Alex Marshall, the author of a new book on the history of national anthems, says that several of the world’s national anthems are not original.
Dusan Sestic composed a national anthem for Bosnia in 1998. Ten years later, he won a second competition for words to the anthem. He’s still owed 15,000 euros (£11,000) for that effort. Then in 2009, as if that wasn’t enough, someone made a discovery. It turned out that Dusan’s anthem was remarkably similar to opening music of the 1978 film ‘Animal House’.
Dusan’s is not the only plagiarised anthem. Uruguay’s anthem by Francisco Jose Debali written in 1846 is exactly the same as a fragment of Donizetti’s opera, Lucrezia Borgia. Israel’s Hatikvah (The Hope) is attributed to a traditional Romanian tune, but some say it is stolen from a piece first heard in 17th Century Italy. Argentina’s anthem has also similarities to a piece by Clementi. South Africa’s graceful Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, is often said to a copy of Aberystwyth. Maldives’ anthem is based on the chime of a novelty clock.
The first recorded anthem was Britain’s God Save the King. It was a traditional song revived in 1745. Soon its melody was in use in Denmark, most of the German states, Russia too and even for the Kingdom of Hawaii. Eventually, most of those countries decided it was important to have a melody of their own. But, Liechtenstein shares Britain’s tune and so do Estonia and Finland retain their anthem under Soviet rule.
Many nations, meanwhile, use folk tunes for their anthems.