Liechtenstein and the UK: one song to the tune of another

It’s the prince of Liechtenstein on his national day!

National day 2013 in Liechtenstein. Prince Hans-Adam II, Prince Alois and their wives get ready to party!

Prince Hans-Adam II (left), Prince Alois (right, with moustche) and their wives ready to party!

And this is the stately song that celebrates him and his one-valley kingdom.

As you worked out from about two seconds of listening to that, it has the same tune as God Save the Queen, the world’s most important anthem – the one to blame for the fact we have these bloody songs in the first place as this chapter explains (p164-172).

However, it would probably have never become Britain’s anthem if it wasn’t for the man below, Thomas Arne, who in 1745 decided it was the right song to play at his theatre in the hope of galvanising people to defend England from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Charlie’s Scottish invasion (p 164).

Thomas Arne - a man one Victorian biographer described as 'undeniably ugly'. Which might have been true, but he made up for it in his music.

Thomas Arne – a man one Victorian biographer described as ‘undeniably ugly’

Well, that’s sort of what happened. Read my book for an explanation that’s a bit more nuanced and longer than two sentences!

From Arne’s performance, the song spread first across the Three Kingdoms (of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland) and then overseas, which is why you can find versions sung in German, Russian and many other languages (even Hawaiian).

Despite all of those takes on it, the weirdest version I’ve actually heard is in English. Growing up, I’d got so used to hearing people sing God Save the Queen that the first time I heard a recording when people sang ‘king’ instead was a shock.

It is, though, undeniably an awful tune. In fact, the only version I’ve ever enjoyed is Beethoven’s Seven Variations for piano, as played by Alfred Brendel. Beethoven was a fan of the anthem, once writing, “I must show the English a little what a blessing they have in their [anthem]”. He did that by including it in the fun if silly Wellington’s Victory (which also features Arne’s Rule Britannia). But really the piece that shows his love for it is the variations.

God Save the King isn’t the only melody that countries have borrowed for their anthems. Estonia and Finland share a German drinking tune, for instance. While there’s some very pernicious rip-offs of la Marseillaise around (pp 161-162).

But perhaps the strangest stories of tune stealing concern Auld Lang Syne, the melody of which both South Korea and the Maldives used to have as their anthems. South Korea apparently had it due to the influence of Scottish missionaries; the Maldives due to a novelty clock. Both dropped it after realising the original was sung on New Year’s Eve by drunks Scots.

Here’s a fantastic rock version of the South Korean original, which would be perfect for Hogmanay. I have no idea who’s singing, so if you do know please say and help me avoid a copyright infringement case!

Go to chapter 7

6 thoughts on “Liechtenstein and the UK: one song to the tune of another

    • Hadn’t heard that Ian, thanks. Maybe they’re all stolen! The stories around national anthems were involved, detailed and fascinating enough that I decided not to jump into city and regional anthems too… Hopefully understandable if you read the book!

  1. How on earth is it that you have failed to make one single mention of “My Country Tis of Thee”!
    Which of course is sung at every american sing along on the 4th july, and is sometimes referred to as ‘Americas other national anthem’

    • Hi Steve – I had quite a tight brief for the piece, and I had to draw a line somewhere…
      But you’re right, My Country Tis of Thee does have the same tune as God Save the Queen. But it’s not an anthem, and because it had the same tune it was never considered. Yankee Doodle – somewhat insanely – came closer to becoming the US anthem than that.
      While travelling around the States researching a chapter on the US, far more people actually suggested songs like America the Beautiful as alternative anthems. Even the awful God Bless America. My Country… surprisingly didn’t get a look in despite how often it’s sung.
      Anyway, read the book! It has a whole chapter on the US anthem – its story and meaning today – and it’s interesting and (hopefully) entertaining!

  2. “God Save the Queen/King” has shown great persistence considering that there have been credible rivals in “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Jerusalem”. Though perhaps the latter is more English than British. I am Australian, and “God Save the Queen” was actually our official anthem until the 1980s (I think), but I can never remember it being played on non-royal official occasions even then.

    • Thanks for reading, Ed. Wait until Charles becomes King. I think we might well have a change then…! I briefly touch on the referendum you had over replacing God Save the Queen in the book. I’m not sure you got something better as a result!

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