Saturday, 28 December 2013

psalm qualms

The Swiss Society for the Public Good is sponsoring a contest with an honourarium to replace the old national anthem with a new work more reflective of the modern, independent confederation and Swiss character. Traditionalists are understandably upset since the reform is perceived as change for change's sake and the old anthem (German: Hymne) is a beautifully composed piece but more fitting for a psalm, as it was originally meant to be, and not something stirring or uniting like Rule Britannia or La Marseillaise, which no one would think of changing one jot or tittle even though lyrics nowadays are a little over the top.

Far from some tuneless drone or directionless march that other countries employ, the psalm was written in the mid 19th century and adopted to replace words set to the tune of God Save the Queen, popular all across Europe and erstwhile at the time. Proponents of change, on the other hand, vehemently claim that no one really knows the words to the song and described as a cross between a sermon and a weather forecast, only codified as an anthem officially in 1981, no one has a real cultural investment in the piece. The contest's sponsors will not pick a winner unilaterally, however, but bring the matter to a national referendum in the summer.