The EU anthem: a song without words

I have a weak spot for anthems, a sentiment only partly springing from aesthetic appreciation.

Mainly I value them for the insights they provide to the nation’s heart – an anthem is truly a nation’s ECG.

That’s why it was with a mixture of enthusiasm and regret that I viewed this video:

The clip shows soldiers of the skeleton European army, known in some quarters as the Eurokorps, goose-stepping and then saluting the EU flag as it’s being raised in front of the European parliament in Strasbourg.

The stamping sound of boots on tarmac is harmonised with the EU anthem, otherwise known as the choral finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Though in my harsher moods I’ve been known to describe this particular movement as musical demagoguery, at least it was written by a composer eminently capable of better things.

Beethoven was also German, which provides one of those insights I cherish. Therefore his Ode to Joy, as the movement is popularly called, was a good choice at the time.

Though it may not be my favourite piece of music, it’s still miles (or rather kilometres, to stay in the European idiom) better than, say, the Horst-Wessel-Lied that otherwise could also have laid a claim to being the appropriate EU anthem.

Alas, that song had the kind of lyrics that some may still find offensive, such as ‘millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope’ (Es schau’n aufs Hakenkreuz voll Hoffnung schon Millionen in the original).

In deference to those who won’t let bygones be bygones, Horst Wessel would have to be sung with no words at all, or else have them slightly modified to reflect the post-war face of Europe.

Then again, The Ode to Joy has no lyrics either, at least none custom-composed to fit the march of European progress. By itself this isn’t an insurmountable problem: some national anthems have happily survived without words for a while.

For example, the Soviet anthem adopted in 1944 contained words like ‘We were raised by Stalin’ (nas vyrastil Stalin in the original) that a dozen years later became unfashionable. Until new lyrics were composed, the rousing tune went unsullied by verbal impurities, and Muscovites indeed referred to it as a ‘song without words’.

Upon the advent of perestroika, the tune too was discarded until mercifully reinstated by Putin, this time with words referring to Russia’s imperial rather than communist aspect. In a way, the Stalin-specific stanzas used to merge the two, so, for the sake of truth in advertising if nothing else, one hopes they’ll come back soon.

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, which did such good service in Germany until 1945, also had to stay wordless thereafter, for as long as it took to give the lyrics a more multicultural, less ethnocentric sheen.

Such illustrious examples notwithstanding, I still regret the absence of real lyrics in the EU national anthem. You may object that Europe isn’t yet a single nation, which is why it doesn’t quite rate its own song.

Fair enough, but let’s not get stuck on technicalities. The EU already has its own flag and, as you can see, its own army. Thus denying it its own anthem is downright churlish, and this is the last thing we want to be.

In anticipation of the time when such annoying technical glitches have been ironed out, I’ve taken it upon myself to compose the official anthem of the single European state. My task, as I see it, is to reflect the true nature of the embryonic nation, but without sacrificing continuity with its glorious history.

Regrettably, while I have some modest ability to string rhymed words together, my talent at musical composition is nonexistent. Therefore I too have to borrow an existing tune, which is after all what the authors of the current German and Russian anthems have done.

False modesty aside, I have demonstrable work experience. For I’ve used a similar fusion of new lyrics and an old melody in the anthem I’ve proposed for the emerging Palestinian state: “Yasser that’s my baby, Nasser don’t mean maybe, Yasser that’s my baby now!”

Though the anthem hasn’t yet been adopted, I still regard my first foray into the genre as a solid base on which to build.

In that spirit, and given the tasks I’ve set myself, I’ve started work on the real EU song, provisionally entitled Schön Europa über alles, über alles in der Welt.

Appropriately both the words and the music have to be German. In this instance the latter was composed by Joseph Haydn who was actually Austrian, but that’s near enough.

I think that the middle movement of his ‘Kaiser’ Quartet, Op. 76 No. 3, is better music than the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth, or at least better for the occasion.

It has a certain contemplative quality that, as the music’s previous service as a national anthem proves, can easily segue into a crescendo leading to a paroxysm of patriotic spirit.

Another tune I’ve considered comes from the French anthem La Marseillaise written in 1792. The tune has three obvious advantages: 1) it was written when a new French state was also in its embryonic stage, 2) it’s suitably revolutionary and blood-thirsty, 3) by one of those serendipities that are easy to interpret as divine benevolence, it was composed in Strasbourg.

However, these are cancelled out by the two obvious disadvantages: the tune was written when France was fighting Germany rather than acting as her sidekick and, most important, it’s not German.

So Haydn it is, and I’m pressing on with my work on the lyrics. Unfortunately, since my German isn’t quite up to the task, I’ll have to write in English. Can anyone recommend a German translator, one who can do justice to the main thrust of my effort?






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