An anthem is a musical composition of celebration, usually used as a symbol for a distinct group, particularly the national anthems of countries. Originally, and in music theory and religious contexts, it also refers more particularly to short sacred choral work (still frequently seen in Sacred Harp and other types of shape note singing) and still more particularly to a specific form of Anglican church music.



Anthem is derived from the Greek ἀντίφωνα (antíphōna) via Old English antefn. Both words originally referred to antiphons, a call-and-response style of singing.[1] The adjectival form is "anthemic".


Anthems were originally a form of liturgical music. In the Church of England, the rubric appoints them to follow the third collect at morning and evening prayer. Several anthems are included in the British coronation service.[1] The words are selected from Holy Scripture or in some cases from the Liturgy and the music is generally more elaborate and varied than that of psalm or hymn tunes.[1] Being written for a trained choir rather than the congregation, the Anglican anthem is analogous to the motet of the Catholic and Lutheran Churches but represents an essentially English musical form.[2] Anthems may be described as "verse", "full", or "full with verse", depending on whether they are intended for soloists, the full choir, or both. Another way of describing an anthem is that it is a piece of music written specifically to fit a certain accompanying text, and it is often difficult to make any other text fit that same melodic arrangement. It also often changes melody and/or meter, frequently multiple times within a single song, and is sung straight through from start to finish, without repeating the melody for following verses like a normal song (although certain sections may be repeated when marked). An example of an anthem with multiple meter shifts a, fuguing, and repeated sections is "Claremont",[3] or "Vital Spark of Heav'nly Flame".[3] Another well known example is William Billing's "Easter Anthem",[4] also known as "The Lord Is Risen Indeed!" after the opening lines. This anthem is still one of the more popular songs in the Sacred harp tune book.[1]

The anthem developed as a replacement for the Catholic "votive antiphon" commonly sung as an appendix to the main office to the Blessed Virgin Mary or other saints. During the Elizabethan period, notable anthems were composed by Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Tye, and Farrant[1] but they were not mentioned in the Book of Common Prayer until 1662 when the famous rubric "In quires and places where they sing here followeth the Anthem" first appears. Early anthems tended to be simple and homophonic in texture, so that the words could be clearly heard. During the 17th century, notable anthems were composed by Orlando Gibbons, Henry Purcell, and John Blow,[1] with the verse anthem becoming the dominant musical form of the Restoration.[citation needed] In the 18th century, famed anthems were composed by Croft, Boyce, James Kent, James Nares, Benjamin Cooke, and Samuel Arnold.[1] In the 19th, Samuel Sebastian Wesley wrote anthems influenced by contemporary oratorio which stretch to several movements and last twenty minutes or longer. Later in the century, Charles Villiers Stanford used symphonic techniques to produce a more concise and unified structure. Many anthems have been composed since this time, generally by organists rather than professional composers and often in a conservative style. Major composers have usually composed anthems in response to commissions and for special occasions. Examples include Edward Elgar's 1912 "Great is the Lord" and 1914 "Give unto the Lord" (both with orchestral accompaniment), Benjamin Britten's 1943 "Rejoice in the Lamb" (a modern example of a multi-movement anthem, today heard mainly as a concert piece), and, on a much smaller scale, Ralph Vaughan Williams's 1952 "O Taste and See" written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. With the relaxation of the rule, in England at least, that anthems should be only in English, the repertoire has been greatly enhanced by the addition of many works from the Latin repertoire.


The word "anthem" is commonly used to describe any celebratory song or composition for a distinct group, as in national anthems. Many pop songs are used as sports anthems, notably including Queen's "We Are the Champions" and "We Will Rock You", and some sporting events have their own anthems, most notably including UEFA Champions League. Further, some songs are artistically styled as anthems, whether or not they are used as such, including Marilyn Manson's "Irresponsible Hate Anthem", Silverchair's "Anthem for the Year 2000", and Toto's "Child's Anthem".

National anthemEdit

A national anthem (also state anthem, national hymn, national song, etc.) is generally a patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions, and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation's government as the official national song, or by convention through use by the people. The majority of national anthems are marches or hymns in style. The countries of Latin America, Central Asia, and Europe tend towards more ornate and operatic pieces, while those in the Middle East, Oceania, Africa, and the Caribbean use a more simplistic fanfare. Some countries that are devolved into multiple constituent states have their own official musical compositions for them (such as with the United Kingdom, Russian Federation, and the former Soviet Union); their constituencies' songs are sometimes referred to as national anthems even though they are not sovereign states.

Shared anthemsEdit

Although anthems are used to distinguish states and territories, there are instances of shared anthems. "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" became a pan-African liberation anthem and was later adopted as the national anthem of five countries in Africa including Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe after independence. Zimbabwe and Namibia have since adopted new national anthems. Since 1997, the South African national anthem has been a hybrid song combining new English lyrics with extracts of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" and the former state anthem "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika".

