The Olympics are in full swing, and viewers around the world watch in awe as the best athletes on the planet display physical feats that we can only dream of doing ourselves. But there’s one portion of the Olympics that intrigues us music fanatics the most: the national anthems that blare through the loudspeakers of the arenas as the winners receive their medals, and the flags of the countries they represent are hoisted in celebration. This tradition of playing the winners’ national anthem is nearly 100 years old, dating back to the 1924 Olympic games. The tradition moves the Olympics from a place where we not only have an opportunity to see what people across the globe are capable of, physically, but it’s also a chance to hear each other’s songs. Of course, we all like to hear our own country’s national anthem, but sometimes hearing a song we’ve never heard before (that an entire country considers an anthem) is something special. We asked Berklee Online instructors to put aside any national pride for their country’s participation in the Olympics and muse on what their favorite national anthems are, from a strictly musical standpoint. Here are the gold medalists!
Program Director, Film Scoring Master’s Degree
Course Author, Film Scoring Skills 1: Collaboration and Communication
This is a question that takes me back, since my very first music job (during the summer between high school and college) was creating MIDI versions of all the national anthems for the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia—at the time distributed on that cutting edge technology, CD-ROM. I remember two things from the dozens of hours I spent on this: first, that a huge number of anthems were versions of either “God Save the King” or “La Marseillaise”—obviously byproducts of colonialism—and that my favorite anthem was the one for Tajikistan, “Surudi Millí,” since it had so much character and distinctiveness when compared to the rest. I don’t know if Tajikistan will win many medals in Tokyo, but its anthem gets the gold in my book!
Course Author, Interactive Scoring for Games
Since I’m crazy about films, I would recognize national anthems more from a film rather than their national origin, whether it be the French Anthem in Casablanca or the former Soviet Anthem in The Hunt for Red October. This was also reinforced by movie maestro John Williams with his “Olympic Fanfare” written for the 1984 LA Olympics. I had the privilege of working with the NBC North American broadcast of the Olympics both in 1996 in Atlanta, and in 2008 in Beijing. As part of the music team, we had to locate recordings which we could use during the broadcast for all the participating nations. My favorite anthem belongs to the Japanese: “Kimi Ga Yo,” which feels very peaceful, and heartfelt to me.
Course Author, Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring, Music Composition for Film 1 and 2, Orchestration 1 and 2
I pick Switzerland. Great chocolate, great cheese, great national anthem. Really though, “Schweizerpsalm,” the Swiss national anthem is beautiful. It has wonderful shifts in harmony that add interest and shape to the music. The deceptive cadence that elongates the last phrase is brilliant!
Course Author, World Music Composition Styles
I would have to pick the Brazilian national anthem for using blue notes in the melody and the fact that I really love Brazilian music. The Olympics are an amazing event that truly unites and connects us as a world of diverse people, cultures, and music. I had an opportunity to write some production music for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, and the musical criteria was something like … Sports/Orchestral and World influences. I ended up writing a fusion of heroic elements with Cinematic Orchestral and Brazilian Samba rhythms. The Brazilian national anthem, “Hino Nacional Brasileiro,” is reflective of the dissonance often found in Choro and Samba de Enredo (Carnival Samba). The dissonance in their anthem can easily be heard as a “blue note” that resolves step wise to a chord tone, it’s acting as the (♭5/♯11) and (♭9) as it appears in the melody and harmony … very indicative of the altered and dissonant extensions found in Brazilian harmonies and also in jazz.
Course Author, Orchestrating the Film Score with Live Sessions
While not an official national anthem, I thought that the Korean folk song “Arirang,” that was played during the opening ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018 as the unified North/South Korean team walked in, was absolutely lovely and moving. According to what I’ve read, the song resonates deeply with all the Korean people, and is considered by many to be a sort of national anthem. Having it play the athletes into the stadium was a wonderfully meaningful way of invoking the spirit of unity that represents the Olympic ideal.
Course Author, Film Scoring 101
There are a few that stand out in my opinion. Setting aside Mozart and Haydn for Germany’s and Austria’s, I have to say it is a toss-up between Russia and Italy. They both represent their countries so well musically. Russia’s dark minor harmonies and Italy’s brave Rossini-style operatic sound. Both have a different take on the Olympic “battle,” but I would probably favor Italy’s (“Il Canto degli Italiani”) because of its energy and showiness.