Saturday, 3 August 2013

Why does Spain's National Anthem have no words?

Spain's National Anthem
SPAIN By definition, an anthem needs words, but Spain's is the only one in the world that doesn't. All too often, the wrong anthem is played at official functions abroad because the subject is confusing. For example, at the Davis Cup matches in Australia earlier this year, they played the Republican anthem - which was banished by Franco in 1937. More recently, the Vice-President of the Junta de Andalucía, Diego Valderas, was received in Palestine by an anthem with lyrics by José María Pemán, which was used -but never officially approved- during the Franco era (Valderas belongs to the Communist Party, a part of Izquierda Unida, or United Left, historically very much opposed to Franco in his time). It was the same music we hear today, but included the regime-approved words. This music is>>>officially the Royal Grenadiers' March as composed in 1761 by Manuel de Espinosa de los Monteros for King Charles III.

The Grenadiers (Granaderos) were an elite force of especially chosen soldiers. They were tall and strong, used in battle as an assault unit. They  were armed with grenades (hence the name) to be flung at enemy defences, opening the ground for infantrymen and fusiliers using bayonets.

Carlos III's Granderos went into battle under the music written for them, as directed by Royal Orders, and used it for all their ceremonial occasions. This went on for two centuries until the present King Juan Carlos I established his own Orders, in which military music and its uses are established.

Decree Number 226, of February 27, 1937, issued by the Head of State (Franco) declares that the Royal March, as the Grenadiers' March was known by then, will henceforth be used as the National Anthem of Spain, an order later confirmed in 1942, when Franco's Nationalist troops had won the Civil War decidedly in 1939. It has been so ever since - but still has no official words to it.

The archives of Spanish history are full of references to the National Anthem, and particularly during the reigns of Carlos III and Isabel II. When the latter was sent into exile with the triumph of the First Republic in 1868, however, the anthem was removed at the same time, replaced by that called Himno de Riego - the one that greeted the Spanish tennis team in Australia and used in successive republican revolutions over the years.

The monarchy was restored in 1870 in the person of Amadeo I, though the country was run by General Prim, who set up a national competition to choose a new National Anthem.

The jury didn't like a single anthem of the 447 that took part in the competition, leading General Prim to restore the old Grenadiers March - even without any words to it.

In more modern days, and once the Nationalists had won the Civil War in 1939 against the Republic - which had used the Riego hymn - and the Grenadiers March restored, several Spanish poets tried to give the music some stirring words.

The Decree from the Head of State, dated February 27, 1937, while establishing the Granaderos tune as the National Anthem, also created Cara al Sol and Oriamendi as National Songs, both of which can still be heard at far Right rallies in Spain.

There are four compositions remaining in the archives, two of which are more paeans to the Spanish flag than anything else. One of them, by José María Pemán, contains evident Falangist overtones that do not work well with modern democracy. Nevertheless, it was used during the Franco regime at the end of theatre and musical performances, as well as in cinema theatres. It was also heard during military parades (of which there were many) and at political rallies (which only members of one end of the political spectrum could attend.)

Too short for words
The fact is that the music lasts a mere one and a half minutes, which makes putting words to it very difficult. Originally, of course, it was a bugle call to arms, later adapted to less soloist endeavours.

Athletes on podiums and people unsteady on their feet may well be grateful for its brevity, but for song writers it is a nightmare.

Most of the European national anthems can be sung in chorus, either praising a monarch: God Save the Queen, in the UK, Heil dir im siegerkranz, in the days of the German Kaiser, the Tsarist anthem in Russia, or the old monarchy of Romania, in Austria ... or of a more revolutionary bent such as France's Marsellaise or Belgium's Brabançonne. The Portuguese National Anthem, although quite short, does contain shouts of praise to the People of the Sea! or to the valiant people of Portugal!, and so on. Unless you are familiar with the words, the anthem seems like a lot of shouting.

The present National Anthem of Spain is established through Royal Decree 1560, of October 10, 1997, which describes the tunes in full, and also allows for two versions, the short and the long, and when each should be used.

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