"Hymn to Liberty" is the longest national anthem in the world by length of text.[5] In 1865, the first three stanzas and later the first two officially became the national anthem of Greece and later also that of the Republic of Cyprus.

"Forged from the Love of Liberty" was composed as the national anthem for the short-lived West Indies Federation (1958–1962) and was adopted by Trinidad and Tobago when it became independent in 1962.[6]

"Esta É a Nossa Pátria Bem Amada" is the national anthem of Guinea-Bissau and was also the national anthem of Cape Verde until 1996.

"Oben am jungen Rhein", national anthem of Liechtenstein is set to the tune of "God Save the Queen". Other anthems that have used the same melody include "Heil dir im Siegerkranz", "Kongesangen", "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", "Rufst du, mein Vaterland", "E Ola Ke Alii Ke Akua", and "The Prayer of Russians"F.

The Estonian anthem "Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm" is set to a melody composed in 1848 by Fredrik (Friedrich) Pacius which is also that of the national anthem of Finland: "Maamme" ("Vårt Land" in Swedish).[7] It is also considered to be national anthem for the Livonian people with lyrics "Min izāmō, min sindimō" ("My Fatherland, my native land").

"Hey, Slavs" is dedicated to Slavic peoples. Its first lyrics were written in 1834 under the title "Hey, Slovaks" ("Hej, Slováci") by Samuel Tomášik and it has since served as the ethnic anthem of the Pan-Slavic movement, the anthem of the Sokol physical education and political movement, the anthem of the SFR Yugoslavia and the transitional anthem of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. The song is also considered to be the second, unofficial anthem of the Slovaks. Its melody is based on Mazurek Dąbrowskiego, which has been also the anthem of Poland since 1926, but the Yugoslav variation is much slower and more accentuated.[8]

Between 1991 and 1994 "Deșteaptă-te, române!" was the national anthem of both Romania and Moldova, but in the case of the latter was replaced by the current Moldovan national anthem, "Limba noastră".

The modern national anthem of Germany, "Das Lied der Deutschen",[a] uses the same tune as the 19th and early 20th-century Austro-Hungarian royal anthem "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser".[b]

The "Hymn of the Soviet Union",[c] used until its dissolution in 1991, which was given new words and adopted by the Russian Federation in 2000 to replace an instrumental national anthem that had been introduced in 1990.[9][10]

"Bro Gozh ma Zadoù", the regional anthem of Brittany and, "Bro Goth Agan Tasow", the Cornish anthem, are sung to the same tune as that of Wales, "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau", with similar words.

For parts of statesEdit

The former Soviet Union, Spain, and the United Kingdom, among others, are held to be unions of many "nations" by various definitions. Each of the different "nations" may have their own regional anthem and these songs may or may not be officially recognized.

Fourteen of the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union had their own official song which was used at events connected to that republic, and also written and sung in that republic's own language. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic used the Soviet state's national anthem until 1990. Some republics retained the melodies of those songs after the dissolution of the Soviet regime (see the article National anthems of the Soviet Union and Union Republics).

The United Kingdom's national anthem is "God Save the Queen" but its constituent countries and Crown Dependencies also have their own regional anthems which have varying degrees of official recognition. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, each has a number of anthems which are played at occasions such as sports matches and official events.[11] The song usually used as a regional anthem for England is "God Save the Queen", though sometimes "Jerusalem", "I Vow To Thee, My Country" and "Land of Hope and Glory" may be played instead. Scotland has adopted "Flower of Scotland" as its unofficial "national" anthem, while Wales has sung "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" since 1856 when it was written by father and son Evan and James James; the translation and music were adopted by Brittany as its regional (often called "national") anthem. "Hen Wlad fy Nhadau" was sometimes accompanied by the hymn, "Guide Me, O thou Great Redeemer", especially at rugby matches. Northern Ireland has used "God Save the Queen" though "Londonderry Air" is also used.

In Germany, many of the Länder have their own anthems, some of which predate the unification of Germany in 1871. A prominent example is the Hymn of Bavaria, which also has the status of an official anthem (and thus enjoys legal protection). There are also several unofficial regional anthems, like the "Badnerlied" or the "Niedersachsenlied".

In Austria, the situation is similar to that in Germany. The anthem of Upper Austria, the "Hoamatgsang" (chant of the homeland), is notable in the way that it is the only (official) German-language anthem written – and sung – entirely in dialect.

In Spain, the situation is similar to that in Austria and Germany. Unlike the national anthem, most of the anthems of the autonomous communities have words. All are official. Three prominent examples are "Els Segadors" of Catalonia, "Eusko Abendaren Ereserkia" of the Basque Country, and "Os Pinos" of Galicia, all written and sung in the local languages.

