With debate raging around the future of the Eurozone, namely whether Great Britain will stay or go, and issues of independent sovereignty among the other partners, another pertinent question has recently arisen. Given that the whole situation seems to reek of pomp and circumstance, what will happen to each country’s musical bastion, the national anthem?
Indeed, is the concept relevant any more? In a world seemingly destined to be run by Brussels, ‘God Save The Queen’ seems to ring ever more hollow. Does dear old Lizzie deserve eulogising for being little more than a figurehead?
Perhaps it is time to adopt Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‘Hymnen’, or a similar piece, as an anthem for a fully integrated Europe. The German electronic composer unleashed his collage of the anthems of the world in the early Sixties, blurring national lines which had been in place for centuries: the oldest national anthem being Holland’s ‘Wilhelmus’, written during the Dutch Revolt, 1568-72.
Listening to ‘Hymnen’ today, it is striking how forward-thinking Stockhausen was being at the time. His treatments of the fragments of various anthems that he collects on his sonic travels appear to pre-empt the current notion of a unified Europe. Stockhausen manages to convey this message via music, whereas the politicians of today are seemingly unable to do so, even with the aid of speechwriters and spin-doctors.
The idea of creating a European anthem has also been explored by Czech composer Zbigniew Preisner, with his ‘Song for the Unification of Europe’, which is attributed to a character in ‘Three Colours: Blue’, the first film in Krysztof Kieslowski’s well-known trilogy. It is revealing that the concept of a European Anthem has only been explored in art and fiction.
The other side of the argument would be to defend the national anthem, preserving national independence from the influence of the Eurocrats; a defiant two fingers to the uniformity that a European anthem would represent.
National anthems are surely intended to celebrate what makes each country unique. Is it possible to represent the achievements and idiosyncrasies of an entire continent in one hymn, without being overly reductive? Whoever may be given the task has quite a job to do if the situation ever arises, but it is an interesting question to ponder.
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