Prologue

Mendi Mengjiqi, composer of Kosovo's national anthem

This is Mendi Mengjiqi, the focus of the prologue and the man I first sought out when I realised I wanted to write about anthems. No, he doesn’t look like I describe him on page ‘x’; we’d only just started drinking!

And this is his song, the national anthem of Kosovo, slightly cheesy, but stirring despite its wordlessness.

We met back in autumn 2010 – yes, this book has taken me a long time; you try saving to travel to so many countries! – but I recently had an email exchange with him and he says little’s changed since. Some people love his song; most ignore it.

The only good news is that the ethnic divides in the country have died down over the past five years. “Lately people are worried more for survival,” he said.

The story of anthems doesn’t of course begin with Mendi’s, but with Het Wilhelmus (The William), the anthem of the Netherlands.

It was written around 1570 as a tribute to William the Silent who was leading the country’s uprising against the King of Spain, which kind of explains why, 45 seconds in, it climaxes with the words, “The King of Spain, I’ve always honoured” (“Den Coninck van Hispaengien / Heb ick altijt gheeert”). Yes, it is the only national anthem begging another country for mercy. Singing that made a lot of sense in the sixteenth century; less so now!

Het Wilhelmus was an enormous success, but the anthem that really caused the spread of these songs is God Save the King. I should probably post it here, but I talk about it so much in chapter 6 you’re going to have to wait until then.

Go to chapter 1

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