Sunday, May 17, 2015

How to write a national anthem

In 1943, the USSR held a competition in which composers were invited to come up with a new national anthem. The video above will introduce you to Shostakovich's entry, which he turned into an orchestral showpiece in 1960. This is GREAT. I can't believe it didn't win!

The winner of that contest was Alexander Alexandrov, and I'm sure that you are now wondering what his anthem sounds like. Go here or check out the video embedded below. This work isn't bad, as national anthems go, and the performance is as stirring as you could wish for -- but if you're inclined to dismiss the whole thing as bombastic, I can't really disagree. Arguably, bombast is what you want in a national anthem.

Good try, Alex, but my vote goes to the Shostakovich. Way better. If Stalin had chosen this one, the Soviet Union would have lasted longer.

My all time favorite national anthem remains "La Marseillaise," especially the over-the-top version composed by Hector Berlioz, also embedded below. (Remember what I said about bombast? That applies here.) Berlioz wrote this work in 1830. I've read that he wanted to put on a charity concert to benefit the song's original composer, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, who was then living in poverty.

The Cannon translation of "La Marseillaise" may be found here. It is, of course, superior to all previous translations. (Compare it to the one by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which sucks.)

As an adopted son of Baltimore, I probably should not confess that I have mixed feelings about "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- although I do recommend a tour of Fort McHenry, if you happen to be in town. I am told that in 1981, Philip Glass attempted to write a new anthem, and the result had two sopranos chanting RED WHITE BLUE RED WHITE BLUE RED WHITE BLUE for 45 minutes. I'm not sure if that story is true.

At any rate, here is the official (but inferior) anthem of the late USSR:

And here is Hector Berlioz demonstrating what a full-body orgasm of hypernationalism should sound like:

This performance features soprano Sylvia McNair. She's a great singer, but her French
Some background: 1943 was the year that the Soviet bosses shut down the Communist International (Comintern) and cosied up to the US bosses, announcing that the law of value operated in the USSR (which made the front page of the New York Times) and starting to help the US set up the United Nations. Bye bye Comintern in Moscow; hello UN in New York. The following year Soviet representatives were at Bretton Woods. These developments are closely related.

Before 1943 the Soviet bosses didn't have a national anthem. The song sung at state occasions was the International, which is close to the exact opposite of a national anthem.

(Already by the early 1940s the Comintern had been an organ of the Soviet rulers for a very long time. Those with an interest in the Leninist left may be interested to know that Amadeo Bordiga, the Italian nutter, suggested that the USSR should be ruled not by the local CP but by the Comintern - in which he held a leading position. His followers in Italy, although they had their own regroupment, made absolutely sure they didn't call it a party, or even something on its way to becoming a party, until after the Comintern was officially dissolved in 1943. Don't tell me that's not religious. It's textbook sedevacantism.)

The Soviet national anthem had one set of words from 1944 to 1956 and another, sung in your video, from 1977 until 1991. Between 1956 and 1977 it was played without words.

You call the piece shown in the second video the "anthem of the late USSR". I'm not sure whether you know that the music was readopted - with new words of course - in Putin's Russian Federation in 2000.

Personally I think it's a great and stirring piece of music and I prefer it to the Shostakovich. Mind you, the Horst Wessel song is also quite stirring, so please don't get me wrong :-)

BTW I am reading Simon Sebag Montefiore's two-part biography of Stalin. I didn't think it would be very good, because he's a posh boy with royal connections who could obviously get any book contract he wanted and has never had a rejection slip from a publisher in his life. But in fact both books are superb and Montefiore writes very intelligently about both Stalin and the rest of the ruling clique in the USSR. He could say more about the 'Doctors' Plot' (did the Zionists kill Stalin? but he's a Zionist) and about Beria's connections (was he a British agent? but Montefiore lives in Britain). I'm not trying to detract. The books are head and shoulders above anything else on Stalin.
The Montefiore book is even better than Yaraslovksy's "Landmarks in the Life of Stalin"? WOW!

(I once received a very old copy of that book as a gag gift. I kept it on the coffee table next to a copy of "Psychopathia Sexualis.")

My ladyfriend preferred the official anthem to the Shostakovich. You and she are both crazy. Dmitri rules.

I'm surprised that the right-wing conspiracy buffs didn't do more with the presence of Soviets at Bretton Woods. And now Putin and the coming BRICS alliance are hammering nails into the coffin of the Bretton Woods world. How's that for irony?

