A national anthem sums up a country’s history, culture, and tradition. Despite being only a few minutes long (usually), national anthems have achieved a lot more than any other type of music you can think of. Most national anthems speak of fighting for independence, while others sing praises for their leaders. A few of them also depict longing to return to their homeland.
People have sung national anthems during wars and protests, military marches, during school ceremonies, during government events, sports events, festivals, and so on. National anthems serve as a resounding reminder about the struggles their forefathers went through to build a nation that they could finally call theirs.
In this article, we pick ten of the most beautiful national anthems from around the world:
It’s not a surprise that the land of Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov has one of the best (if not the best) national anthems in the world. When you’re talking about national anthems of sheer power, drama, and emotion, look no further than Russia’s! Just listen to that crescendo, close your eyes, and pretend you’re standing at the Olympic podium after winning a gold medal.
The French song of revolution, Le Marseillaise, is usually a crowd favorite. As a classic tune, it has been adapted in other musical works (most notably, The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”, which uses Le Marseillaise‘s opening bars). It has the same militaristic and patriotic themes in other national anthems, only carried in a distinctly French flair.
The Polish national anthem, Mazurek Dąbrowskiego, has a cheerful and vigorous march in the style of mazurka, a lively Polish folk dance in triple time. It was written to boost the morale of the Polish soldiers who served under General Jan Henryk Mazurek Dąbrowski’s Polish Legions to help Napoleon conquer Italy at the end of the 18th century. Thanks to its uplifting music and lyrics, this anthem proved to be an instant hit far beyond the military front lines.
4) United States
Sometimes, Americans forget (or take for granted) how good their national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is. It was adapted from the anthem of a singing club and words by lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key in 1814. It was adopted as the United States’ national anthem by an act of Congress in 1931. Beyond its official use, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is most popularly played at the start of every major sporting event, which led to several diverse (and some controversial) renditions of it.
The national anthem of the People’s Republic of China, “March of the Volunteers,” has been played frequently at the Olympics. However, not a lot of people are aware of its rather unusual past. The song was originally written for the 1935 film Children of Troubled Times, which depicted the invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese troops. But the song became popular and was eventually adopted as the country’s national anthem. Hong Kong and Macau also adopted it upon their transfer to China in 1997 and 1999, respectively.
It’s not a question that the land of the great opera composers Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini would come up with a rousing, boisterous national anthem that’s also worthy for the stage. Written in 1847, Il Canto Digli Italiani became popular during the unification of Italy. In 1931, it was adopted as the national anthem of Italy.
Composers from many countries believe that national anthems must sound lively, vigorous, and boisterous if they are to stir patriotism. But Israel’s composers prove them wrong.
The world’s only Jewish state’s national anthem, Hatikva (“The Hope”), eschews the traditional route of jovial national anthems in the usual marching style to make it patriotic. Instead, it is slow, forlorn, even funereal. But it is also hopeful, as it should be – and it really triggers one’s emotions! It was written in the 19th century, long before the existence of the State of Israel, so that makes sense. It is filled with longing for a Jewish homeland, both in lyrics and music. When you play this at the stadium, expect the athletes at the podium to tear up – and isn’t this what the TV audience wants?
The national anthem of Brazil is named “Hino Nacional Brasileiro”, and is a testament to the cultural diversity and rich history of this country. It was penned by Joaquim Osório Duque-Estrada, with Francisco Manuel da Silva composing the music. The anthem was made official in 1922, with the stirring lyrics talking about the natural beauty of Brazil as well as its people’s national pride and struggle for independence. Overall, the melody is like a symbol of unity for Brazilians.
Brazilians are generally enthusiastic people. They are so full of life, and that mood and energy are also reflected in their national anthem. It sounds like a miniature opera, and every time it’s been played at a big soccer game or any other sporting event, the entire crowd sings along, and that’s an exhilarating sight to see. The joy, passion and, enthusiasm that the Brazilians display as they proudly sing their national anthem are quite contagious that it spreads the entire stadium!
Uruguay’s national anthem, “Himno Nacional de Uruguay,” has the dubious distinction of being the longest national anthem in the world with 105 bars of music (around four and a half minutes). However, an abridged version is often performed on several public occasions, such as sports events. It was written in 1833 by Uruguayan poet and writer Francisco Acuña de Figueroa, who also wrote the Paraguayan national anthem (which happens to round out this list!).
