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shared musical treasures—god save the queen (or is it king?)

King James II of England

Join The Muse of Music's exploration of the shared musical treasure, God Save the Queen...or is it God Save the King?


history and background

The music you are now hearing is God Save the Queen, the national anthem of the United Kingdom, its territories, and its dependencies, performed by the distinguished Regimental Band of the Coldstream Guards, conducted by major Roger G. Swift. Both music and band are national institutions.

God Save the Queen (or King, as the case may be) is most famous as the national anthem of the United Kingdom, but it serves and has served many other roles in many other places. As we shall see, it is one of the most widely known and often played pieces of music around the world.

Among its many other distinctions, God Save the Queen is the first song ever to be formally designated a national (i.e., royal) anthem. It had unofficial status in Britain until the 1780s and 90s, but today it is officially recognized and accepted in the United Kingdom and around the world as the national (i.e., royal) anthem of the United Kingdom.

As we shall see, many other countries—not just those of the United Kingdom—do (or have) employed the tune for their national or royal anthem. The melody is (and has) appeared in many different kinds of music—classical, rock, popular, musicals, and more—and in scores of different national anthems, patriotic songs, protest songs, drinking songs, books, and pamphlets that make political statements, satirize, criticize, or poke fun. The tune has been adapted for or incorporated in political statements and satires, musical transcriptions and variations, and in film, television, and other media. It has become a symbol for England, the English royal household, monarchy, hegemony, and a hundred isms, objects, places, and things.

God Save the Queen is so popular and versatile, it's sometimes played for its own sake, just to hear satisfying music, express joy, or have fun. By way of example, a version of God Save the Queen was recorded by a pop musical group called Madness that features the melody played on kazoos. It was distributed in their album The Business. (Today, the activities of the English royal family are sometimes referred to as the family business.)

God Save the Queen is an English song that originated in 18th century England. First and foremost, it was and is pro-English and chauvinistic—so much so, one might almost say that it virtually belongs to England. Then how is one to understand its widespread adoption and fame?

One reason for the music's success is English colonial expansion in the 16th through 20th centuries. As the old saying goes, The sun never sets on the British empire. English military victories around the world and agencies such as Britain's East India Trading Company helped introduce the music to foreign nationals everywhere. Alliances with Britain offered economic and security incentives and disincentives; the song became both hated and revered. British Commonwealth nations accepted the music as their own while other nations disparaged it.

But acceptance was not just a matter of national self-interest. The tune is simple, stirring, and strong—everything a national or royal anthem should be. The lyrics are honest, plain, and direct; they express sentiments that many nations in the 19th and 20th centuries could easily call their own. It is the perfect setting for or a musical satire or political gibe.

Moreover, royal dynasties, including that of Queen Victoria, who was of German descent, proliferated throughout Europe and spawned heads of state over many nations. With a relative such as Victoria on the throne of England, it was relatively easy for royalty of the same lineage to accept English music as their own. So many were God Save the Queen's virtues and assets, even nations that nurtured leanings antithetic to the interests of England, such as France and Germany, saw fit at one time or another to adopt the tune and modify its lyrics to fit their own requirements. (More about this later.)

In the 21st century, so universal is God Save the Queen, it might justifiably be called, God Save the [...King or Queen or Any Other Thing or Place]—you fill in the blanks. Indeed, so widespread is its impact, so well is it known, loved, hated, heard, hummed, or marched to around the world, it has earned the right to be called a shared musical treasure.


Music scholars and historians have speculated long and large about the tune's beginnings, which may go as far back as a keyboard piece by the musician Dr. John Bull composed in 1619. Nevertheless, the composer of the piece, if there ever was one, remains unknown.

Other aspects of the tune's origins remain obscure as well. One possibility is that it originated with a musical piece by Henry Purcell whose opening notes are those of the modern version of the tune for God Save the King. In the 19th century there was widespread belief that an old Scots carol, Remember 'O Thou Man, was the source of the tune. Many other candidates have been proposed but none are proven.

What is known for certain is that a printed copy of the first verse of the present version of the tune appeared in 1744 in the publication, Thesaurus Musicus. Lyrics for the tune sprang up spontaneously and versions of the the song quickly became very popular in Scotland and England the following year, when Charles Edward Stuart, a Scottish king, landed on English shores on his way to mount the throne of England, where he assumed the title, James II. Songs based on the melody are on record as having being sung in London theaters in 1745. And that year, the famous English composer Thomas Arne wrote a setting for the God Save the King tune for the Drury Lane theatre.

