Saturday, 13 September 2008

A new national anthem?

I have always loathed God Save the Queen, partly because I feel no loyalty to either God or the monarchy, but also because it is such a dreary, depressing dirge.

Now Peter Tatchell has launched an appeal for a new national anthem on the grounds that the existing one is "all about slavish deference and idolatry -- the veneration of aristocratic privilege, inherited status and monarchical rule. It promotes jingoism, war, imperial conquest and the British people's subservience to god and royalty."

He is right, of course, but what to put in its place? Blake's Jerusalem has a splendid uplifting tune by Hubert Parry, and can be read as a call for a better society, which is no doubt why it was the Labour Party's theme song in the 1945 Attlee landslide election. But the words are pretty weird and mystical ("And was the holy Lamb of God On England’s pleasant pastures seen?") and, according to Wikipedia, nobody can really decide what Blake meant by them.

Then there is I Vow to Thee, My Country, which has the advantage of not referring to any specific country by name, which at least gets over the England/Britain problem. Gustav Holst's tune is kind of OK, though it doesn't come to a lump-in-the-throat climax at the end, which I feel a national anthem ought to do. The words (by Cecil Spring-Rice) are more or less all right if you leave out the jingoistic middle verse, as people usually do. But they don't seem to be saying anything much of value.

Far and away the best from a purely musical point of view, surely, is Land of Hope and Glory. You could not hope for a better or more inspiring tune than Edward Elgar's masterpiece. A.C. Benson's lyrics are a bit unsuitable, especially the imperialistic line about "wider still and wider". Why not adapt the words for modern use, replacing the God-and-Empire stuff with something that better fits a secular and multicultural society?

While almost anything would be better than God Save the Queen, I am not at all sure I want somebody to write a new song altogether. It would almost certainly be dreadful. They'd probably get talent-free "celebrities" like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to write some nasty, banal, tuneless horror. Let us stick with Elgar!


Dave Cole said...

The best suggestion I've heard for a new national anthem is Billy Connolly's - the theme tune to the Archers. Don't change the words either. Keep them as 'dum de dum de dum de dum...'.


thomas said...

Is this your obligatory Last Night of the Proms piece?

peezedtee said...

That was pure coincidence. I was actually responding to Peter Tatchell's piece of several days earlier.