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Saturday, February 21, 2015

God Save the King.

     Sometimes it is hard to trace the origins of older melodies. Until the early 19th century there were not strict copyright laws on music. For instance one of the reasons that Mozart died broke and was buried in a pauper grave was because he was unable to copyright his intellectual property. However a generation later, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to and defended his compositions with vigor. He was able to live and die with much more change in his pocket because of this. So that brings us to the story of where the tune we know as "God Save the King/Queen" or "My Country Tis of Thee" came from.

   Well as I mentioned, without copyrights we are left with a somewhat muddled puzzle. Some pieces of music going back to the early 17th century share similarities with the tune...there is an old Scot carol that is said to be the earliest piece with similar note progression as well as a tune by John Bull. However, the accepted story says the piece seems to be most similar to one composed by the German composer George Friedrich Handel around 1720. It seems that more than likely the tune was disseminated around Western Europe and sort of evolved into the music we recognize today at this time. However, there is one claim to the origin of the tune I find particularly amusing and makes me laugh every single time I hear it. That claim puts the origins at 1686 with Italian born composer Jean Baptiste Lully. Lully worked for most of his life in the court of Louis XIV, also known as the "Sun King". He was the monarch responsible for the sprawling palace at Versailles and the strengthening of France. Well there was one instance where the King's health required surgery. Now at this time any sort of surgery was a very risky thing. This was the era before we understood germ theory and sanitation was not a concern for surgeons until well over a century later. So many people died of infection following procedures. However, the king survived his surgery, and elated at his patron's recovery, Lully composed the piece Grand Dieu Sauve Le Roi to celebrate. What is entertaining for me is the surgery was to fix a bad case of anal fistulas which were causing the king to have a royal pain in the butt(pun fully intended). The entire country celebrated and was thankful for the success. Indeed, the surgical tools used are still on prominant display at the French museum of medical history.

     Contemporaries of the court suggest Handel, who popularized the tune, was guilty of plagiarism. Nonetheless, the tune caught on and was used as the national anthem for France until the fall of the monarchy in 1792. Starting in 1745 after a victory against the Jacobite insurrectionists, the House of Hanover adopted the tune as the British national anthem. It was also used as the music for the Austro Hungarians the German Empire. If the story about Lully is true...then four powerful European countries used music to represent them that was inspired by one man's anal surgery.

Here you can see just how big of a deal the operation was
Jean Baptiste Lully, the man who allegedly wrote the tune to celebrate the success of the the surgery that was later plagiarized by Handel(again allegedly)
  


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