National anthems not only serve to identify a country. They are a symbol of identity for their citizens and usually summarise their history, their aspirations, their struggles or their spirit. They are more than just songs; they are a celebration of the national spirit, a rallying cry in times of distress and a reminder of the values that unite their people.
While each is perfect for the country it lives in, we’ve asked a more neutral arbiter, OpenAI’s GPT-4 artificial intelligence to select and rate the most beautiful anthems based on their lyrics, melody and meaning. Here is the ranking;
La Marseillaise – France
Artificial intelligence has chosen France’s national anthem, “La Marseillaise”, to top this list for its historical significance and emotive power. Composed in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, it became an anthem of the French Revolution. Its lyrics are a genuine call to arms, a stirring invocation to citizens to rise up against tyranny. According to the AI, its melody and lyrics make it one of the most recognised and powerful anthems in the world.
The Star-Spangled Banner – USA
The American anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, written by Francis Scott Key during the War against the United Kingdom in 1814, is famous for its stirring narrative. The lyrics tell of the nation’s resilience and strength. The hymn tune, derived from an English folk song, is known for its wide vocal range and stirring crescendo, making it a memorable piece of music. Whitney Houston’s version is a favourite for most.
Kimigayo – Japan
Japan’s national anthem, “Kimigayo”, offers a stark contrast to the American one with its quiet dignity and brevity. Not surprisingly, it is one of the shortest anthems in existence. The lyrics, derived from a poem of the Heian period (794-1185), are a poignant expression of longevity and continuity, comparing the emperor’s reign to the enduring nature of a small stone. Its melody is simple and introspective, which suits the lyrics fantastically well.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – South Africa
South Africa’s anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, is unique for its multilingual composition. It combines five of South Africa’s eleven most widely spoken official languages: Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. The melody, taken from a hymn composed in 1897 by South African writer and missionary Enoch Sontonga, is a beautiful and sonorous one, reflecting the country’s diverse cultural influences.
Jana Gana Mana – India
India’s national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana” (meaning ‘the spirit of the whole people’), was written by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1911 and is a tribute to the diversity and unity of the nation. The lyrics, in the Sanskrit form of the Bengali language, praise India’s geographical breadth and its pluralistic spirit. Its melody is harmonious and solemn. Among its versus can be heard: “it blends with the music of Ganges and Yamuna; and it is sung by the waves of the Indian Sea. They pray for your blessings and sing your praises”. The hymn’s encapsulation of India’s complex cultural identity and its uplifting melody earn it a place on this list.