The 1745 setting by Arne may account for the popular but misguided notion that Arne actually composed the melody and lyrics. Perhaps Arne often incorrectly gets the credit for originating the song because he was the Englishman who, in 1740, had composed the very popular (and still very popular) British patriotic song, Rule Britannia! As a proud Englishman, as a composer of patriotic songs, and as the man who had set a verse of God Save the King to the music of a Drury Lane production, in the public mind he was a natural candidate for authorship. To this day, this apocryphal connection between Arne and the song remains fused in the public's imagination.

At the left, Thomas Arne, composer of Rule Britannia, fallaciously credited by many with composing God Save the King.

political Protocols and traditions

The rules for playing of God Save the Queen on formal governmental occasions are steeped—one might almost say immersed or mired—in bureaucratic protocol. According to the laws of the United Kingdom, there is a right way or wrong way to present a performance of the royal anthem on state-sponsored occasions.

The protocol rules vary; they depend on the situation, country, locale, event, or parties involved. Departures from tradition and standard protocol must be authorized by official state government authorities; they are not normally the result of accidents, spontaneous acts, or autonomous decisions made by local authorities or performers.

For example:

  • At the closing ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the fourth verse of the William Hickson (also spelled William Hixon) version of the lyrics was sung instead of the standard third verse. This decision to replace this verse was made by official state decree.

In Britain, the Queen (or King)must be saluted with the entire anthem, while other members of the royal family, who are also entitled to a royal salute, such as the Prince of Wales, are saluted with just the first six bars.

In the United Kingdom, protocol and tradition demand that the first verse is the only verse sung, although the third verse is sung in addition to the first verse on rare occasions, such as at the Last Night of the Proms.

For those of you who are not in the know, Proms is English slang for promenade concerts, a series of summer concerts given in London and throughout England every year. These concerts, begun in 1895, have become a national tradition.

The last night of this concert series is a special one in which popular classics are followed by a series of British patriotic songs in the second half of the concert. The audience joins in when appropriate, singing these songs with the orchestra in this order:

  1. Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, known as Land of Hope and Glory
  2. Sir Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs, which culminates in Thomas Arne’s Rule Britannia
  3. Hubert Parry's Jerusalem, a setting of a poem of the same name by William Blake)
  4. The British national anthem

The term proms arose from the original practice of audience members promenading or strolling in some areas of the concert hall during the concert.

On state occasions in some Commonwealth countries outside Britain, protocol demands that United Kingdom governing appointees such as governors general or lieutenant governors receive a so-called Vice Regal Salute. In some of these countries, for example Canada, the first six bars first six bars of God Save the Queen form the first part of this salute.

A number of Commonwealth countries possess two anthems, one for royal United Kingdom occasions or personalities and one for country or local occasions or personalities. Sometimes both anthems are played. For example, the United Kingdom royal anthem and the Canadian national anthem are both played before the start of Canadian hockey games. When this occurs, the first six bars of God Save the Queen are played followed by the first four and last four bars of O Canada. O Canada, of course, is the Canadian national anthem.

It is worth keeping in mind that protocols and traditions like The ones cited above only constrain official and formal governmental bodies. The melody, lyrics, presentation, and staging of God Save the Queen have varied dramatically over the years since the song's origins prior to the 1740s. People outside of government have never hesitated to exercise poetic license and take creative liberties, shall we say, with all aspects of the song. they have produced a rich legacy of versions and variations.

standard melody

In England, the standard version of the melody today is still that of the original, and is still played in the key of G, though the anthem is often introduced by a drum roll of two bars. The bass line of the standard version differs little from the second voice part, but there is an alternate standard version in four-part harmony for choirs. The first three lines six bars of music are soft, ending with a short crescendo into the line, Send her victorious, and there is another crescendo at the words over us which leads into into the final words, God save the Queen.

  • The Muse Of Music now invites you to hear again the standard version of the United Kingdom royal anthem, God Save the Queen. To play the music, click the staves, below.

standard Lyrics

There is no definitive version of the lyrics. Even English royalty and governmental officials don't seem able to make up their minds about what version is standard. However, the version consisting of the three verses shown below probably has the best claim to be regarded as standard because of their historicity.