Your absolutely right about the Internationale. I always loved that tune. Very bouncy. Sounds good on a kazoo. (Try it.)

The guy who wrote the music died in the 1930s, and his family was scooping up royalty money until 2007. Every time someone whistled a few seconds of the thing in a movie, the lawyers sprang into action: "PAY UP."

How's THAT for irony?
By the way, I should add that the "doctor's plot" was paranoid horseshit. Until just now, I never heard the the theory that Beria was a British agent. That, too, seems like paranoid horseshit.
I wouldn't be so fast with either the 'Doctors' Plot' or the Beria allegation.

The 'Doctors' Plot' connects with the Slansky Trial in Czechoslovakia, a country through which an awful lot of weapons had just been shipped to the Zionists.

And after being one of the first leaders to 'recognise' Israel, Stalin may well have been about to reverse policy towards that regime and also order a large-scale internal deportation of Jews.

There are Zionists today who boast that their fellows killed Stalin - and not just the Chabadniks who boast that they did it using black magic at Purim.

I'd say most of the Soviet leadership from the 1920s through to the 1950s were right to be 'paranoid'.

Being a British agent was the official reason that Beria was executed.

A highly respected MI5 Soviet Studies academic I once knew said that he thought the allegation against Beria may well have been true.

Beria pushed for unifying Germany and his position was welcomed by the Brits.

He is also said to have pushed for a very large-scale economic liberalisation in the USSR.

It was the rejection by the GDR elite of the liberalisation that he tried to bring about in East Germany that sparked off the 1953 uprising. He was arrested a week later. Army leaders brought dozens of tanks into Moscow as backup.

British intelligence made contact with Beria back in 1918 in the Caucasus. Not that that proves anything, as he could have been a double (or a higher number) - there were a lot of them about - but still...

I haven't read Beria's son's book, but this review by a leading Brit Sovietologist points up how the western academic view of Beria is curiously changing, towards framing him not as Stalin's Himmler (which is in many ways accurate) but as a kind of de-Staliniser manqué.
She really does have an awful accent!

I LOVE the words used now for the Russian National Anthem -- just loaded with love for their Motherland from all these different people. Here is the most stirring version I've ever seen/heard: sung by 1000 kids from all over Russia as a finale to a choral concert that was itself just incredible.
b: Still sounds like paranoid silliness to me. But I do tend toward the idea that Beria killed Stalin. So if Mister B WAS a British agent, score 1 for MI6.

prairie: Thank you so much for that link!
That video wrongly translates Отечество as 'Мotherland' rather than 'Fatherland'.

It's interesting that the 1992-2000 song has the word Родина ('rodina', where a person is from, where they were born, their homeland, the closest Russian word to 'motherland') whereas the current one has Отечествo (otechestvo), which means 'fatherland' and tends to glorify the state.

Putin's a real man, so they tell me. Been playing hockey recently. Scored 8 goals. Imagine Yeltsin skating from one end of the pitch to the other!

Paul Robeson sang a terrible English-language version of the Stalin lyrics, glorifying Stalin.

I come from England, a country which isn't independent and hasn't got an official national anthem.

If it did have one, THE HELL WITH the thuggish 'Land of Hope and Glory' ("God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet"...

...AND ALL HAIL William Blake's 'Jerusalem'! When the score was written for this, shortly after the British Christian-monarchist conquest of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Muslims in 1917, the monarchist Tory scum dared to change Blake's "these Satanic mills" to "those Satanic mills"!

Blake's 'Jerusalem' is the only cultural item I'm aware of that's highly respected both by Tory scum and by utopian socialists such as me.

'Jerusalem' may be the only anthem in the world that talks about the past and future but not the present, which it refers to only negatively - once you've corrected the dirty Tory word fiddle, that is.

Word is still out on what Blake meant by "Satanic mills". He didn't mean industrial factories, and the idea that he was thinking principally of a flour mill near where he lived is highly contrived. My favoured interpretation is that he meant Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Meanwhile, here's the unofficial Cornish national anthem. Scary stuff - all about a 20,000 strong Cornish army invading London. Nothing about how nice Cornwall is!
The best anthem is Hatikvah, which is about what has been recognized as the greatest gift since Pandora opened her box, hope.
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