Well today, July 1st, is Canada Day, until 1982 known as “Dominion Day” and celebrates the Confederation of the various parts into one country or dominion in 1867.
So Happy Canada Day, my fellow Canucks!
But you didn’t think I was just going to leave it there…? No way, no how!
And since I am a musical kind of guy, I’m going to talk a little about Canada’s national anthem: “O Canada” and a little about its “almost national anthem (not God Save the Queen/King).
You might be asking yourself what does “O Canada” have to do with watches?
Well not much really; but as with any music, one must keep proper time. There is, for example, a time signature such as ¾ for marches and waltzes and even a great deal of opera music. And one even has a metronome as a kind of regulator.
The music of the Canadian anthem which is more like a hymn than a march is not as original as many believe. Indeed, composers tend to borrow from each other and even from themselves and music history is replete with such instances.
The song which was originally commissioned in Quebec to celebrate St. Jean Baptiste Day.
The words were written earlier by the French-Canadian poet Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier
and set to music by Calixa Lavallé in 1880. It wasn’t until 1908 that what became the official English lyrics
were written by Robert S. Weir. And although the English lyrics, patriotic but a little bland,
have been modified slightly over the years, the French version has never been changed.
It has a grandeur missing in the English version and still has what some might consider,
“politically incorrect” references the sword and the cross. See for yourself (Courtesy of Wikipedia).
Now getting back to Calixa Lavallée:
Lavallé was born in Quebec but moved to the U.S. and thence back and forth between the two to further his music carrier. He served as an officer in the Union Army during the civil war and married an American women of French-Canadian ancestry. He worked and taught in Montreal and in various parts of the U.S. including New York, California and Louisiana. He wrote several operettas during his life and was quite familiar with the form. And this is where the patriotic song which became the national anthem began.
Lavallé was certainly familiar with Mozart’s wonderful opera Die Zauberflaute or the Magic Flute. Within that work is a small hymn-like piece called the March of the Priests and it was to this short segment of the opera that Lavallée turned for his inspiration.
Here is a clip which opens and closes with the Mozart excerpt and includes the Royal Anthem (God Save the Queen) and O Canada, the National anthem
But as I mentioned, there are several anthems which have “borrowed” their melodies from other’s music.
The melody of the Star Spangled Banner was originally a British drinking song popular in the colonies at that time, “To Anacreon in Heaven”.
The German national anthem, Deutchlandlied, uses a melody composed by Franz Joseph Hayden for Francis II of the holy Roman Empire. He used it again in the second movement of his Emperor or Kaiser string Quartet.
The melody of Israeli National anthem, Hatikva, “The Hope” is derived from Bedrich Smetana’s (Czech composer) tone poem Ma Vlast, or part of it, “Vltava”. But it’s origin go back to a 16th century Italian song composed by Giuseppe Cenci and which became very popular in many European countries.
Well, you get the idea.
Back across the Atlantic to Canada and of course today: Canada Day,
we come to a song which was an “also-ran” for the National anthem and
which many, feel should have been the “top song”: The Maple Leaf Forever.
This patriotic song was written by Alexander Muir in 1867, the year of Confederation and was inspired by a large maple tree which stood outside his home in Toronto. While the song is certainly pro-British, it was regarded by some French-Canadians as anti-French because of its reference to Montcalm’s defeat by Wolfe. Muir added the “Lily” in the first verse as a nod to French although some believe it was in his original lyrics. There are also references to battles in the War of 1812, Queenston Heights and Lundy’s Lane. But this stanza is rarely sung.
Neverthless, there are some quite stirring lyrics in the second and third stanzas:
“Our brave fathers, side by side,
For freedom, homes and loved ones dear,
Firmly stood and nobly died;
And those dear rights which they maintained,
We swear to yield them never!”
“May peace forever be our lot,
And plenteous store abound:
And may those ties of love be ours
Which discord cannot sever,
And flourish green o'er freedom's home
The Maple Leaf forever!”
There have been a few attempts at re-writing the lyrics but they never really caught on (Maybe lyrics with too many smiling rivers and singing mountains…that sort of thing).
Anyway, it is a lovely tune which is a successful combination of hymn and patriotic song, and the lyrics do echo the heritage of the country, albeit not perfectly.
It was a tough choice deciding which version to show. Only one had the second verse, but I liked the images best in this one. So here it is “The Maple leaf Forever”
Happy Canada Day, Everyone!!