The lyrics you see below appeared in English publications such as the Gentleman's Magazine of 1745, The Book of English Songs: From the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century (1851), National Hymns: How They are Written and how They are Not Written (1861), Household Book of Poetry (1882), and Hymns Ancient and Modern, revised version (1982). The same version with verse two omitted appears in English publications such as Scouting for boys (1908), and on the United Kingdom's government's Monarchy Today website.

At the Palace concert of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Party, Prince Charles referred in his speech to the politically incorrect second verse of the National Anthem. (Of course, he meant the second verse, below.) What could be more of a seal of approval than that?

However, the version consisting of the following three verses has the best claim to be regarded as the 'standard' UK version, and the ones shown below represent the nearest thing to what may be called a standard.

Lyrics to God Save the Queen

(standard English version)

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.
O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.*

As you might expect, the belligerent second verse is not often heard today.

words & music together—Time to play

Now that you know the words and music, The Muse Of Music now invites you to follow along with the Coldstream Guards as they repeat their performance. Read the lyrics of the standard version as you play its melody. Feel free to sing along, if you like; a strong and lusty voice is called for. If you're self-conscious about your voice, sing the song solo in an enclosed room; or bellow it out in public if you're not faint-hearted.


viewing & Listening options

As you read about or follow the scores and listen to the music on this page, you may find it difficult to make comparisons between what you read, the score, and the lyrics because you can't see all of them on your computer monitor at the same time; or they may be too small to see clearly. You may find it necessary to scroll up and down between sections repeatedly.

If you are reading this on a computer equipped with a large monitor or more than one monitor, you have the option to reduce or eliminate these difficulties by opening the score and lyrics in new windows and arranging them on your monitor(s) before you continue.


It may help to minimize your media player so it doesn't block your view.

  • Play the standard version of the melody and follow along with the standard lyrics, click the staves shown above now.
  • Arrange the standard lyrics in a new window: click here.
  • Play a video rendition of the official standard version for choir singing the standard lyrics (Source: YouTube): click here.

God Save the queen and sex in the english monarchy

You may have been wondering why The Muse Of Music has been vacillating over the sexuality of the title. The reason is simple. God Save the Queen is perhaps the only national anthem whose title and lyrics change depending on the sex of the reigning monarch at the time it is played. It bears the title God Save the Queen while a queen is seated on the throne and the title God Save the King while a king is seated.

The above standard lyrics are the words of the female standard version. As you might expect, when a male is reigning the word queen is changed to king and vice versa wherever it appears in any of the lines. But more! When the monarch is a male, God save the queen becomes God save the King; God save our gracious queen becomes God save our gracious king; Send her victorious becomes Send him victorious; Scatter her enemies becomes Scatter his enemies; On her be pleased to pour becomes On him be pleased to pour; Long may she reign becomes Long may he reign; and May she defend our laws becomes May he defend our laws.

Moreover, when a monarch rules, the last two lines of the third verse are changed to With heart and voice to sing/ God Save the King. (If you know the thinking behind this change, by all means let The Muse Of Music know.)

NOTE: One of The Muse Of Music's visitors to this feature has suggested a possible answer to this question, as follows: "I have no reasoning for my suggestion, other than it just sounds better, because if the last word of that line ends with "sing", it rhymes with "king", which maybe is why they use it when a monarch rules?" Thank you, Michelle.

Of one thing you can be certain: the title and lyrics may change to reflect the sex of the monarch, but the message the anthem sends is always the same: save the reigning monarch regardless of sex.

NOTE: In these pages, The Muse Of Music employs the titles God Save the Queen and God Save the King equivalently, but gives precedence to the Queen version because so many queens have reigned over England for so many years since the 16th century.

However, since publication a visitor has observed that only six Queens Regent have reigned since the first female sovereign held sway—Lady Jane Grey for nine days in 1553—compared with sixteen kings, and that far fewer queens than kings have reigned during the entire British Monarchy.

In view of our mistake, perhaps we should revise our preference for God Save the Queen in favor of God Save the King. Thank you, Daniel; you've given us something to consider.

evolution and variations in government performances

Who knows what changes to God Save the Queen will be dictated by English royalty or government officials in the future? Although the official melody, lyrics, and style of play have become relatively stable in the United Kingdom in recent years, anything can happen.

