A national anthem is a generally patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation's government as the official national song, or by convention through use by the people.
Anthems rose to prominence in Europe during the nineteenth century; the oldest national anthem is "Het Wilhelmus", the Dutch national anthem, written between 1568 and 1572 during the Dutch Revolt. The Japanese anthem, "Kimi ga Yo", has its lyrics taken from a Kamakura period poem, yet it was not set to music until 1880. "God Save the Queen", the national anthem of the United Kingdom and one of the two national anthems of New Zealand (as well as being the royal anthem of several Commonwealth realms), was first performed in 1745 under the title "God Save the King". Spain's national anthem, the "Marcha Real" (The Royal March), dates from 1770. The oldest of Denmark's two national anthems, "Kong Kristian stod ved højen mast" was adopted in 1780 and "La Marseillaise", the French anthem, was written in 1792 and adopted in 1795.
During the rise of the nation-state in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a national anthem was often adopted as nationhood status was proclaimed. Colonialism influenced the choice of anthems outside the European continent, thus several anthems of non-European nations are in the European style. Only a handful of non-European countries have anthems rooted in indigenous traditions, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Japan, Nepal, Costa Rica, Iran, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.
An anthem can become a country's national anthem by a provision in the country's constitution, by a law enacted by its legislature or simply by tradition. The majority of national anthems are either marches or hymns in style. The countries of Latin America tend towards more operatic pieces, while a handful of countries use a simple fanfare.
Although national anthems are usually in the most common language of the country, whether de facto or official, there are notable exceptions. India's anthem, Jana Gana Mana, is a highly Sanskritized version of Bengali. On the other hand Pakistan's anthem is in Urdu [a language that is a combination of Persian, Arabic, Hindi and some English words]. This is due to Pakistan tradition that it represents the culmination of Muslim states and empires in the region; the language of many of them was Persian. States with more than one national language may offer several versions of their anthem: For instance, Switzerland's anthem has different lyrics for each of the country's four official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh). Canada's national anthem has different lyrics for each of the country's official languages (English and French), and on some occasions is sung with a mixture of stanzas taken from its French and English versions. The Sri Lankan national anthem was written in Sinhala, but a Tamil translation is also played on some occasions. On the other hand, South Africa's national anthem is unique in that five of the country's eleven official languages are used in the same anthem (the first stanza is divided between two languages, with each of the remaining three stanzas in a different language). Apart from God Save the Queen, the New Zealand national anthem in now traditionally sung with the first verse in Māori (Aotearoa) and the second in English (God Defend New Zealand). The tune is the same but the words are not a direct translation of each other. Another multilingual country, Spain, has no words in its anthem, La Marcha Real, although in 2007 a national competition to write words was launched.
At the commencement of international sporting events, or occasionally (such as in the United States, here pictured) at domestic events, spectators customarily stand for the duration of the national anthem.
National anthems are used in a wide array of contexts. They are played on national holidays and festivals, and have also come to be closely connected with sporting events. During sporting competitions, such as the Olympic Games, the national anthem of the gold medal winner is played at each medal ceremony. National anthems are also played before games in many sports leagues, since being adopted in baseball during World War II. When teams from two different nations play each other, the anthems of both nations are played, the host nation's anthem being played last. The use of a national anthem outside of its country, however, is dependent on the international recognition of that country. For instance, the Republic of China is not recognized by the Olympics as a separate nation and must compete as Chinese Taipei; its National Banner Song is used instead of its national anthem.
In some countries, the national anthem is played to students each day at the start of school as an exercise in patriotism. In other countries the anthem may be played in a theatre before a play or in a cinema before a movie. Many radio and television stations have adopted this and play the national anthem when they sign on in the morning and again when they sign off at night.
Nations in the cultural sense or subnational units may also have royal anthems, presidential anthems, state anthems, or anthems for officially recognized constitutive parts of federal or confederal states. These are sometimes described as "regional anthems", as in the case of the regions of Belgium.
For parts of states
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom, amongst others, are notionally held to be unions of many "nationalities" by various definitions. Each of the different nations may have their own "national anthem" and these songs may be officially recognized.
14 of the 15 Soviet Socialist Republics had their own official song which was used at events connected to that republic. The Russian SFSR used the USSR's national anthem. Some republics retained the melodies of those songs after the dissolution of the USSR (see the article National anthems of the Soviet Union and Union Republics).
The United Kingdom's national anthem is "God Save the Queen" but its constituent countries also have their own songs which have varying degrees of official recognition. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have a number of songs which may be played at occasions such as sports matches. The song usually played for England is "God Save the Queen", though sometimes Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory may be played instead. Northern Ireland too has traditionally used "God Save the Queen" though Londonderry Air is considered to be more neutral to the significant number in Northern Ireland who are opposed to being part of the UK.
Larger entities also sometimes have 'national' anthems, in some cases known as 'international anthems'. The Internationale is the anthem of the socialist movement, the world communist movement, the Comintern and for a time by the Soviet Union. The tune of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is the European anthem; the United Nations and the African Union also have unofficial anthems. The Olympic Movement also has its own anthem. Esperanto Speakers at meetings often use the song La Espero as its anthem.
A few anthems have been composed by Nobel prize winners. India and Bangladesh adopted two songs written by the Indian Nobel prize winner and noted poet/author Rabindranath Tagore as their national anthems, Jana Gana Mana and Amar Shonar Bangla, respectively. Nobel prize winner Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote the lyrics for the Norwegian national anthem Ja, vi elsker dette landet.
Some national anthems have no official lyrics at all, including those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, and San Marino.