Friday, March 04, 2011

Why Americans Can't Help But Keep
Playing Britain’s National Anthem
Americans are thoroughly familiar with the melody of God Save The King – though they sing the words of My Country 'Tis Of Thee to it. US citizens listening always feel their patriotic juices flow as they sing the moving stanzas of the song, also known as America. Few of them know the tune was written by an Englishman, in honour of the British monarch.

Few still Americans realize the melody was written by Dr. John Bull, son of a London goldsmith. He began as -a choir boy in Queen Elizabeth Chapel in 1572. Ten years later, he was appointed organist at Hereford Cathedral. By 1589, he had earned a doctorate of music at Cambridge University and became one of the most famous keyboard musicians and composers in England.

Bull wrote God Save The King in 1619, the same year English settlers arrived in America with an order from King James to celebrate their arrival with a day of thanks, leading the Jamestown colony to celebrate America's first Thanksgiving Day.

John Bull later moved to Belgium, where he became organist at Antwerp Cathedral. He died in 1628, and it was said the piece of music that become God Save The King was found among his papers. It would be over 100 years before his tune was published, in the 1744 English tune book “Thesaurus Musicus.”

In Sept. 1745, the leader of the band at the Drury Lane Theatre Royal arranged for a performance of God Save The King at the end of a play. It was a great success and was repeated nightly. The practice soon spread to other theatres and the custom of honouring the monarch with a finale of what evolved as Britain’s national anthem was born.

Even today, it is played and sung in the United Kingdom as a matter of tradition, though it has never been proclaimed so by any act of parliament or royal proclamation.

Brahms used parts of the tune in some of his own compositions. After hearing it in England, Haydn was moved to write Austria's national anthem. Even Beethoven liked the melody. In his journal, he referred to one of his own compositions in which he used the tune. He wrote, "I must show the English what a blessing they have in God Save The King."

As the song's popularity grew, it spread to the European continent, where it was picked up and used in a German song-book.

A Baptist clergyman from Boston, the Reverend Samuel Francis Smith, was given the book by a friend. In humming some of the tunes, he was struck by the melody of one (guess which). He thought it had a quality appropriate for a song of hope and inspiration. He sat down and put words to it and called it America (though more Americans probably know it best now as My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.)

The first time God Save The King was sung as My Country `Tis Of Thee was on July 4th, 1832, in Boston at the American Independence Day service at Park Street Baptist Church.

The song America made the Reverend Smith famous in his lifetime, but he seems sadly forgotten now. It is doubtful that he knew the tune was the National anthem off the British Empire. Most Americans still don't. Some remain convinced that the British stole it from them, but in all truth, it is the other way around. Regardless of its origin, the stirring melody continues to echo the two nations’ origins and shared values.

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