7 Interesting Facts and Histories of National Anthems from Various Countries

Sun, 14 Mar 2021

A national anthem is a hymn or song that expressing patriotic sentiment and is authorized by the government as an official national hymn or holds that status in public opinion. A national anthem has a way of reminding people of a country's glory and pride, as well as feeling a sense of belonging to that country.

National anthems are generally played or sung during national holidays, mostly during celebrations of a country's independence day. National anthems are usually performed at cultural and other festivals in the world, usually to mark the start or end of such events.

Besides, national anthems are often performed in international sporting events such as the Olympic Games. In that event, the national anthem of the winning team is played during the medal ceremony. National anthems of the participating countries are also played before the start of a game and the anthem of the host country usually played last.

The national anthem acts as a representation of a country's history, struggles, and traditions, as well as an expression of national identity. Due to the different history and traditions, every national anthem of different countries has its unique backstory and interesting facts to find out.

Now, let's read these interesting facts and stories behind some national anthems of various countries!

La Marseillaise (France)

One of the world’s most famous national anthems, the iconic “La Marseillaise” dates back to the period of the French Revolution. The song was written in April 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a French soldier, and musician.

De Lisle composed the rhythm in favor of a war with Austria—its original title was "War Song of the Army of the Rhine"—but its spirited melody appealed to revolutionaries wanting King Louis XVI's head. After republican volunteers from Marseilles sang it during their long march into Paris, it became known as "La Marseillaise," and it was later adopted as the new French republic's national anthem in 1795. Ironically, after unintentionally writing this battle hymn, the royalist De Lisle would only barely escaped the guillotine under the revolutionary government.

Napoleon and several French monarchs later prohibited La Marseillaise, and it wasn't officially restored as the national anthem until 1879. Since then, this national hymn has been criticized for its brutal and dark lyrics, which include explicit descriptions of throat cuttings, vanquished enemies, and blood-soaked fields. The interesting fact is that the lyrics seem to contradict the famous French stereotype of romantic people.

Kimigayo (Japan)

The “Kimigayo” officially became Japan’s national anthem in 1999. The anthem’s lyrics were written by an anonymous author in the Heian period (794-1185) in honor of the Japanese Emperor. The lyrics are based on a Waka poem that has been used in folk songs since the Middle Ages. The lyrics were not known as a patriotic song until 1869 when it was set to music for use as a national hymn by a British music teacher who was working in Yokohama.

In the 1880s, the Kimigayo was revised to its modern form, and it gradually became Japan's unofficial national song after the Education Ministry declared that it should be sung in schools. The song's plaintive rhythm became a symbol of Japanese militarism during World War II, but it continued into the postwar period and the 1950s when it was reintroduced as part of a campaign to restore Japanese patriotism.

Another interesting fact is that Kimigayo is known for its extreme brevity—it is one of the world's shortest national anthems, with just five lines.

Deutschlandlied/Song of the Germans (Germany)

The “Deutschlandlied” or “Song of the Germans,” has a long and complicated past that dates back to 1841, began when poet Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the lyrics as a campaign slogan for supporters of a united Germany. The poem was set to a melody by famed composer Joseph Haydn. It became one of the German Empire’s most cherished national anthem.

It was especially popular among the military, and German soldiers hoisted it out from the barracks to mark their position and prevent friendly fire artillery deaths during World War I. The song was chosen as the official national anthem of the Weimar Republic shortly after the war.

By combining its first verse—which contained the popular line "Deutschland, Über Alles" ("Germany, Above All")—with the official Nazi party song in the 1930s, the Nazis transformed the "Deutschlandlied" into a symbol of fascism. After the war, Allied forces initially banned the song, but after Germany's reunification in 1990, it was restored as the national anthem—minus the tainted first verse.

God Save The Queen (United Kingdom)

The national anthem of the United Kingdom is one of the most well-known national songs in the world, but its origins are unknown. The song's lyrics and melody first appeared in magazines and music anthologies around 1745, when they were often sung to express support for King George II during the final Jacobite rebellion. However, the true author of the song is unknown. Organist and musician John Bull, baroque composer Henry Purcell, and dramatist Henry Carey are all potential candidates.

“God Save the Queen”—altered to “God Save the King” whenever a man sits on the throne—it later became a common theme among composers such as Beethoven, Handel, and Brahms, and it was recognized as the monarchy's unofficial national anthem by the early nineteenth century. Another interesting fact is this national anthem inspired plenty of imitators. The melody was taken note for note by Lichtenstein's national anthem, as well as the American patriotic song "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

The Star-Spangled Banner (United States)

The Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812 influenced America's national anthem. Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, sailed out to the British fleet in the Chesapeake Bay in September 1814 to negotiate the release of a friend who had been imprisoned. He was detained overnight and watched with bated breath as the British marched on Baltimore and launched over 1,800 rockets and bombs on Fort McHenry. The fort seemed to be doomed, but as morning came, Key was thrilled to see the American flag still waving over it, a strong indication that it had not fallen to the British.

That day, Key scrawled the poem that would become “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and his patriotic words had made their way into a Baltimore newspaper by September 20. The song, which was ironically set to a British melody became popular in the military forces, although, it wasn't officially adopted as the United States national anthem until 1931.

El Himno de Bayamo/The Bayamo Anthem (Cuba)

The Bayamo Anthem was written during one of Cuba's early attempts to gain independence from Spain, the Ten Years' War The melody was written in 1867 by lawyer, musician, and rebel leader Pedro "Perucho" Figueredo, but the lyrics were not added until October 1868, when revolutionary forces took control of the city of Bayamo.

Perucho, still on horseback, took a piece of paper from his pocket and wrote down two verses of lyrics honoring Cuba's revolutionary spirit as his fellow freedom fighters marveled. The lyrics are written in Spanish because Cuba used to be part of the Spanish colonial authorities.

The song became a popular battle hymn for the Cuban forces, but Perucho was later arrested and executed by a firing squad in 1870. He is known to have yelled one of the most popular lines from the anthem just before the shots were fired: “Who dies for his country lives!”

Die Stem (South Africa)

South Africa had two national anthems before the end of apartheid in 1994. The country's official state song was "Die Stem" or "The Call of South Africa," but "Nkosi Sikolel' iAfrika" or "God Bless Africa," was an unofficial national hymn. In a country fragmented along racial lines, “Die Stem” was seen as the white population's favorite national hymn, while “God Bless Africa” was more closely associated with blacks, who used it as a protest song against apartheid.

Until 1994, when newly elected President Nelson Mandela declared that "Die Stem" and "God Bless Africa" would share honors as the national anthem. Both conflicting songs served as a musical symbol of South Africa's troubled past. In 1997, the two anthems were officially merged into a single song containing lyrics from each. The newest anthem also featured lyrics in five of South Africa's most commonly spoken languages: Xosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English, in an interesting twist.

Do you eager to learn more about those national anthems?

After knowing some interesting facts about those national anthems, you may be interested to know about the meaning of the anthems, either to simply expand your knowledge or to be able to sing the anthems. Let’s take courses on LingoTalk to get to know their meanings while also expand your language skills with our expert tutors!

National Anthem

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National Hymn

Official State Song

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