In Yugoslavia, each of the republics (except for Bosnia and Herzegovina) had the right to have its own regional anthem, but only the Croatia actually did so initially, later joined by the Slovenia on the brink of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Before 1989, Macedonia did not officially use a regional anthem, even though one was proclaimed during the World War II by ASNOM. In 2005 and 2004 respectively, the Serbian and Montenegrin regions of Serbia and Montenegro adopted their own regional anthems. When the two regions both separately became independent countries in 2006, their regional anthems became their national ones.

In Belgium, Wallonia uses "Le Chant des Wallons" and Flanders uses "De Vlaamse Leeuw".

Czechoslovakia had a national composed of two parts, the Czech regional anthem followed by one verse of the Slovak one. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic adopted its own regional anthem as its national one, whereas Slovakia did so with slightly changed lyrics and an additional stanza.

Although the United States has "The Star-Spangled Banner" as its official national anthem, each individual state and territory also has its own regional anthem (referred to by most U.S. states as a "state song"), along with the District of Columbia, with the sole exception of New Jersey.[12]

The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, having been the independent Dominion of Newfoundland before 1949, also has its own anthem from its days as a dominion and British colony, the "Ode to Newfoundland". It was the only Canadian province with its own anthem until 2010, when Prince Edward Island adopted the 1908 song "The Island Hymn" as its provincial anthem.

In Mexico, after the national anthem was established in 1854, most of the states of the federation adopted their own regional anthems, which often emphasize heroes, virtues or particular landscapes.

All the individual states of Malaysia have their own regional anthems.

International organizationsEdit

Larger entities also sometimes have anthems, in some cases known as 'international anthems'. Lullaby is the official anthem of UNICEF composed by Steve Barakatt.[13] "The Internationale" is the organizational anthem of the socialist movement and the communist movement. Before March 1944, it was also the anthem of the Soviet Union and the Comintern. ASEAN Way is the official anthem of ASEAN. The tune of the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is the official anthem of the European Union and of the Council of Europe. Let's All Unite and Celebrate is the official anthem of the African Union[14] ("Let Us All Unite and Celebrate Together").

The Olympic Movement also has its own organizational anthem. Esperanto speakers at meetings often use the song "La Espero" as their linguistic anthem. The first South Asian Anthem by poet-diplomat Abhay K may inspire SAARC to come up with an official SAARC Anthem.[15]

"Ireland's Call" was commissioned as the sporting anthem of both the Ireland national rugby union team and the Ireland national rugby league team, which are composed of players from both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, in response to dissatisfaction among Northern Ireland unionists with the use of the Irish national anthem. "Ireland's Call" has since been used by some other all-island bodies.

An International Anthem also unifies a group of organizations sharing the same appellation such as the International Anthem of the Royal Golf Clubs composed by Steve Barakatt.

Global anthemEdit

Various artists have created "Earth Anthems" for the entire planet, typically extolling the ideas of planetary consciousness. Though UNESCO have praised the idea of a global anthem,[16] the UN has never adopted an official song.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Translates from German as "The Song of the Germans".
  2. ^ Translates from German as "God save Emperor Francis".
  3. ^ Russian: Государственный гимн СССР; transliterated as Gosudarstvenniy Gimn SSSR.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g EB (1878).
  2. ^ EB (1911).
  3. ^ a b Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Convention - Topic (11 October 2015). "Claremont" – via YouTube.
  4. ^ jsalzer262 (10 May 2015). "236 Easter Anthem Sacred Harp" – via YouTube.
  5. ^ "Greece – Hymn to Liberty". Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  6. ^ Understanding our national anthem, FIRST Magazine, 2012, archived from the original on 2013-09-28, retrieved 2013-03-05
  7. ^ "Estonia – Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm". Retrieved 21 November 2011.
  8. ^ Mazurek Dąbrowskiego & Hej Slaveni. YouTube. 2 March 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  9. ^ "National Anthem". Russia's State Symbols. RIA Novosti. 7 June 2007. Retrieved 20 December 2009.
  10. ^ Zolotov, Andrei (1 December 2000). "Russian Orthodox Church Approves as Putin Decides to Sing to a Soviet Tune". Christianity Today Magazine. Christianity Today International. Retrieved 19 December 2009.
  11. ^ Johnson, H. (2015). MEDIANZ, 15(1), 96-118..
  12. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions | NJ Facts". Retrieved 2019-06-13.
  13. ^ A musical call to action: ‘Lullaby: The UNICEF Anthem’ UNICEF Website, 19 November 2009
  14. ^ AU Symbols Archived 2005-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Indian poet-diplomat pens S.Asian anthem after Earth anthem success ANI, 27 November 2013
  16. ^ UNESCO finds Indian poet-diplomat's idea of an Earth Anthem inspiring Business Standard, 27 February 2014