The five star Villa Cortine Palace Hotel in Sirmione, Italy, no doubt had a lovely atmosphere before Davide Foroni, the resident pianist, and Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, conspired to ruin it.
According to The Sun, Foroni spotted May in the bar and struck up “God Save The Queen”. Foroni told the newspaper: “She was on her feet with her husband proudly singing along. Everyone stood.”
Foroni said he felt he had to play the British national anthem. No, Foroni, you didn’t.
There are many reasons to object to the British national anthem, but let’s start with the most important – the music.
The Italian national anthem sounds like the opening to a film – dark clouds, carousel in a fairground, revolutionaries lurking in the background. Whatever you think of American-style patriotism, “Star Spangled Banner” has some graceful arpeggio leaps. And then there’s the South African national anthem, based on the hymn “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, which has the kind of haunting phrases that you’d stop and listen to on the radio even if you didn’t know about its historical significance (it was composed by a Xhosa Methodist school teacher in 1897, adopted by the African National Congress and performed at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president).
“God Save The Queen”, on the other hand, sounds like someone moaning about their day in musical form. It’s repetitive, boring and slow.
Then there’s the lyrics. Never mind that half of Brits don’t believe in God and a third are against the monarchy, the full song includes a whole verse dedicated to Field Marshal George Wade. Apparently one of our dearest hopes is that Wade will “like a torrent rush/rebellious Scots to crush”. Fair enough, if you’re an 18th century Protestant. But is it really the most inspiring in the age of devolution? If “God Save The Queen” stays, then Scotland should at least get to make “O Flower of Scotland” official (lyrics: O flower of Scotland/when will we see our like again/that fought and died for/your wee bit hill and glen/and stood against him/Proud Edward’s army (bastards)/and sent him homeward/tae think again).
But criticising “God Save The Queen” doesn’t have to be about being anti-patriotic, or fomenting other types of nationalism. After Canada ditched “God Save The Queen”, it adopted “O Canada”, a song in both French and English, to reflect the country’s bilingual character. Simply by singing it, French and English-speaking Canadians have to learn about another part of the culture (it is not in any First Nation languages, but that’s another story).
Imagine, instead of “God Save The Queen”, four songs. “Jerusalem” (words: William Blake, music: Hubert Parry), with its utopian vision for England. “A Man’s A Man for A’ That” (words: Robert Burns, music: traditional), with its call for universal brotherhood. “Cwm Rhondda” (words: William Williams Pantycelyn, music: John Hughes), the unofficial refrain of Wales. And Northern Ireland… well maybe it’s time for some modern, unifying lyrics.
The benefits of this would be two-fold. If Theresa May had to learn four anthems, she might be a bit quicker to remember the state she represents does not sjust constitute Middle England. And secondly, if a pianist in a five star hotel was to play a tune that has been passed from generation to generation voluntarily, rather than an official ditty enforced top down, the unsuspecting guests will have a far more enjoyable evening to look forward to.