In my quest to identify the World’s Best National Anthem, we breezed through six also-rans and three honorable mentions en route to last Friday’s reveal of my Modern Europe students’ choice for the 6th best anthem: Japan’s “Kimigayo.”
Again, the initial rankings were based on a semi-serious but mostly objective calculation weighing three factors: how long the song has endured as official anthem; how singable the anthem is; and how many soccer World Cups (men’s and women’s) and Olympic gold medals (as a share of those contested during the years the anthem has been in effect). Plus a few intangibles here or there.
Having reached the final six nominees, I then turned things over to the sixteen students in my Modern Europe and had them listen to all six (and read their lyrics and histories), rank them from 1st through 6th best, and then explain their top and bottom rankings.
Once again, Japan was #6. Which takes us to #5, and…
Brazil, “The Brazilian National Anthem“
Longevity: music since 1831, lyrics since 1922
Singability: ranges from C4-D5 (C4 = middle C)
Inspiration: 0.8% of Olympic golds won; 5 men’s World Cups won (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Student Ranking (number ranking it 1st/2nd/3rd/etc.): 2/1/1/2/3/6
Rated #4 by Goal.com, whose soccer-covering writers have certainly had plenty of chances to hear the Brazilian anthem before significant matches, including seven men’s World Cup finals (two losses in addition to the best-ever five victories) and one women’s World Cup final (a 2007 loss to Germany). And even if Pelé, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Marta, and the other Brazilian greats did not actually derive much inspiration from their anthem, it ranked well in my preliminary system (its blah title notwithstanding) thanks to its longevity and ideal range. Indeed, it has the same vocal range as Japan’s “Kimigayo,” though it’s a significantly different kind of melody (lively, even busy). And like Japan’s, the long use of the anthem may be both a positive (continuity, tradition) and negative (it’s been associated with multiple regimes, some of them not the type that modern-day Brazilians would really want to remember: e.g., it was first adopted by an empire that was one of the last political systems in the world to abolish slavery, in 1888, and retained by the republic that emerged two years later).
My two students who voted it the best of the six anthems they heard had this to say:
• The lyrics are very centered toward how wonderful Brazil is and celebrates their country. The music is very inspiring and prideful. It bring out all of the best things about Brazil and why her people love her.
• …unique… does not generically praise liberty like some of the other national anthems. This is an especially good anthem, because it focuses on their people being able to rise up and embrace their country as their own. It does not solely focus on historical events that initiated its independence, but includes a focus on looking towards the future, which shows how Brazil hopes to continue its national unity.
Indeed, the lyrics are somewhat unique in emphasizing natural beauty, almost like they were written by an early ecotourism agency: “The placid banks of Ipiranga heard / the resounding cry of a heroic people”; “…thy lovely, smiling and clear skies”; “Giant by thine own nature, / thou art beautiful, thou art strong, an intrepid colossus….”
But overall, my students though little of the anthem, with six deeming it the weakest of the six choices and three more voting it only 5th best. A sampling of their criticism:
• The Brazilian national anthem is ranked at 6 because its lyrics and its musical score [are] ultimately boring. There is nothing unique about it. I want to be standing on my feet, proud to hear the beat of the drum and crash of the symbol [I think they meant “cymbal”] in pride for my country. The Brazilian theme did not have that affect [sic] on me.
• For Brazil’s anthem the background and music are just weak. The lyrics were changed multiple times, making me think Brazil can’t make up their minds. And the music just sounds like something played by a marching band that I would want to avoid listening to. It’s too much like any John Philip Sousa piece. The song in my mind just doesn’t speak for the country, it has no definition.
• First, its complicated and ornate composition make it seem difficult to sing to and follow along. Its lyrics do not address the Brazilian people, or any kind of themes or ideals, but rather seems to focus on the Brazilian land itself. In addition, the ties the creation of this song has with the no longer existent monarchy in Brazil make it seem less patriotic and nationalistic and more just there for tradition.
I tend to sympathize most with the criticism that the composition is overly “complicated and ornate” (another student complained that it was simply “too fast” and didn’t “flow well”), an example of how having an ideal range of notes does not necessarily make a song singable. The Wikipedia description of the anthem likens its music to the work of Rossini and other Italian Romantics. Which seems appropriate, but as my opera-loving father has often told me, Rossini is best known for writing operas that are rarely performed because they’re so challenging for even trained singers to perform. (Google “Rossini difficult” and you’ll get over a million hits.)
Frankly, it’s remarkable that Brazilian footballers have performed as brilliantly as they have; it looks like singing their anthem before a match would be utterly exhausting.
Tomorrow: we’re in Europe for the 4th best anthem.