Musically, what makes a hymn a hymn

Georg Biegholdt

A long story about a song

The 2018 World Cup is just around the corner and will take place in eleven Russian cities. The national anthems of the participating teams and of course those of the host will be played here. You can take a closer look at them with the children. There is a lot to discover.

In 1938, the Soviet composer Alexander Alexandrow (1883-1946) set the "Hymn of the Bolshevik Party" by Wasili Lebedew-Kumatsch to music. The International was used as the hymn of the Soviet Union at this time. With the formation of the alliance against Hitler, Stalin interrupted the efforts to position the communist parties in the western states against the ruling system, and thus the international was no longer sustainable. In 1943, for example, he commissioned Alexander Alexandrow to compose a new Soviet hymn. This changed the original "hymn of the Bolshevik Party" only slightly. Sergei Michalkow (1913 - 2009) contributed the text. Since January 1, 1944, the pathetic piece - in which, of course, Stalin also had his place as the educator of the people - was the hymn of the Soviet Union.
After Stalin's death in 1953, the Soviet Union only slowly recovered from its reign of terror. In 1956, his successor Nikita Khrushchev settled Stalin's crimes without questioning the party's dictatorship. And so it was not until 1977 before it disappeared from the national anthem. Sergei Michalkow himself changed the text and rearranged the stanzas: Now it was Lenin who appeared by name. The anthem remained in this form until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
As the largest country in the former Soviet Union, Russia emerged from its failure, which in 1990 had chosen the "Patriotic Song", a piano work by Michail Glinka (1804-1857), as its hymn. The textless - and therefore not singable - work was not very popular. The winning text of a 1999 competition finally came too late: in 2000, the former Soviet secret service officer, who had meanwhile become the Russian president, remembered the old anthem. And for the third time, Sergei Mikhalkov looked at the text: Lenin disappeared to make room for God. Since Putin's official inauguration, where the anthem of the Russian Federation was performed for the first time, it has now been the national anthem.
In 1979 the American disco band Village People adapted the musically most pompous line - which incidentally follows the harmonies of the famous Pachelbel canon - in the song "Go West". The song contains a sub-message: During this time, many homosexuals were drawn to the more permissive California on the west coast, especially to San Francisco. When the Pet Shop Boys made the song a world hit in 1993, they changed the lyrics slightly to make this clearer. However, the video for the song actually played in the land of the red star with ironic imagery. One sequence shows a relief of Lenin: To the words “Go West” he points with an outstretched right arm - to the west.
The interesting career is hardly discussed any more: The Russians are singing their new national anthem full of fervor and the popular "Go West" has been adapted in many ways in the West, for example as the hymn of Schalke fans "Stand up if you are Schalke" or "Schalke fans" in Germany as “A dwarf” in Otto Waalkes' second 7 dwarf film “7 dwarfs - the forest is not enough”.
The Russian anthem lessons
Why do we even bother with the Russian national anthem? Because the 2018 World Cup is just around the corner. And if it is not canceled or boycotted at the last minute due to international tensions, it will take place in eleven Russian cities. And the national anthems of the participating teams will be heard and of course the ...