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Tuesday, November 25, 2008
National priorities

A few days ago, I awoke and, as is my habit, turned on Radio 4 expecting to hear the usual perceptive and adroit analyses of World events. My ears – how appropriately – were assailed with an expression of birthday greetings to HRH (I'm pretty sure it wasn't 'HMS') Prince of Wales. This was followed by a mellifluous rendering of our dirge-like National Anthem. Americans would, of course, recognise the tune as 'My country 'tis of thee'.

Despite the terrible goings on in the World, the Beeb still has a deep understanding of the relative importance of things. I mean, who wants to hear about the state of the economy or problems in The Congo when we can be reminded of the birthday of the loveable Prince Charles? Who, under the circumstances, (apart from the clinically sane P. Hitchens) can claim that the Beeb displays socialist tendencies or republican sympathies when they can lead with such important news?

But, whoever it's played for, The Airstrip One piece is not of the first water. Nevertheless, it is superb musically compared to many other national tunes. When, occasionally, I watch a Formula One race, I hope against any victory involving anything (Ferrari), or anyone (Trulli, Fisichella), Italian. This is nothing to do with patriotism on my part; it is to do with my musical soul. The Italian anthem is a dreadful piece. To help you understand my point, listen to this melody sung by a talented choir, on a joyous sporting occasion, here.

The music of the Italian National Anthem was composed in 1847 by Michele Novaro, to words by the young poet, Goffredo Mameli. This song, known as L'Inno di Mameli has been the national anthem of the Republic of Italy only since 1948. How on earth can the country of Verdi, Vivaldi, and Rossini live with something so awful? They could easily use the Grand March from Aida, for example. They might have to write new words, but that'd be a small price to pay…

I'd be the first to admit that I haven't chosen an ideal rendering, so compare it with a similarly dire performance of the German National Hymn – composed by Josef Haydn - and the difference in class is immediately apparent, despite the out-of-tune singing.

The ideal (musical) F1 result would be with a German driver in a German car - that way we'd get the German National Anthem once and alone. It isn't clear who'll be driving for whom next year. There used to be some musical consolation when Michael Schumacher won so regularly. But even that couldn't make up for having to listen to Novaro's & Mamelli's ghastly pomp (for Ferrari).

Finally, to give you an opportunity properly to appreciate Haydn's artistry, here's a string quartet version. It's a long way from 'Glorious things of thee are spoken', isn't it? Doesn't it help to have music written by a real composer, though?

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