National plagiarism 2: plagiat national!

In a piece for the BBC this week, I wrote about the insane number of national anthems that seem to be plagiarised.

But I stupidly forgot to mention the biggest example of them all: la Marseillaise. The omission was all the more bizarre since I write about it in my book, so sorry about that!

Where did la Marseillaise’s music come from? Below is a piece by the Italian violinist, Giovan Battista Viotti written in 1781 – 11 years before Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle wrote France’s anthem. You only have to listen to it for a moment to hear the resemblance.

Some people claim it wasn’t written by Viotti either, but by Jean-Baptiste Grisons in 1787. That I don’t understand since it’s six years later, but here’s his Oratorio d’Esther anyway.

Yes, it’s the same again.

Did Rouget steal one of these tunes? Here’s a quote from Frédéric Frank-David, former director of the Memorial de la Marseillaise, and the man who should know:

“There is a certain amount of probability that Rouget had been inspired by Viotti’s tune, be it consciously or unconsciously…”

So there you go!

But the problem I have with calling Rouget a plagiarist is it takes away from his achievement. Even if he stole it, “just choosing that melody – knowing that it was the one to inspire – there’s art in that too” (to narcissistically quote my own book!). There’s more art in that than most songs you can name, in fact.

Plus, the rest of Rouget de Lisle’s life was such a disaster, I think he should be given this one thing. Read my book for more on that. It’s a story that’s frankly unbelievable at times, but I promise I haven’t plagiarised it from any novel.

My book’s outttttttttt!!!!!!!!!!!


Earlier today, I went to a couple of my favourite shops – Daunts in Marylebone and the London Review Bookshop near the British Museum – to see if they were stocking my book since it came out today. And amazingly they were. And -insanely! – in the LRB they got me to sign a copy and a man bought it instantly (above is evidence!).

It was one of the most joyful experiences I’ve had in years and made all the work worth it. To the man who bought it, and to anyone else who does, thank you. I really hope you enjoy it.

National plagiarism

If you’re visiting here due to today’s BBC piece on plagiarised anthems, then first, buy my book! But with that out of the way, here is the music you’ve come for.

This is Bosnia’s anthem followed by the music from Animal House:

Yes, they do sound remarkably similar.

Is it coincidence? I clearly think so and not just for the reason of wanting to avoid a lawsuit. But could someone have heard that in a film and remembered it 20 years on? Here’s Animal House’s opening scene where the ‘anthem’ is prominent, although so is another melody someone could equally have taken for an anthem. I’ll leave you to decide what actually happened here.

As the BBC piece makes clear, lots of anthems have similar problems. This is Uruguay’s followed by Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia.

Uruguay’s is also similar to one of Beethoven’s sonatas, and the other day I heard a similarity in one of Mozart’s piano concertos, so make of that what you will.

For all the other comparisons, please trawl through my book’s audio guide although I’ll happily put more up here if there’s a clamour. Yes, some anthems I did leave out (hello everyone in South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe!), but I had to save something for people to discover in the book.

Anyway, to finish, this is South Korea’s anthem played in the style of Auld Lang Syne just because it’s fun.

Update: The Daily Telegraph has also published a fun piece of mine today on the world’s strangest anthems. It features Nepal’s and Kazakhstan’s, which have chapters in the book. The stories surrounding those songs – one’s linked to a Maoist revolution, the other exemplifies the madness of a dictatorship – should really be more widely known. Enjoy!

An important public service announcement for the people of Michigan

You can now – legally – swear in front of children, laugh at someone who turns down a duel, and dance to the Star-Spangled Banner.

I suggest you do all three this Sunday.

Here’s about the only music you could do the latter to. Enjoy!

Today and Tonight!

This morning I appeared on the BBC’s Today programme to talk about my book. If you don’t know what a big deal Today is, this is the sort of text that arrives from family members when you appear on it:


It’s normally home to prime ministers being made to squirm so getting on it is pretty amazing.

I have no idea if the segment is any good as I was in the shower when it was broadcast, but you can listen again here.

And if you’d prefer to see me talk about national anthems, I’ll be on the BBC’s Meet the Author programme tonight – 7:45pm on the News Channel – which will be available here online soon afterwards.

Update: Having listened to it, a big thanks to the BBC’s Nick Higham for having me on, liking the book and making it sound really interesting. I hope it makes thousands of people want to buy it!

The importance of transnational anthems

Breanne Sinclaire sings the Star-Soangled Banner

A couple of months ago, a young opera singer, Breanna Sinclairé, became the first transgender person to sing the Star-Spangled Banner before a US sports event (yes, Caitlyn Jenner surprisingly didn’t get there first!).

It was a nice story and Breanna (pictured) gave some great interviews at the time about what the experience meant to her, but I ignored it as it just seemed to be a baseball club, the Oakland A’s, giving a spot to someone with a brilliant voice.

But then this week the below film emerged in India of transgender women, known as hijras, singing the country’s anthem Jana Gana Mana.

It’s an appalling recording – for some reason everyone sounds like they’re singing in an oil drum – but it’s inspiring to watch them make such a public statement. It’s also interesting that they chose their anthem to sing – it being the easiest way to say we are part of this country and you can’t ignore us or undermine us. It says it all about what anthems still represent in much of the world, although it also says how desperate the people are if they’re having to make videos like it.

I expect more clips like it will appear soon because of the simplicity of its message. Although please, anyone considering making one, get the sound right!

Me writing about a Paraguayan newspaper writing about me writing about Paraguay!

Paraguayan newspaper writing about me

Since my book’s out soon, the Guardian asked me to write their ‘A great little place I know…‘ column this week about somewhere memorable from my travels researching anthems.

I did think about using it to plug the great Coffeedelia in Almaty, one of the few places in Kazakhstan that didn’t make me ill. But instead went for the amazing Museo del Barro in Asuncion, which you all should visit as soon as you can.

The best part of getting to write about it, though, was learning that the article has made it to Paraguay, as it turns out there are now Paraguayans writing about me writing about them. So if you’d like to learn exactly why you should go to the Museo del Barro, I suggest you don’t head to the Guardian, but instead visit La Nacion newspaper and use Google Translate!

Meanwhile, to all the Paraguayans suddenly visiting this site, ¡Gracias por su visita! Su país es bonito y su himno es fascinante! Y compre mi libro! ; )