About so-called standard versions

In truth, there is no such thing as a standard way to play God Save the Queen and there is no single definitive version of the present-day melody, lyrics, or performance style, even in the eyes of English royalty and government bureaucrats. In fact, there are multiple standard versions, each of which is subject to change. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the song has consistently evolved to fit historical circumstances, so that what constitutes a standard version of melody, lyrics, and style depends on when, where, and who you ask.

The permitted change of sex in the title is but one of many examples of how the standard or official United Kingdom version is not a single official standard version; it's multiple official standard versions. For example:

  • On the occasion of a 1946 meeting of the United Nations in London, King George VI ordered the bellicose, imperious, and patronizing second stanza of God Save the King rewritten to bring it more into the spirit of the brotherhood of nations.
  • The most often heard standard version of the melody is that of the original God Save the Queen played in the key of G. There is also a standard version in four-part harmony for choirs.

Reasons for variations

At various times and places during the colonial hegemony era of the British Empire, the standard English version of God Save the Queen was incorporated as the royal or national anthem of other nations. As history progressed and geopolitical changes altered the sovereignty status of some of the nations that were part of the Empire or were influenced by it, the nature of the geopolitical relationship between England and other nations slowly evolved. Some nations elected to drop the English music entirely and replace it with another anthem that was more their own. Others found it desirable to keep the music but to adapt it to reflect a new political climate. These changes led to the creation of a rich assemblage of different kinds of variants in melody, lyrics, and performance styles.

Kinds of variations

In government circles, the most common types of variations take place in performance style and lyrics. The most common reasons to modify the tune, lyrics, or performance style of the standard English version are to:

  • Adapt the music to suit the requirements of a specific performance or occasion.
  • Adapt the music to suit the national or political requirements of another royal house or nation.

Performance style variants in government performances

Even in official government performances, it is not uncommon for the style of God Save the Queen to vary from the standard English governmental style. Style may change from one country to another, one band to another, one occasion to another, or from one performance to another. The standard style adopted by a country or band may well be a departure from the English government standard; and a country or band may depart from its own standard style depending on circumstances.

For example, the way the United Kingdom anthem is usually played today, the start of the anthem is often (but not always) signaled by an introductory side-drum roll of two bars length, as in the version played above on this page. The first three lines (six bars of music) are customarily played softly, ending with a short crescendo into the line Send her victorious, and then is another crescendo at the line over us, which leads to the final words, God save the Queen. These stylistic performance features that are not specified by the United Kingdom standard; they are products of custom.

You may have noticed that the staves above on this page are scored for the key of B-flat, not for the standard key of G. Why? In the early part of the 20th century there existed a military band version of God Save the Queen. This version was usually played in march time and in the higher key of B-flat. These departures from standard were devised to make it easier for brass instruments to play in tune in that key. Bands returned to the standard key of G when it was observed that the higher key makes the song more difficult for an audience to sing. Today, most bands play the melody in the original key of G because of pragmatic considerations.

When you were following along earlier on this page, reading the notes on the staves and singing the lyric, you were listening to God Save the Queen in one key (G) and reading the music on the staves in another key (B-flat). If you were singing in the key of B-flat, you may have noticed a disparity between the band music and your voice.

Melody and lyric variants in Government performances

As pointed out above, variations in tune and lyrics are widespread. The most common reason for modifying the English version of the music, which is a Royal anthem, is to adapt it to serve as the royal or national anthem of a nation other than England. Countries, United kingdom territories and dependencies, and other locations that currently use (or formerly have used) the melody as their royal or national anthem in one form or another are:

  • Australia*
  • Canada*
  • Cayman Islands*
  • Bahamas*
  • Barbados*
  • France
  • Germany
  • Isle of  Man*
  • Jamaica*
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norfolk Island*
  • New Zealand*
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Tuvalu*
  • Russia
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom*

NOTE: A country marked by an asterisk currently uses the song as its royal or national anthem (as of the time of this writing).

