Though it varies from country to country, National Anthems are generally played and sung at formal state occasions and other events which celebrate or support the country's national identity. At international sporting events they are often played to reflect the nationality of the winner or winning team. Many National Anthems are similar to hymn tunes, though some are closer to folk songs. The lyrics may mention a country's landscape and people, or events and concepts that the country is proud of. There can be a degree of symbolism such as reverence for the national flag, or a salute to the hereditary head of state such as the king or queen in monarchies. Some anthems are agreed formally by passing a law or similar decree, though often anthems are established through tradition or informal means. Where countries are composed of several member states then those states may also have their own anthems or songs, in addition to an overall anthem which represents the whole country. This article focuses on the music of National Anthems and Patriotic Songs, with a selection of sheet music and audio examples (midi and mp3).
Many countries have commissioned their anthem from classical composers, or have re-used melodies composed by a local composer perhaps adding different words. The German National Anthem (called the Deutschlandlied or the Song of Germany) is based on a theme created by Franz Joseph Haydn. Haydn used the melody for a song to celebrate the birthday of the Austrian Emperor in 1797 and reused the theme in his "Emperor" String Quartet. It was the anthem of the Austrian Empire for more than a century, and Germany adopted the anthem in 1922. Similarly the melody of the Austrian National Anthem (or Osterreichische Bundeshymne) is from "Bundeslied" - a song from one of the last works composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His "Freimaurerkantate" (or Freemasons Cantata) K.623 was written in 1791 and included this song, which with new lyrics was adopted by Austria in 1946 as their National Anthem.
Completing a trio of National Anthems from music's Classical Era, the European Union adopted an official Anthem in 1971. This is the Ode to Joy taken from the 4th movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's 9th Symphony composed in 1823. Another even older Anthem associated with Europe is the Prelude from the Te Deum by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704). This isn't the national anthem of a country, but the tune was adopted by the European Broadcasting Union and is used to introduce the Eurovision Song Contest each year. The Netherlands National Anthem may in fact be the oldest in the world. Called "Wilhelmus van Nassouwe" or simply the Wilhelmus, it dates from the 16th Century and was first published in 1626 in a hymn book by the Dutch composer Adriaen Valerius.
Another old National Anthem is God Save the Queen (or King) which was first used in its current form in 1744. However the song's melody has an ancient but poorly understood history, with variations of the melody being used by various English composers including John Bull in 1612, Henry Purcell (late 17th century) and George Frideric Handel in the early 18th Century. "God Save the Queen" is the National Anthem of the United Kingdom, though the UK is one of those instances where member countries sometimes require their own individual anthems. At such events (typically related to sports), Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland use alternative anthems, though in general England retains "God Save the Queen" as its anthem. The anthem has been adopted in some form by a number of other countries formerly of the British Commonwealth, though sometimes this is as the "Royal Anthem" for Royal occasions as distinct from the National Anthem which is used on state occasions unrelated to or not attended by members of the Royal Family.
The melody for "God Save the Queen" has also been used for other patriotic songs, most notably the song "America" which begins "My Country 'Tis of Thee" which was formerly the US National Anthem. The current US National Anthem is The Star-Spangled Banner whose tune was composed by John Stafford Smith (1750–1836) a British composer and musicologist. The original song was called "The Anacreontic Song" and was written for the Anacreontic Society, an English gentleman's club of which John Stafford Smith was a member. The words for "The Star-Spangled Banner" were written by the American poet Francis Scott Key after events in the 1812 war between the US and the UK. The title of the song of course refers to the US Flag - The Stars and Stripes. The various states which make up the United States of America also have their own State Songs and/or Anthems, for example "Maryland, My Maryland" which uses the same melody as O Tannenbaum.
