Monday, June 9, 2014

Battle of the Anthems

The World Cup is, among other things, a war of national anthems, which themselves usually have some kind of war behind them. These patriotic tunes which open every game of the tournament are somewhat at odds with the make-up of "national" teams these days. Many players cannot sing them, either because they don't know the words or because the words don't reflect their convictions or sense of identity (or, as is the case with Ireland, they don't know the language!). What it means to be German or French or Irish may no longer be reflected (or may never have been reflected) in the ideological lyrics that accompany the often beautiful melodies.

To my ears, no melody is more beautiful (and, perhaps, no lyrics are more troubling) than the German national anthem, Deutschlandlied. The part about Germany being above everything in the world is left out, however, so the usual cliches about fraternity and justice are all that is sung by some, though by no means all, of the German players. Podolski, Ozil, Khedira and Boateng remain silent in the video below as their team mates belt out the lyrics with gusto. One wonders what this obvious divide does to team spirit? Certainly this cosmopolitan German team, for all its talent, has not been exemplary in its cohesion in the way that previous German teams were. Time to ditch Deutschlandlied?

Leaving all this to one side, however, the tune is elegant and graceful, and remains my favourite World Cup anthem. Here is what Chris De Burgh of, er, Guardian Sport, has to say about it:

I have a great connection with this piece of music, which was written by Haydn in 1797. I went to Marlborough College in Wiltshire, and they had a beautiful chapel where we had matins most days. I remember singing the hymn Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken, to this tune, which with 800 voices was a thrilling sound. I was brought up Church of Ireland, and one of my earliest memories would have been in church with mum and dad, listening to this melody. There’s an interesting thing with music like this, how the beat falls with the melody; they often say music is mathematical in construction and this is a very good example. The melodic pattern repeats itself several times throughout, then you have a mid eight, and for me the most thrilling part is the reprise, those rising notes, and then it hits the top. It’s a hell of a piece of music.

Here, also, is the hymn version of the song, mentioned above by De Burgh:

I look forward to my local Church of Ireland (which, on the topic of nationalism, has a British flag hanging up inside!) belting out this song some time.

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