Some of the nations cited above have a national anthem of their own that is not the same as the United Kingdom royal anthem; they reserve the royal version for state visits from British royalty, state occasions involving key British representatives, or as a vice regal salute for appointees such as United Kingdom governors general and lieutenant governors. These countries play their own national anthem for in-country state occasions not involving the United Kingdom and, when occasion warrants, play both anthems. For example, Cayman Islands, New Zealand, and Australia play their own national anthem in addition to the United kingdom anthem, as do Canada, Jamaica, Isle of Man, Lichtenstein, Tuvalu, and Norway.

the national anthems of Germany and france

You probably know that today the national anthem of France is The Marseillaise; and you probably know that the national anthem of Germany is Deutschlandlied (Song of Germany). But did you know that once upon a time the melody of God Save the Queen became the national anthem of France, and later became the national anthem of the German Empire? This is especially ironic, since at one time or another both nations have been England's arch enemy.

Looking back at history, the use of God Save the King by France and Germany is not really so strange as at first it might appear. As noted earlier, God Save the King was the first song to be used as a national anthem; and its success prompted a number of imitations. To help construct a national identity, both France and Germany adopted the melody and then adapted the lyrics to suit their own purposes. The Song had worked to help establish England's national identity; why shouldn't it work to establish theirs?

France and Germany were not alone. The tune of God Save the King was expropriated, and in some cases officially adopted, as the national anthem of several other countries, including those of Russia (until 1833), Switzerland (until 1961), Prussia, and Russia.

The German use of God Save the King is especially noteworthy. The Prussians were the first Germanic nationals to adopt the tune of English national anthem. Later, the German Empire took its anthem from the Prussian anthem, a natural outcome of the fact that Kaiser Wilhelm II was not only the German Emperor, he was King of Prussia. Kaiser Wilhelm's German Empire used the melody of God Save the King from 1871 to 1918 under the title Heil dir im Siegerkranz (Hail to thee in Victor's Crown). The music became the anthem of the German Empire in 1871 when the Empire was formed and the Kaiser stepped up to take the throne. The Kaiser abdicated in 1918 at the end of WWI and his anthem and Empire were no more.

The German Empire not only took the music for its new anthem from England, it adopted the lyrics from Denmark. The lyrics were originally written by a gentleman named Heinrich Harries in 1790 to honor King Christian VII of Denmark. His original text was later adapted almost without change to make it apply to the German situation. For example, the line heil, Kaiser, dir (hail to thee, Emperor) originally read heil, Christian, dir.

  • Play the German version of God Save the King and follow along with the standard lyrics. Arrange the standard lyrics in a new window: click here.

To their credit, Germans never fully accepted God Save the King, the melody of an un-Germanic foreign nation, as their own. Many Germans resented the tune's links with England, and many German nationalists resented its connection with Kaiser Wilhelm II and Prussia. Some breakaway German states and some German citizens used other songs to express their national identity, among them Das Lied der Deutschen (the song of Germans) and Die Wacht am Rhein (The Watch on the Rhine).

The German anthem—the one based on God Save the Kingprevailed throughout WWI, while England and Germany were at war, giving German nationals more good reasons to resent the anthem imposed on them from above and outside. Ironically, both countries were striking up the same tune on both sides of the English Channel. This situation changed in 1922 when Germany's Weimar Republic officially adopted a new anthem, with lyrics by August Heinrich Hoffman, alias Hoffman von Fallersleben, and new music, the tune of Frederick Haydn's distinctly Germanic song, Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, which he wrote in 1797 in honor of the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria—the Kaiser. (Too many kaisers can get confusing.)

Many people around the world still believe that today the national anthem of Germany is Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles. Actually, the Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles anthem was dropped in 1950 in favor of the Song of Germany, which retains only the third stanza of von Fallersleben's lyrics but keeps Haydn's music. This mistaken association of the current German anthem with Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles is partly due to the prominence the prior anthem had under the Nazis and partly to the fact that both Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles and the present German national anthem are based on Haydn's melody.

Today's German national anthem, Deutschlandlied, consists of only the third stanza of von Fallersleben's lyrics, but it is still set to the music of Haydn's Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser. What is this music with the strange-sounding title, Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser? Who was Franz, dem Kaiser? Want to explore the lyrics and melody of the Austo-Hungarian Empire and how it evolved into the modern German national anthem of today?

  • Visit The Muse Of Music's page called Shared Musical Treasures—Haydn's Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser: click here.

Variants outside government

Outside of government, the most common reasons to modify the tune or lyrics of the standard English version are to:

  • Create a parody, satire, or burlesque; to poke fun.
  • In classical or popular music, make a political or social statement
  • Invoke a reference to England, to the British Empire, or to things British.
  • Arouse religious or patriotic inspiration

As mentioned above, the melody or lyrics from God Save the Queen have been incorporated in all kinds of music, from classical to rock to popular, and in musicals, patriotic songs, protest songs, drinking songs, books, and pamphlets that make political statements, satirize, criticize, or poke fun, and more.

