Last week, we all heard about the national anthem snafu that happened at a shooting tournament in Kuwait. If you missed the news, the organizers of the tournament mistakenly played the fake Kazakhstani national anthem created by Sacha Baron Cohen for his Kazakhstani character, Borat. The organizers said they choose the fake anthem mistakenly when searching for the real one online. The Kazakhstani team seemed to take the incident in stride—they even held their hands over their hearts as the fake anthem played—but demanded an apology and a new awards ceremony afterwards.
Certainly, this instance proves the importance of national music. While countries’ national anthems are the most obvious and well-known examples of music, national music is by no means restricted to this category.
More broadly defined, national music is a country’s music created indigenously by and for the people. National music can be discovered or created. A composer can decide to compose national music, and find already existing or create his own themes which correspond to music of his country. A type of music can become national music either if the composer intends to be or if it is appropriated to be played for a highly politically charged or nationally significant event. Other non-nationally created music, including so-called “folk music” of the masses can be republished or redistributed as national music of the land. Because the general population doesn’t know the origins of this music, it can be considered historically-based and ancient and therefore the music of their “people.”
In an age when music popular in one country is usually popular in many, many others, it’s relevant to ask whether a country’s national music is preferable to non-native music. Some musical scholars answer this question by saying that the music that is closest in character to the nation where it is from is the most preferable. Composer and musicologist Anton Dvorak once said that the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was his best because it is the most German and Weber’s best opera was Der Freishcuts because it addressed the most German of situations. Dvorak seems to believe that music that taps into a trueness of an aspect of a national identity that whether or not the composer is of that nationality, makes for the best and realest kind of music.
What did you think of the Kazakhstani debacle and the concept of national music? Do you think national music is still relevant in today’s world?