Thursday, January 17, 2008

National Anthem

AOG, Madrid

A national anthem. A song which is somehow meant to represent the best that a country has to give but which often uses lyrics which are odd, warrior-like, poetic, or plain strange.

There is not a country on Earth which does not have one. However, there is one whose national anthem has no official lyrics. At least not at present. Spain.

Spain’s martial national anthem is based on a military march of the XVII century. It is known as the Royal March, and until the beginning of the XX century, had no lyrics (it is worth noting that the XIX century was disastrous for Spain, and this during a time when most of Europe defined nationalities had their heyday defining the modern states we have today).

It was up to King Alfonso XIII to change this state of affairs. He commissioned the poet Eduardo Marquina to come up with some lyrics. These, although not necessarily very popular, were the official words until Spain became a Republic, and the Himno de Riego became Spain’s national anthem.

At the end of Spain’s Civil War, General Franco reinstated the old National Anthem and commissioned José María Pemán (1897-1981) to come up with some lyrics. For better or worse, most Spaniards knew his version of the national anthem. However, with the advent of democracy, these were derogated and Spain’s anthem is an unsung affair.

And so it was until a couple of months ago when Spain’s Olympic Committee asked that some lyrics were written down so that Spain’s athletes could have something to sing at matches, and not just stand there silently humming or lah-lah-lahing the anthem away.

Legend goes that after witnessing a rousing rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone at Anfield in 2007, the President of the Spanish Olympic Committee, Alejandro Blanco, said he felt inspired to seek lyrics to La Marcha Real ahead of Madrid's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

So a commission was set up and a national contest (sort of) went on to come up with lyrics. The result was meant to be introduced to all in a star-studded gala headed by Spain’s famous tenor, Placido Domingo.

Guess what happened….

The press got hold of the wining lyrics- written by unemployed Mr. Paulino Cubero (above), 52,- and everyone found them to be disappointing.

They were either not very poetic, too nationalistic and reminiscent of Franco's version. Or just had no literary value. They were supposed to be presented in Parliament and a vote was to be had on whether or not they were the new lyrics.

In short, a project intended to unite the country, backfired. Or rather, it worked, but not as you thought it would. It did unite the whole country in declaring the lyrics to be not only banal, but atrocious.

The foreign press have had a field day with this. The Guardian, The New York Times, even FT have noticed this new episode in Spain’s difficulty to be at ease with itself.

Finally, the Olympic Committee withdrew its request and said it would bring it up at a later, less acrid, time.

Strangely enough, no one has said a word about the tune itself.

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