Strange as it may seem at first glance, the practice of modifying God Save the Queen is older than the song itself, since, as explained above, the melody goes back as far as a 1619 keyboard piece by Dr. Bull, prior to the melody's first definitive 1744 publication in thesaurus Musicus.

Here, The Muse briefly explores just two of the media in which variations have occurred—classical, rock, and religious music.

Classical music

At last count, over 140 composers of classical music have incorporated the melody from God Save the Queen in their music. They include such masters as Beethoven, Haydn, Clementi, J.C. Bach, Liszt, Brahms, Debussy, Carl Maria von Weber, Niccolò Paganini, Johann Strauss (senior), and Edward Elgar.

The melody has served numerous different functions in the different works. For example:

  • Debussy begins his prelude, Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C., with a brief introduction consisting of God Save the King. Debussy's piece is about the central character in the Charles Dickens novel The Pickwick Papers. The English anthem immediately sets the stage for the music to follow by informing the listener that the piece is about England and an English gentleman.
  • Clementi, an Italian by birth and upbringing, incorporated a God Save the King variation as a theme in his Symphony No. 3, (the Great National Symphony), in which he paid tribute to his adopted homeland, the United Kingdom.
  • Beethoven composed a set of seven piano variations to the theme of God Save the King. He quotes it in Wellington's Victory, (the Battle Symphony), which pays tribute to the great English General.
  • Rossini used God Save the King in the last scene of his opera, Il viaggio a Reims, in which each character sings a song which recalls his own homeland. The character Lord Sidney, an Englishman, sings the aria Della real pianta on the notes of God save the King.
  • Charles Ives wrote an organ piece titled Variations on America. In this case, a double variation on God Save the Queen is at work. America, also known as My Country, 'Tis of thee, is the name of an American patriotic hymn set to the tune of God Save the Queen. Ives uses the theme from America to invoke the idea of America in the minds of his audience.
  • Muthuswamy Dikshitar, a South Indian carnatic raga composer, wrote Sanskrit pieces set to Western music. Among these pieces is a composition titled Santatam Pahimam Sangita Shyamale, which is set to the tune of God Save the Queen. Indians and things English go back several hundred years, to the time of the British Raj.

Paganini wrote a noteworthy set of virtuosic variations on God Save the King for violin. His variations are titled Introduction and Variations on God Save the King (Heil dir im Sigeskranz).

As explained above on this page in the the section titled the national anthems of Germany and france, Heil dir im Sigeskranz, translated as Hail to thee in Victor's Crown, is the title of what was the German Empire's national anthem from 1871 to 1918. The tune of this German anthem was taken from the English God save the Queen and the lyrics were adapted from another source.

The anthem was used during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, German Emperor and King of Prussia. Thus, we see that Paganini wrote his variations for the German national anthem, not on the English national anthem. But without the English God Save the Queen, there would be no Hail to thee in Victor's Crown. Like the Charles Ives example, above, the Paganini work is a double variation.

  • Salvatore Accardo is a superb violinist and a renowned master of Paganini's music. Hear Salvatore Accardo play Nicolo Paganini's Introduction and Variations on God Save the King (Heil dir im Sigeskranz), with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, conductor. Listen for Accardo's dazzling finale to the work. We will hear only part of this seven minute work.
    • Play the statement of the theme and the next two variations: click here.
    • Play the last three variations: click here.
  • Follow the German lyrics as Accardo plays. Arrange the standard lyrics in a new window: click here.

God Save the Queen seems to lend itself to variations, there are so many of them. Perhaps this is the case partly because it's musically suitable, being brief and having the potential for a wide tonal range, and partly because it's associated with the royal house of England. Here, Gidon Kramer, solo violin, and Kramerata Baltica perform the Ghys/Servais Variations Brillantes et Concertantes Sur L'Air God Save the King, Op. 36 (c. 1850). The musician playing that brilliant and fiery accompanying cello is Marta Sudroba. (Our selection begins abruptly, mid-piece.)

  • Play the last few variations of this ten-minute piece: click here.

non-classical music

God Save the Queen has been used in so many different kinds of music, it is impractical to list more than a few examples of musical compositions, writings, or instances where it has been performed. Thus, in this section, examples taken from all-inclusive categories except for classical music.

