The Olympic Games will open in Tokyo this weekend. Most likely an audience will not be there. No Japanese and certainly not guests from other countries. Those who will be present at the venue are athletes from various countries around the world. At least the flag parade is expected. Another regular event that will appear on our screens during the forthcoming weeks is the medal ceremony that seals each competition. On three steps stand the winners of the third, second and first places; The flags of the winning countries are raised to the top of the mast with the national anthem of the winning athlete played in the background. Currently the countries that have won the largest number of medals are, in descending order, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, China, Russia, Norway and Canada. The list of countries is according to one of the updates in Google, it is possible that when combining countries like Russia with its Soviet Union predecessors, the CIS and certain countries around the Baltic sea will yield even larger figures. The same is true for Germany: until the unification of Germany in 1990, the Germans appeared as representatives of two countries: East Germany and West Germany.
In the following lines we will deal to various anthems and their ties to classical music. The German anthem has a fascinating history. Its story begins with Joseph Haydn’s visit to England in the last decade of the eighteenth century. Haydn visited England twice, staying there for extended periods and composing his last symphonies there. There he heard the British anthem “God Save the King” and was moved. When he returned to Vienna, he decided to compose a similar song in honor of the Austrian monarch, Emperor Franz II and the song became the anthem of the Austrian Empire. Later, after the split of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire and the transformation of the various German states into one state – a process that began in the days of Napoleon – the song became “the song of the Germans”. The song received official recognition far beyond the borders of Germany, at the ceremony of transferring power in Zanzibar from the Germans to the English.
From then on Haydn’s song and melody remained as the German national anthem. But at the same time the use of the two original stanzas was banned. There were various reasons for the ban, depending on the period. The first line of the first stanza was “Germany above all”, a message which was probably appreciated by the German national movements, including the Nazi party and is echoed in the second stanza, speaking of a huge state which includes territories that belong to many other countries east and west of Germany. The only surviving stanza, after all the wars and discussions, is the third one, opening with the words, “Unity, Justice and Liberty”. The melody remains the well-known one composed by Haydn.
One might mention that at the end of World War II, Germany was divided into two states: East Germany or in its official name the German Democratic Republic and West Germany. East Germany had its own anthem that began with the words “Rising from the Ruins…”. The melody was composed by Hans Eisler, son of a Jewish father, one of Arnold Schoenberg’s students, who came to the United States. Despite his successes and the great appreciation that Eisler received from fellow artists such as Charlie Chaplin, Stravinsky, Copeland and Bernstein, the US administration instigated by Senator Joseph McCarthy set a tone of persecution for anyone whose activities were suspected of being leftist, and thus expelled Eisler from the US. He found a place of refuge in East Germany in 1951 and there composed the anthem of East Germany.
During the period in which East and West Germany needed separate anthems, specifically for the medal ceremonies in the Olympic games, East Germany had the Eisler anthem and West Germany adapted the last movement from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. When Germany was reunited in 1990, the Haydn anthem was returned to its original place and became once more the anthem of unified Germany. The part sung in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony called “Ode to Joy” meanwhile became the official anthem of the European Community, albeit played only and not sung.
This story also concerns the state of Austria, the Central European Republic whose dimensions have been greatly reduced after its Empire days, when it ruled considerable parts of Europe. To this day, Austria does not recognize its Nazi past and is unwilling to pay compensation to its Jewish victims and their descendants. What is the Austrian anthem? The country where Haydn composed the original anthem, turned to the most famous composer born within its borders, namely Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, adopting a melody from one of the last songs he composed. Seventy-five years ago, new words were adapted to this melody. The first lines are “Land of the mountains, Land of streams, Land of fields, Land of Churches …”. Ending this survey with Mozart would have been pleasant enough, yet some proclaim one Johann Holzer to be the composer of the Austrian hymn. The only known detail about him is that he may have been the composer. At the end of the present musical journey we are left with a question mark, since we are as yet in the dark regarding the medal winners of the present Olympic Games, starting this weekend.
Author: Yossi Schifmann