A national anthem (also national hymn, song) is a generally 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 public. The majority of national anthems are either marches or hymns.
But does being able to sing the national anthem prove your right to represent a country? Does every Poland-born Polish person or British-born member of Team GB know the words of their anthems? You just have to cast your mind back to the cringeworthy performance of popstar Christina Aguilera singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the 2011 Super Bowl to see that where you’re born doesn’t necessarily mean that’s always the case.
[Anthems sometimes move from country to country.] Hadyn's most famous melody, 'Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser' (1797), was composed as the Austrian national anthem. Known in English as the hymn 'Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken', Haydn used the sublime theme in his 'Emperor' Quartet. It was later appropriated by the Nazis and is the present German national anthem.
Kazakhstan’s Parliament passed a bill mandating that anyone who “desecrates” the country’s national anthem face up to a year in prison. The law was inspired by two highly embarrassing incidents. At a ski festival at Kostanay in northern Kazakhstan in March, Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ the Crazy Life” was played by accident, instead of the anthem... Some two weeks later, an Kazakh athlete had to stand on a podium at a sports ceremony in Kuwait while listening to the fake Kazakh anthem from the film “Borat”.
In many parts of the world, national anthems are still seen as a key part of national identity. But in many countries in the West, where some anthems date to the 18th and 19th centuries, their lyrics have become anachronisms. Take the “Marseillaise.” Its thunderous chorus calls for the soldiers of France to water the fields with the invaders’ “impure blood.” How can modern France’s large immigrant population identify with that?
National anthems vary greatly in musical merit, and the verse or text, like the music, has not in every case been written by a national of the country concerned. Changes in politics or international relationships often cause the texts to be altered or a new anthem to be adopted. For example, the U.S.S.R. adopted “Gimn Sovetskogo Soyuza” (“Hymn of the Soviet Union”) as its national anthem in 1944, replacing the communist hymn “L’Internationale,” whose words and music were written in the late 19th century by two French workers.
While the British hymn 'God Save the King/Queen' (first printed in the middle of the 18th century) is often described as the earliest national anthem, it should be, rather, called the first "state anthem." It was preceded by many earlier national hymns, including the Polish 'Bogurodzica/The Mother of God' which originated as far back as the 13th century. This ancient chant, one of the earliest written documents of the Polish language, has a firm place in Polish cultural history.
The oldest national anthem is Great Britain’s “God Save the Queen,” which was described as a national anthem in 1825, although it had been popular as a patriotic song and used on occasions of royal ceremonial since the mid-18th century. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, most European countries followed Britain’s example, some national anthems being written especially for the purpose, others being adapted from existing tunes.
Nations of the Middle East adopted fanfares in the mid-20th century, often with no texts. Commonwealth countries have their own anthems (for example, 'Advance Australia Fair', chosen after a competition) but use 'God Save the Queen' for visits by the British royal family.
Many countries adopted national anthems either at a time of crisis or in the 19th century, when there was a growing spirit of nationalism (especially in central Europe and South America). Some, for example the French 'Marseillaise', are calls to arms or marches. Others are hymns of praise to monarchs or leaders, or pay tribute to a national hero or the beauty of a country's landscapes.
Interestingly, there is no international law that requires a country to adopt an anthem (or a flag), yet currently every country has realized that this is something that is needed as part of a national identity... In modern times, the only country to not have adopted a national anthem at a particular time was Afghanistan; during the reign of the Taliban (a strict Islamic group) from 1999-2002, music was forbidden in the country, therefore a national anthem would have been against this law.