Here is just a taste of the many different ways and occasions on which God Save the Queen has been used:

  • The Beatles played the melody God Save the Queen during their 1969 rooftop concert.
  • Jimi Hendrix played an adlib version of God Save the Queen to begin his performance at the 1979 Isle of Wight Festival.
  • The Sex Pistols recorded God Save the Queen in 1977. But their version is far from the anthem of the English royal house and far from complimentary. Instead, it is political satire that proclaims sympathy for the English working class, resentment of what the Pistols see as a fascist monarchy, and regret for what they see as an England with no future.
  • Arrangements of God Save the Queen played to introduce or end live performances that range from rock concerts to soccer matches.
  • By military and marching bands in times of combat and in times of peace.
  • The rock group Queen played God Save the Queen on their fabulously successful tour and album, A Night at the Opera.
  • The melody of God Save the King is used as a hymn in Christian churches in various countries. The Christian hymn Glory to God on High is frequently sung to the tune.
  • The United States patriotic song America (also known by its first line, My Country, 'Tis of Thee) is sung and played to the melody of God Save the Queen. The song served as a de facto national anthem of the United States before the adoption of the Star-Spangled Banner. The lyrics are original; the melody is based on the German version of God Save the Queen, which the composer heard in Clementi's Symphony No. 3, (see above, this list).
  • In an episode of Top Gear, a television show about racing cars, God Save the Queen was performed by the engine of the Renault F1 racing car.

Here are some multimedia examples that you can play:

  • See a video of the Jimi Hendrix adlib God Save the Queen performance at the Isle of Wight (Source: YouTube): click here.
  • See a video performance of God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. How many words can you make out? (Source: YouTube) click here.
  • See a video performance of a God Save the Queen sing along for the Elizabeth II, Queen of England, with the royal family present (Source: YouTube): click here.
  • Hear what God Save the Queen sounds like when played by a Revolutionary-War-style fife and drum corps: click here.
  • Speaking of Queen, see a video clip of a performance of God Save the Queen by the rock group Queen. theyended every performance on their famous A Night at the Opera tour of England with a rock rendition of the anthem. The performance you see here was given at Wembly, England (Source: YouTube): click here.
  • See a video performance of God Save the Queen played on a French racing car. Be patient; they warm up the engine before they play the tune. Oh, those French and their creative artistry! (Source: YouTube): click here.
  • Listen to an a cappella rendition of America (also known by its first line, My Country, 'Tis of Thee) sung by the Washington Men's Camarata, Thomas Beveridge, conductor. You may find it interesting to compare America's lyrics with those of the official English royal version of God Save the Queen: click here.

explore further

  • Explore God Save the Queen in detail at the Wikipedia web site page of the same name: click here.
  • Explore the national anthems of various nations at the Wikipedia web site page called List of National Anthems: click here.
  • Explore the subject of national anthems at the Wikipedia web site page called National Anthem: click here.

ETAF Recommends

Explore further. An extensive and authoritative examination of virtually all aspects God Save the King is available in the Oxford Companion to Music, written by Percy A. Scholes. and published by Oxford University Press. Scholes is an accomplished music scholar who gives you the benefit of his research. This edition includes the Scholes-authored study of God Save the King, which is perhaps the best single exploration of the subject. This classic 1970 edition of the Scholes Oxford Companion that is worth having for its own sake, God Save the King aside.

The 1970 edition of The Oxford Companion to Music is a jewel that is not out-of-date; but it is not up-to-date either. If you want a follow-on to the 1970 edition edition that covers the same periods as the 1970 edition but includes more recent periods, consider both the 1983 edition and the 2002 edition. The 1983 edition, called the New Oxford Companion to Music, edited by Denis Arnold, takes a different approach. Instead of being written mostly by a single author (Scholes), it is a compendium of 6,000 articles written by 90 experts.

The 2002 edition, titled The Oxford Companion to Music, edited by Alison Latham, is similar in structure to the 1983 version in that it consists of articles written by experts, but does not supersede it. It contains many fewer pages and illustrations but includes a greater variety of information and brings the 1983 edition up to date. (By the time you read this, there may be an even more recent edition).

These three editions are hard-covered and pricey, but look for less-expensive soft-cover versions if you prefer.




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