Proven Scientific Fact: National Anthems Kill Brain Cells.

Proof is attached:

Christina Aguilera, yesterday:

Sarah Connor, in 2005, still an evergreen:

Why do singers who otherwise never have much trouble with remembering lyrics tend to have problems with the national anthem of all things? Only suspicions can be uttered here really — it must be the specific piece of music, somehow. I guess the notion that it is the one song best known, and special to most of the the listeners adds to the stagefright at least, as there are huge expectations to be met. So let’s leave out the messed-up lyrics for now.

But there is yet another thing:  Sarah Connor is absolutely capable of speaking German. Other than the obtrusive Americanisms in musical style which I pardon — national anthem singers seem all to have attended the same course — her pronunciation of German in that version I cannot approve of.  In German, the end-syllables “Glanze”, “das deutsche” …. etc, are pronounced with an “e” similar to the vowel in the British “cat,” not like that in “kevlar,” e.g.. She fakes a half-American accent! I wonder how that fits into a German national anthem, especially if the singer is just adding it because she feels it is somehow great.

In the following I will just add a bit of background to clarify why those two renditions specifically annoy me, because it runs deeper than mere style or picking on pronunciation.

The melody of the German national anthem is by Joseph Haydn, written in 1797, back then with different lyrics, praising Kaiser Franz of Austria.  It became quite popular, existed with different lyrics,  until it finally became the anthem.

National anthems have a troubled past in Germany. At some time  even the now British national anthem was the German one for a while. (With the lyrics “Heil Dir im Siegerkranz”/ “Hail to Thee in Victor’s Crown.”)

So, Haydn’s original sounds like this:

It is written about 60 years later than Rule Britannia; to perform it in a what I suppose is to depict a Soul version takes some skill. Skill Connor lacks, apparently, as she only succeeds in making it sound commonplace, and like a bad parody of a Soul singer.

To add something about under which circumstances, and by which persons the lines they are based upon were written:

The poem the American national anthem is based upon was written by Francis Scott Key (born in 1779). He was a lawyer and an amateur poet; at the time he created the poem, in 1814,  he happened to be on board a British warship — where he stayed to get a pardon for a friend of his — where he witnessed the attack on Fort McHenry.

When the smoke cleared, Key was able to see an American flag still waving and reported this to the prisoners below deck. On the way back to Baltimore, he was inspired to write a poem describing his experience, “The Defence of Fort McHenry”, which he published in the Patriot on September 20, 1814. [quote: wikipedia]

So, as I see it, the poem is a promise that — even when all is in ruins — freedom, brought about by the brave Americans will persevere.

Concerning the German national anthem: The author of the poem, Hoffmann von Fallersleben, born in 1798, was not a noble man, though his name suggests it. He was a merchant’s son. With the help of his father he managed to avoid military service.

He wrote the poem in 1841 on the island of Helgoland, then in British possession, and was exiled shortly after;  In 1842 his real trouble started when a book of his was published, “Unpolitische Lieder”/”Unpolitical songs” — which, of course, weren’t unpolitical at all. He was only able to return to Prussia after the revolution of 1848. In the meantime he had been stripped of his professorate as well as his Prussian citizenship.

His concept of national pride was something deemed scandalous at the time by the authorities, as he didn’t glorify a ruler, but the people.  In the poem he put down his idealized dream and wished for the best for the Germany he loved.

Even the now forbidden verse of the German national anthem depicts just that. As it was perverted during the Third Reich as many other things, it is prohibited to even sing it; not only because it mentions the old boundaries of Germany that no one in their sane mind wishes back, from Maas (now Belgium) to Memel (ex-East Prussia, now Lithuania), from Etsch (Adige, now Italy) until the Belt (now Denmark) . But also the phrase “Deutschland über alles”/”Germany above all things” was turned sour. What Fallersleben intended was just expressing his romantic patriotism. Analogy: To tell a woman you love her above all things isn’t congruent with announcing you want to kill all other women on the planet or otherwise subdue them.  In fact, in comparison to many others, the German national anthem is very very peaceful. Nowadays,  only the third verse of the “Deutschlandlied” is the German national anthem.

So, as far as I can see, neither of those anthems, neither music nor lyrics, is belligerent — so neither of them calls for shouting to battle like a warmonger or for overacted embellishments.  Both are wishing for the best for their country, and the people. Unity, justice, and freedom the German, focussing on giving hope in dire times and wishing for freedom the American one. I like both anthems, and I cannot even remotely fathom what on earth got into Aguilera or Connor to perform them like that. It hurts my brain, which is still fully functioning. (Maybe because I never sang our national anthem before a greater audience.)

Funny thing, isn’t it, that both anthems were written by rather peaceful persons; a lawyer and a professor? Not by soldiers,  and not by politicians.

Another thing the two songs which are now national anthems have in common: Fallersleben’s later omitted second verse praises German wine and women, so the “Deutschlandlied” could be considered a drinking song; the melody of the American one was also a drinking song before it got ennobled with the lyrics of  “Star Spangled  Banner”. The song was called To Anacreon in Heaven. (Just in case you want to learn some additional lyrics to surprise and annoy people 😉

Star Spangled Banner
Francis Scott Key

O say, can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d
At the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d,
Were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets’ red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
That our flag was still there.

O say, does that star-spangled
banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free
And the home of the brave?

August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben
Brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Sind des Glückes Unterpfand;
|: Blüh’ im Glanze dieses Glückes,
Blühe, deutsches Vaterland! 😐

Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland!
For these let us all strive
Brotherly with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the pledge of fortune;
|: Bloom in this fortune’s blessing,
Bloom, German fatherland! 😐

[pictures from Wikipedia]



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