Anthem – Concept, history, characteristics and national anthem

We explain what a hymn is, the history of this type of composition and its characteristics. Also, what is a national anthem.

A hymn can celebrate a person, a deity, or a memorable event.

What is a hymn?

Hymns are poetic (lyrical) or musical compositions that are intended to praise, extol or celebrate to a divinity, a hero, a saint or a memorable event, such as a military, social or political victory. They should not be confused with odes, dedicated to any person or event of subjective or personal importance to the author or composer.

Hymns were very common in ancient times. The oldest texts of this nature date from the III millennium BC. C., and are the Sumerian royal hymns, which recounted the military exploits of the kings of Ur during the Sumerian Renaissance.

Their importance in Mesopotamian society was such that they were considered official State texts, written in the Sumerian language spoken by intellectuals and elites, and sung at parties and celebrations. There were similar texts in the Egyptian, Vedic and Judaic cultures.

The word “hymn”, however, comes from the early Greek hymns (hymnos), of key importance to Western culture, known as “Homeric hymns.” It is about thirty epic poems dedicated to the birth of the Gods, and which at the time were attributed to Homer (hence his name). Today we know that the oldest of them dates from the 7th century BC. C., perhaps one of the first texts of the vast Greco-Roman tradition.

This Greek hymn idea It was recovered by the Latin Christian poets of the European Middle Ages, and endowed with a liturgical value. It is assumed that St. Ambrose of Milan was the first to incorporate them in 397.

In addition, an infinity of religious hymns are attributed to him that would be formally accepted in the Christian office thanks to Saint Benedict of Nursia and the monastic movement promoted by him. Similarly, popes such as Innocent III, Clement VII, and Saint Gregory were great hymn composers, as was the doctor of the Church Saint Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274).

Characteristics of hymns

In general, hymns are characterized by the following:

  • They can be lyrical poems or musical works, or intermediate forms that combine poetry and music.
  • Usually its content is one of jubilation, enthusiasm and praise, and this is reflected in their verses and / or in their melody.
  • They are dedicated to the exaltation of what is considered sublime: the gods, the homeland, the great heroes, the great victories or the great human projects. In that they differ from odes, which are intended for whatever the subjectivity of the poet considers worthy of praise.

National anthem

The national anthems are types of hymns that are meant to celebrate and exalt the founding of the homeland, that is, of a specific nation-state. This type of musical compositions arose after the awakening of nationalism between the 18th and 19th centuries, and proliferated between the XIX and XX with the worldwide spread of independent nations, each of which required its own national symbols.

In many cases, national anthems come from popular patriotic songs or military marches, although it is also frequent that they are compositions requested by the State from musicians and artists, in order to strengthen national sentiment. Perhaps the best known of the western hymns is the French one, “La marseille” (La Marseillaise), written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792.

National anthems are often interpreted as opening in solemn moments, as political events or official sports competitions, and broadcast in the media or reproduced in schools, depending on the country. Generally the first stanza of the hymn is interpreted, or some other that is significant of the whole, since the total hymn would be very long.