The French National Anthem also has a long history. La Marseillaise was composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792 and adopted by France as its National Anthem just 3 years later. The Song was banned under Napoleon but later reinstated as the National Anthem. Despite its ban at the time the melody was quoted extensively in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture to signify Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. The film composer Nino Rota also hints at a few notes of "La Marseillaise" in his film score for the 1970 film "Waterloo", though in this case the music may be valid since the Battle of Waterloo took place in 1815 after Napoleon had spent some time in exile.
Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (which in its full version features battle sounds such as cannons) also represents the victorious Russian army by quoting the "Russian National Anthem" at the climax. The Russian National Anthem in Tchaikovsky's day was God Save the Tsar! composed by Alexei Lvov in 1833, so neither this nor "Las Marseillaise" (due to Napoleon's ban) was used by those counties in 1812! "God Save the Tsar!" seems to be modelled on "God Save the Queen" and it became the Russian Anthem when the song won a competition. It remained the Russian National Anthem from 1833 until the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the melody was used by Henry F. Chorley to create a hymn called "God, the Omnipotent!" identified in various UK and US hymnals as the "Russian Hymn".
Some Patriotic Songs are more closely related to folk songs with the most obvious examples being "Waltzing Matilda" and "Oh Danny Boy". The exact origins of the melody for Waltzing Matilda are unknown, though the lyrics were written by a poet called Banjo Paterson to music written by Christina Macpherson (1864-1936) based on some folk music which she had heard played. The music is certainly not a waltz with "waltzing" meaning wandering in the Australian bush, and a number of similar folk tunes exist, suggesting a complex origin for the melody. Although "Waltzing Matilda" is strongly associated with Australia, the official National Anthem is Advance Australia Fair which was composed by the Scottish Born composer Peter Dodds McCormick. Another folk song with strong national associations is Oh Danny Boy, the well-known Irish song sung to a melody known as "A Londonderry Air" named after the Irish County. The traditional tune dates back to at least the 19th century and possibly earlier, and the "Danny Boy" lyrics were written to this melody in 1910. The tune is played as a National Anthem for Northern Ireland.
In contrast to these folk melodies Scotland the Brave is more like a brisk march, though it does have some similarities to some Scottish folk songs. The lyrics for "Scotland the Brave" were written in 1950 by Cliff Hanley but, though the composer of the melody is unknown, the tune is thought to be at least twice as old as the lyrics. "Scotland the Brave" was an unofficial National Anthem for Scotland until recently when "Flower of Scotland" has frequently been used instead. Other songs including Auld Lang Syne have been suggested as potential National Anthems for Scotland. Land of My Fathers (or "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" in Welsh) is used as the National Anthem for Wales. The lyrics were written in 1856 by by Evan James and the music composed by James James, the lyricist's son. An alternative Anthem for Wales used to represent the country at Rugby matches is Bread of Heaven or "Cwm Rhondda" in Welsh.
Rule, Britannia! is an old British or English patriotic song. The lyrics were written by the Scottish writer James Thomson (1700-1748) and his words were then put to music by the English composer Thomas Augustine Arne (1710–1778). Edward Elgar wrote his first Pomp and Circumstance March in 1901, and the following year adapted it to become what we now know as the Patriotic Song Land of Hope and Glory. In 1916 Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918) set the words of a short poem by William Blake to music, creating the popular Patriotic Song Jerusalem. Another widely recognised Patriotic Song is the March The British Grenadiers which has been adopted by several military forces and played in parades and formal ceremonies.
The individual anthems used to represent the countries of Great Britain in the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony were:
The Red Flag is a political anthem rather than a national one, but the same melody has been used for a number of patriotic songs including some State and College Songs in the US. It is based on an old folk tune called "Lauriger Horatius" which was also the basis for "O Tannenbaum" (O Christmas Tree).
The following sheet music has been arranged for piano, and is suitable for playing as a piano solo or to accompany singers. Within each of these pages you will find links to download the sheet music in PDF format and links to download the equivalent midi files and mp3 files.
We hope to add further National and Patriotic Songs in due course, and include arrangements for different instruments.