Hungary for a new anthem

An anthems controversy at the Olympics seems to have slipped below the radar.

Last week, Hungary’s gold-winning fencer, Aron Szilagyi, complained after having to listen to a ‘weird’ version of his national anthem, Himnusz, while standing on the podium.

The tune, recorded by the London Philharmonic, was higher-pitched than normal, quicker too. It was also missing the drum rolls that give the anthem a kick at the end.

Hear the difference for yourself. Here’s the Philharmonic’s recording:

And here’s how the anthem normally sounds:

The incident probably didn’t make headlines outside Hungary because most people didn’t expect the country to win any more golds (and most people were actually watching the sport). But yesterday, gymnast Krisztian Berki won the men’s pommel. Fortunately, he did get to listen to a normal version (that’s him doing so at the top of the post).

A complaint had been coming. The London Philharmonic and composer Philip Sheppard were asked to give all the anthems a ‘fresh twist’ for the Games, partly to avoid paying royalties. That meant quickening some, slowing others, changing the instruments used and adding entirely new motifs. Even God Save the Queen was toyed with:

It always seemed a bit odd to do this for the Olympics. Surely the last thing an athlete should be thinking when they’ve won gold is, “What the hell have you done to my anthem?”

Still, some do sound a lot better for the treatment. I particularly recommend looking out for The Star-Spangled Banner (which Soundcloud won’t let me upload for copyright reasons!). Less bombastic than normal, and all the better for it.

(On a related note, the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper was forced to withdraw an article on the ‘world’s worst anthems’ after offending the people of Uruguay, Algeria, North Korea and several other countries. I’m now feeling rather pleased I decided not to pitch that article to anyone)

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