The unmistakable strains of La Marseillaise came from the TV set. The tune is instantly recognizable and makes me want to sing or hum along and keeping humming or singing it long after it has finished.
I was a little mystified as to why the French national anthem was playing. NBC had been broadcasting the floor exercises in the Men’s All-Around Individual Gymnast competition in Beijing. La Marseillaise seemed a strange piece of music to choose then I remembered that the men do not perform the floor exercise to music. That would be much too girlie.
Moving back to view the TV, the gallic features of Alain Bernard, reminiscent of a gargoyle on the Notre Dame, Chartres or Reims cathedrals, filled the screen. His grin was as wide as La Manche and understandably so, as he celebrated the award of his gold medal for the Men’s 100m Freestyle.
Once again, La Marseillaise had worked its magic. I went back to making my cup of coffee, accompanied by my da-da, di-di rendition of the anthem. Not being French, I have no idea what the words are.
It pains me to have to say it but the French do have probably the best national anthem in the world. It is a stirring tune that uplifts both singer and listener alike. You cannot help but feel better about things when the anthem finally ends.
Perhaps the most memorable and poignant rendition of La Marseillaise features in the Hollywood film classic Casablanca. When Colonel Strasser and his cronies start singing the German song Die Wacht Am Rhein in Rick’s Bar, Viktor Lazlo walks over to the band and tells them to play La Marseillaise. At first, the Germans try to compete but when virtually the entire café gets to its feet and sings, the Germans recognize they are outmatched. As the French anthem rises to its crescendo, I have to admit that it sends a shiver down my spine and brings a tear to my eye.
The American national anthem The Star Spangled Banner comes a close second to the French one. It too has the same rousing qualities and always has me singing it long after it has finished. Unlike the French anthem I can manage at least opening line of the American one, after that I am back to da-da and di-di. I would have no chance of ever gaining U.S. citizenship.
The problem with the American national anthem is the American public does not sing it. When it is played at the start of major sporting events everyone stands in silence pressing their right hand to the heart while a soloist sings. I am sorry but a national anthem, by its very nature, is meant to be sung by the people of that nation.
When the USA 4 x 100 m Freestyle Relay team received their gold medals the other night, the American anthem played but Michael Phelps and the rest of the team did not sing along. It was a totally different story when the Chinese gold and silver medalists in the Women’s 200m Butterfly were awarded their medals, they both sang the Chinese national anthem from start to finish. Mind you, it could have been the last we ever saw of them if they had not. Whereas I wouldn’t advocate the compulsory singing of any national anthem, they are meant to be sung.
The German anthem Das Deutschlandlied more commonly known as Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles is not quite as stirring as the French and American anthems but it has a certain nobility and a great musical pedigree. The music was composed by Joseph Haydn in 1797 but it did not become the German anthem until 1922. The use by the Nazis and the hint of world domination in the first verse has tarnished its image somewhat. The official anthem is now just the third verse. Last night, Britta Steffen at least managed to sing a couple of lines before her emotions got the better of her as she stood on the winner’s rostrum after winning the Women’s 50m Freestyle.
My national anthem, God Save The Queen, lacks the verve of the French and American ones and the melody of the German anthem. It doesn’t fire the emotions to the same extent but then we British are not renowned for our emotions, other than keeping them in check. But when the Massed Band of The Brigade of Guards plays the British national anthem, I must confess to filling up a little, probably due to the pomp and circumstance on display rather than the tune itself.
Waltzing Matilda is not an officially recognized anthem but it meets the sing-along criterion and, for me, evokes the spirit of Australia far more so than Advance Australia Fair. In the vote held in 1977 to decide Australia’s anthem, Advance Australia Fair secured 43 percent of the vote, while Waltzing Matilda came second with 28 percent. I guess billabongs, jumbucks and tucker bags no longer have any relevance to a modern society Down Under but the tune certainly tugs at the heart. And isn’t that what a national anthem is supposed to do and why they should be sung?