November 23 in Russian history


The Supreme Council of RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) adopted the new music of the national anthem of Russia.

The tradition of anthems appeared in Russia in the early XVIII century, with the accession of Peter I. There was no single specific anthem, but a number of pieces were performed. One of the best known predecessor of the anthems was the march of the Preobrazhensky regiment. This music is still performed during some ceremonies, for example on the parade on the Victory Day, May 9, when the Victory banner is brought in. The author of the music is unknown. German historians thought that it was written by Ferdinand Haase, but it doesn't seem probable due to some historical reasons. The alternative name is "The march of Peter the Great". It was included in the imperial catalog of military marches (kaiserlich russische Marsch-Sammlung) which became the base for the German Königlich-Preußische Armeemarschsammlung (AMS). So, the march became known in Germany and became the official march of some German detachments (like Infanterie-Regiment Graf Schwerin Nr. 14 (3. Pommersches) in Bromberg). In Russia, it was also the march of 10th New Ingermanland infantry regiment, 147th Samara infantry regiment and Vyborg garrison infantry battalion. The Spanish king Alfonso XIII asked Nikolay II for permission to use it as the march of the Guardie de Alabarderos. Lord Mountbatten heard this march in 1928 and asked king Alfonso if he might use it for the Royal Marines, and received the permission. The commanders of the marines didn't like the idea, but Mountbatten introduced this music in 1942 as the official music for his inspections in he army. The US Marine Band also played the march when Mountbatten visited them. In 1970 sir Francis Vivian Dunn composed the Mountbatten March, borrowing the introduction from the Preobrazhensky March.

Another popular predecessor of the Russian anthems was the song "Let the thunder of victory sound" (see also the Wikipedia page Grom pobedy, razdavaysya!). However, when emperor Pavel I succeeded Catherine the Great, he introduced a new semi-official music, the song called "How Glorious is Our Lord in Zion". The author, Heraskov, like Pavel I, was a frank-mason and this song contains some references to the traditions of frank-masons. (The scores and the text is here, someone J. Jumba even managed to copyright the transliteration :)). The music is usually attributed to Dimitri Bortnyansky, but a very similar melody was recorded as a German Lutheran hymn "Ich bete an die Macht der Liebe". This song was used in together with the official anthems till 1917.

In 1815, when Russia, Britain, Austria and Prussia created the Holy Alliance, the four countries decided that they should have a single anthem, based on the British "God, Save the King!", but with four version of the lyrics in four languages. Russian lyrics, "The Prayer of Russians" were written by famous poet Vasily Zhukovsky. The anthem was used till 1833, when Nikolay I offered Alexey Lvov to write a new anthem. The lyrics for the new anthem were also written by Zhukovsky, who borrowed the first line of the Prayer of Russians: God, Save the Tsar! On November 23, the emperor approved the new anthem, and on December 11, the first public performance took place in Bolshoi theatre. On December 25, when the anniversary of the victory over Napoleon was celebrated, the anthem "Bozhe, Tsarya Hrani!" was proclaimed the official anthem of the Russian empire. It was the shortest anthem in the world — there were only six lines.

After the February revolution of 1917, the anthem was abolished. In the first months after the revolution, the so called Workers' Marseillaise was often used. It had the same melody as La Marseillaise, but different lyrics. On January 23 (Jan. 10 Old Style) the 3rd Congress of the Soviets adopted the new anthem of the new state — The Internationale (music by Pierre De Geyter, words by Arkady Kots).

On December 14, 1943, the Politbureau of the Central Committee of VKP(b) adopted a new anthem. The music was written in 1936 by Alexandrov and the lyrics were written by Lebedev-Kumach, the author of multiple super-optimistic Soviet songs. In 1943, S.Mikhalkov and G. El-Registan wrote the new text. The first public performance was on the New Year night, January 1, 1944. This anthem is also called the Stalin's anthem, because of the lines "The great Stalin raised us to be true to the people and inspired us to work and to perform feats". These same lines became the reason why since 1955 the anthem was performed without the lyrics, the music alone. In 1977, this verse was replaced by a new one, written by the same authors, Mikhalkov and El-Registan. The new verse contained no names.

At last, in 1991, when Russia was liberated from the Soviet power, the state commission chose a new anthem. It was the Patriotic Song, written in 1834 by famous composer Mikhail Glinka for his opera "Life for the Tsar". This anthem had no lyrics, even though one project was approved. On November 23 it was adopted by the Supreme Council, and on December 11 — by president Yeltsin.

When a new president came to power in 2000, he announced that a new anthem is needed. The opponents of the Patriotic song said that this song cannot be attributed to Glinka with certainty and that this was an unfinished work, which Glinka rejected. I have no idea how they managed to reconcile these two contradicting statements. Some people said that this anthem is a copy of a Polish religious hymn, that it has no Russian character. Since the new president never cared about logic and explanations, the "new" anthem was chosen, with the same Soviet music and almost the same words, slightly modified by the same S. Mikhalkov. This anthem was heavily criticized by Memorial society, Moscow Helsinki group and other anti-Soviet human rights activists. Grigory Yavlinsky from the Yabloko party said: " We protest against the adoption of the Stalinist anthem, which is stained with the blood of tens of millions of our citizens."

A radio programme broadcasted by the official Radio Russia in 2006, said that "no country, especially a great country, would use an unfinished work, whose author is not known and the artistic quality is dubious, as its anthem... The history of the state anthem of Russia will continue when the high idea of the state will finally be formed in the conscience of the Russian society. When such new state idea, uniting all citizens, will appear, a new anthem will become necessary."

I sincerely hope that this time will never come, but I still feel sick of the sound of the Soviet anthem and I think that the time to get rid of it has come a long time ago. Want to know my opinion on the best anthem? No problem. Here it is:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

If some links do not work or if you want to find more recordings of all the anthems, see here.

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