Morning Music: Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser

Joseph Haydn

Let me start with a sad but beautiful story from classical music lore. Last night, I decided to tell it on Twitter.

Joseph Haydn was the father Mozart never had. You know: the father who wasn’t a total prick.

Haydn was 24 years older than the younger composer. Mozart was very protective of Haydn. When Haydn was preparing for a trip to England in 1791, Mozart begged him not to go

He was afraid the older man (58 years old!) would get ill and die. But Haydn went anyway. Mozart died while Haydn was in England.

Haydn lived almost 2 decades longer, dying in 1809 at the age of 77.


With Haydn on my mind, I started listening to a playlist of his work. And I came upon “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser.” But I knew it as a different song: “Deutschlandlied” with the beginning lyrics, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles.” I had no idea!

This shouldn’t come as a shock, however. People do this all the time. “The Star-Spangled Banner” uses the tune of John Stafford Smith’s “The Anacreontic Song.”

Indeed, “Deutschlandlied” has been the German national anthem from 1922, but they only use the third stanza, which is about unity, justice, and freedom. Supposedly, the song was never intended to be about Germany conquering other countries but rather the desire for German unification.

It is a great tune. It annoys me the US has a third-rate national anthem while countries like Germany and Russia and France have such great ones.


It’s a little weird to think that Joseph Haydn wrote the German national anthem when he was Austrian. But do you know who else was Austrian? Right. So it’s all good.

Here is Haydn’s “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser”:

Note that I did not hear “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser.” Haydn uses the melody as the basis of of the second movement of his string quartet Opus 76 No 3.

Image cropped from the John Hoppner portrait of Haydn in England in 1791. It is in the public domain.

4 thoughts on “Morning Music: Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser

  1. Love to see some of the MM posts again!

    “Star-Spangled Banner” is a truly terrible anthem. I understand the original was a drinking song, which makes some sense, as a pubful of roaring drunk people might make the tune more fun. (Also one of the latter verses of SSB is kinda racist.)

    We should really have an anthem that’s better, and ideally with music written by an American. Lyrics are optional; they’re usually pretty jingoistic anyways. The French one has positively gruesome lyrics to go with a great tune.

    One of the great old labor songs would be ideal, but too “controversial” for most. How about “America The Beautiful”? Everyone knows it already. The lyrics have a nice pro-environment twist, and the author was a social reformer who may have been a lesbian. (Plus a lesser-known verse has the lyrics “God mend thine every flaw,” needed then as now.”) The composer was a church organist descended from the governor of Rhode Island.

    Best of all, at events where pre-recorded versions are used, we have Ray Charles. Blotting out all memory of Lee Greenwood and Kate Smith forever, ideally…

    • That would work! It also has the advantage of having a smaller range. The SSB is an octave and a half, which is a wide range for a song that a bunch of people are supposed to sing.

      I’d prefer “Which Side Are You On?” It’d be perfect. I think we could convince conservatives it was about George W Bush.

      I don’t actually care, though. It could hardly be worse!

      • You might get a good song out of people in a beer hall singing the SSB together, raising their mugs as they went “banner yet wa-aaave.” Like Christmas carols, if enough people sing the thing, it suddenly sounds okay, even if each of them is out of tune. But the very idea of people in a beer hall singing together is very un-American. We can barely manage to comment on the game on TV to each other. Even that feels like violating another drunk’s personal space.

        • The ultimate symbol of America is a rotting American flag, put out in front of a house months ago when its resident last went outside!

          If you find such a recording, let me know!

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