National Anthems: facts and oddities

There are a few things that truly represent a country and a culture, from flags to cities, animals to languages, but perhaps there is none more obvious and purposeful than the anthem.

Patriotism at its finest, a national anthem is a symbol of it’s people, learnt early in school and sung in unison at many important national events; often representing the history and traditions, struggles and hardships of each country, using music and song in the forms of marches, hymns or operas.


Now I’m sure, very hopeful at the least, that you know your own anthem, maybe you know some others too, think God Save the Queen or The Star-Spangled Banner; But do you know what it means? Who wrote it? When it was composed? These are questions that are sometimes overlooked. Today I plan on giving you a little insight into the unique, intriguing, and humorous facts that present themselves in the history of these national icons.

First, let’s get a little history in for good measure. National anthems become popular in the early 19th century, mostly in Europe; some have had the music written before the lyrics, some vice versa; some have taken music or lyrics from compositions much older than the anthem itself, and some have been written by a composer of a nationality other than the anthem being written.

The oldest national anthem came into existence between 1568 and 1572, the Dutch  ‘Wilhelmus’ was written during the Dutch Revolt, officially becoming the national anthem in 1932.


There was a competition held in Mexico in 1853, for people to submit a poem that would serve as the national anthem, the winner was a poet who was forced to enter a submission by his girlfriend, after she locked him a room.

Czechoslovakia created a national anthem when it was formed in 1918, by simply taking half of a Czech opera and half a Slovak folk song, when Czechoslovakia split up in 1993, the anthem followed suit, breaking into the two haves and going their separate ways.

Germany’s anthem, Deutschlandlied, was written to the music from Haydn’s String Quartet in C major; it contained the phrase “Deutschland über alles,” and as such was banned in 1945; now it is back in usage however only the third stanza, the ‘friendly’ section.

Uruguay’s national anthem is the longest with 105 bars of music, which equates to about 6 minutes, although Japans anthem has 158 verses. In Australia in 2003, at the Davis Cup Tennis Match, the wrong Spanish national anthem was played. Several countries have had their president or other statesman compose the anthem, including Belgium, Ecuador, Jamaica and Colombia. More than 40 national anthems were composed by someone of a foreign nationality.


I’m sure there are a few more that I’ve not mentioned, do you know of any? Is there an interesting history behind your own national anthem?