The National Hymns Products of Plagiarism

Most countries have a patriotic symbol that represents their nationalist identity and feeling through music: the National Anthem, a melody that represents the connationals of a given country.


Almost everyone is proud of their Hymns, especially if you are out of or representing the Fatherland.  But what if they suddenly discovered that the song that grips them with emotion is the product of plagiarism?

It sounds difficult to process, but as much as it surprises many of the National Anthems originate from open and sometimes unassumed loans from other lyrics or melodies. Some took them directly from popular songs, others from great opera works, and others even from movies.


Below is a list, based on a BBC report, of some of the countries that count, within their home symbols, with melodies that apparently aren´t as original as their composers originally made.

Perhaps the first record of both an anthem and its subsequent take-back by other nations is the god save the king, which is based on an anonymous and popular song, which returned to the forefront in 1745 during the invasion of Charles Edward, in order to restore the rights of the Stuarts to the throne.

From that moment on, God Save The King continued to be sung as a symbol of the kingdom, regardless of its King. A situation that made other monarchs consider it important to have their own anthem. What is surprising is that other realms such as Denmark, Germany, Russia and even the United Kingdom in Hawaii simply appropriated the melody of God Save The King, changing only the lyrics, thus becoming the first historic “loan” of a hymn.

However, these are not the only cases of countries that share the melodies of their hymns, even if their lyrics are different. Another example of this is Liechtenstein, a European country, whose anthem Oben am Jungen Rhein (On the top of the young Rhine) has the same melody as the British anthem, although its lyrics are different.

For their part, Estonia and Finland, each with their lyrics, also share the melodies of their Hymns, ademan that their origin is also part of an alleged plagiarism story, as composer Fredick Pacius is accused of having taken the music of a popular song sung in German taverns.

However it seems to be terrible, it is more common than we think, since most hymns are based on melodies of popular or traditional songs, perhaps in order to provide the people with simple melodies, of easy memorization and intonation, as by example the National Anthem of Venezuela, Gloria al Bravo Pueblo, whose melodic base seems to be the popular lullaby “sleep my child i have to do”.

Sometimes even the composer of the Hymn does not blush or offend at any accusation of plagiarism, but admits it openly, such as Samuel Cohen, composer in 1888 of Hatikvah (The Hope), an Israeli anthem, and who claimed to have taken the melody of a traditional Romanian song, although others accuse it directly of having “stolen” it from a piece by Bedrich Smetana, Czech composer. Borrowed or Stolen, Cohen used a melody that was heard in Europe during the 17th century. 

And the matter does not stay in Europe nothing else, if we review the Asian continent, we will find cases like the Maldives and South Korea who at some point shared the melodies of their Hymns, which also belonged to Auld Lang Syne (song Heritage of Scotland, based on a poem by Robert Burns, written in 1788) that Korea took from missions originating in Scotland and which the composer from the Maldives heard on a clock.

Also in Latin America there have been cases of voluntary and accepted “loans”, and others not so much. An example of this is the Anthem of Uruguay, which written by Francisco José Debali, in 1846, seems to be a plagiarism of a fragment of the opera Lucrezia Borgia, by composer Donizetti.

Although some claim that the coincidence between the Anthem and the Opera is barely nine notes, and that it can be motivated to a mere coincidence. A little further south, Argentina also sees its anthem accused of being a “loan” of a Clementi work.

For its part, the African continent is also not left behind in these cases of Hymns whose melodies aren´t original, but taken from other pieces. An example of this is the South African Anthem, composed by Enoch Sontonga, who has been accused several times of having plagiarized the melody of the piece Aberystwyth, original by Joseph Parry, Welsh composer.

However, this issue of plagiarism of popular melodies to be used as national anthems is not just a matter of centuries past. In recent decades, in 1988 to be more specific, composer Dusan Sesctic wrote a piece that won in a contest the honor of being the Bosnian National Anthem, which surprisingly became very similar to the introduction of the comic film College (National Lampoon’s Anima House).

However, despite the upheaval and Dusan accepting the resemblance between the melodies, Dusan denied at all times that the matter was the result of a robbery.

Apparently, on every continent and in almost every country, it is natural that their Hymns, the pride of their connationals, do not have such pure origins. However, symbols at last, their value is given by the society that holds it and in how it relates to it, so these kinds of clarifications pass under the table, without altering the love and respect that each one feels for the Letter and the notes that represent the sounds of his homeland.

Image source: taringa.net

The National Hymns Products of Plagiarism
Source: curiosities  
August 25, 2019


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