But we don’t mind the length – it sounds like Rossini could have written it!
Also popularly known as “Republic or Death!” (¡República o Muerte!), the Paraguayan national anthem was written in 1846 by the same person who wrote Uruguay’s national anthem, Francisco Acuña de Figueroa. From its popular moniker alone, you’ll know that Paraguayans are dead serious (pardon the pun) about their national anthem, and it only gives you a fair idea about what the song is all about.
Paraguay’s national anthem is known for its long (about 40 seconds) wordless introduction in its original form. However, it is often omitted for brevity when it is sung for any big event, such as a major soccer game.
11) New Zealand
The national anthem of New Zealand, known as “God Defend New Zealand,” is deeply ingrained in the country’s cultural and national identity. It was officially adopted in 1977 and is known for its unique bilingual nature, featuring lyrics in both English and Māori. The anthem we know today actually started off as a poem back in the 1870s. It was written in English by a talented poet named Thomas Bracken. Later on, Thomas H. Smith created the Māori version of the anthem. The melody, which was composed by John Joseph Woods, brings a solemn and patriotic tune to the lyrics. The anthem stands out for its dual version, which beautifully represents the cultural diversity of New Zealand and honors the rich heritage of the Māori people.
The Japanese national song, “Kimigayo” (君が代), is unique because it is short but has a lot of historical information in it. The current melody was written in the late 1800s during the Meiji Restoration. The words, which are based on a Waka poem from the Heian period (794–1185), are some of the oldest for a national anthem. “Kimigayo,” which means “His Majesty’s Reign,” shows that people have a lot of love for the Emperor and want to keep the imperial line going. Its lyrics wish the emperor a long and successful rule, which represents the country’s rich history and ongoing culture. “Kimigayo” is an important part of Japanese national identity, even though it has caused some debate about its historical meanings, especially when it comes to Japan’s royal past.
The national anthem of Germany, known as “Deutschlandlied” or the Song of Germany, has a fascinating history and a melody that holds significant meaning within German culture. The lyrics were penned by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben back in 1841. Initially, there were three stanzas, but as of now, only the third stanza is considered the official national anthem. Germany has made a conscious decision to distance itself from the historical associations that are linked to the first two stanzas.
This move is primarily driven by the misuse of these stanzas during the Nazi era, which has caused controversy. The third stanza of the German national anthem starts off with the powerful words “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit” which translates to “Unity and Justice and Freedom.” This stanza highlights the significance of these values, which are fundamental to the contemporary German nation.
In 1797, the talented composer Joseph Haydn created a beautiful melody for the anthem “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser” (God Save Emperor Francis), which was dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. Interestingly, this melody was later chosen to be a part of the “Deutschlandlied.” The current form of the anthem represents more than just a song. It has become a powerful symbol of German unity and democratic values that emerged after World War II.
“O Canada,” the national anthem of Canada, serves as a powerful symbol that unites and inspires Canadians, representing their shared identity and rich heritage. “O Canada” was first created in 1880 by Calixa Lavallée, with French lyrics written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. It was originally performed during the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebration. The English version, which features lyrics written by Robert Stanley Weir, started being used in the early 20th century.
Over time, it has gone through a few changes, with the most recent modification in 2018 to ensure the anthem is inclusive of all genders. The lyrics of this song beautifully capture the breathtaking and varied scenery of Canada, from its majestic mountains to its vast seas. They also convey a profound sense of pride and loyalty to the country. The recognition of the anthem as Canada’s official national anthem didn’t happen until 1980. This was an important step in Canada’s journey towards establishing a unique national identity.
The anthem’s bilingual nature beautifully showcases Canada’s dedication to embracing both English and French as its official languages. This choice resonates deeply with the country’s multicultural ethos, symbolizing its commitment to inclusivity and diversity. “O Canada” is a song that holds great significance in Canada. It is commonly played during government ceremonies, sporting events, and various public gatherings.
We’ve discussed some of the most beautiful national anthems in the world so far, but there are many more worth experiencing. The national anthem of a country represent its history, historical narrative, culture, and people. They’re a major part of the opening ceremonies at sporting events and various other special occasions. If you’re planning to travel to a different country soon, do look up its national anthem while researching the culture.
Whether a national anthem is elegant and soft or vigorous and heat, it’s part of a universal language that goes beyond borders. Which ones is your favorite?