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Top Five National Anthems by Notable Composers

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There are a lot of anthems being sung this month with Canada Day on July 1st, Bastille Day on the 14th and Belgian National Day on the 21st, not to mention our own 4th of July. Most of these well-known tunes were written by relative unknowns: John Stafford Smith wrote the music to “Star Spangled Banner” (initially as the song “To Anacreon in Heaven”) and Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, who penned the Marseillaise, was a one-hit wonder.

However, there have been some famous authors of national anthems. Here are our top five anthems written by notable composers.

1. Haydn: Deutschland Über Alles (Germany)

Franz Josef Haydn intended to write a  anthem of sorts when he penned “God Save Emperor Franz” and presented it to the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire (later Austria) on his birthday. With that title, it’s no surprise Haydn was inspired by England’s “God Save the Queen” and the patriotic stirrings it ignited. The composer eventually reused the regal melody in his ‘Emperor’ String Quartet. The tune, with its famous lyrics “Deutschland Über Alles” by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, officially became Germany’s national anthem in 1922.

2. Pablo Casals: "A Hymn to the UN" (United Nations)

One of the few composers actually commissioned to write an anthem, Pablo Casals composed the UN Hymn. Secretary General U Thant wanted Casals to write an ode to peace as a counterpoint to all the works commemorating valiant military campaigns at the time. Thant also suggested scoring the UN’s official preamble. When that didn’t work, Casals asked the English poet W.H. Auden to supply lyrics. "A Hymn to the UN" premiered in 1971 at the organization’s headquarters.

3. Charles Gounod: "Pontifical March" (The Vatican)

Charles Gounod, a devout Catholic, wrote his Pontifical March as a tribute to Pope Pius IX in 1869. The music was immediately admired: the seven pontifical bands were encouraged to play several encores of the march following its premiere before an enthusiastic audience. However, it took until 1950 for Gounod's anthem to replace Viktorin Hallmayer’s Triumphal March as the official Vatican City-State anthem. 

4. Ferenc Erkel: "Himnusz" (Hungary)

The Hungarian composer Ferenc Erkel is credited with translating his national identity into music. The 19th-century figure founded a National Hungarian Opera and also ran the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hungarian Academy of Music at times. So it’s poignant that he would also contribute "Himnusz," the country’s national anthem. The piece, which begins “O, God bless the Hungarians,” was set to a poem by Ferenc Kolcsey.

5. Mozart? Or Johann Holzer? “Land der Berge, Land am Strome" (Austria)

Austria would have rated higher on our scale if its signature “Land der Berge, Land am Strome" (Land of Mountains, Land of River) weren’t steeped in controversy over whether or not Mozart wrote the piece. Some claim the melody was taken from the composer’s Freimaurerkantate, the last piece he wrote before his death in 1791. Others believe that his lesser-known contemporary Johann Holzer should be credited with the tune. Without a doubt, its lyrics come from poet Paula von Preradovic, who won a 1947 competition to supply words for the hymn.

What's your favorite-sounding national anthem? Leave a comment below: