union[8] also have unofficial anthems. The Olympic Movement also has its own anthem. Esperanto speakers at meetings often use the song La Espero as their anthem.


Most of the best-known national anthems were written by little-known or unknown composers such as Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle La Marseillaise and John Stafford Smith who wrote the tune for The Star-Spangled Banner. The author of God Save the Queen, one of the oldest and best known in the world, is unknown and disputed. Very few countries have a national anthem written by a world renowned composer, some exceptions are 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 was sometimes credited to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A few anthems have been composed by Nobel prize winners. India and Bangladesh adopted two songs written by the first Asian Nobel prize winner and noted Bengali poet/author Rabindranath Tagore as their national anthems, Jana Gana Mana and Amar Shonar Bangla, respectively. Nobel prize winner Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote the lyrics for the Norwegian national anthem Ja, vi elsker dette landet.

Some national anthems have no official lyrics at all, for example Spain.[9]

See also


  1. Japan Policy Research Institute JPRI Working Paper No. 79. Published July 2001. Retrieved July 7, 2007
  2. The Economist[ Lost for words Erik der Popelfresser]. Published July 26, 2007. Retrieved August 17, 2007
  3. Template:Web cite
  4. Yomiuri Shimbun Foul cried over Taiwan anthem at hoop tourney. Published August 6, 2007
  5. [1]
  6. [2]
  7. United Nations Organization Does the UN have a hymn or national anthem? Fact Sheet # 9. PDF
  8. African Union AU Symbols.
  9. Associated Press Spain's national anthem to get words. Written by Harold Heckle. Published June 26, 2007.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:


national anthem

national anthems

national anthem (plural national anthems)

  1. The official song of a nation or country, generally of a patriotic nature and played at events to celebrate or honor the nation.


Simple English

A national anthem is a song that the people of a country use to remember and respect their country.

Some countries, like Spain, have a national anthem which has no lyrics (words of a song)

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