Swiss to launch national anthem competition in 2014

By Laurence Peter
BBC News

  • Published
Swiss flag at Nendaz alphorn festival, 28 Jul 13Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Nendaz alphorn festival: The Swiss aim to modernise their anthem

Switzerland considers its national anthem too old-fashioned, so a new one will be chosen through a competition.

The priority is to have a new text, but contestants will also be free to compose a new tune, project leader Lukas Niederberger told BBC News.

The current text dates back to 1841 and includes references to God, prayer, mountains and sunshine.

The new text is to include values enshrined in the Swiss constitution, such as democracy and solidarity.

The competition will run from January to the end of June 2014, with the top prize - SFr10,000 (£7,080; $10,745) - to be awarded in 2015.

The runners-up will get SFr5,000, SFr3,000 and SFr1,000. The competition is open to Swiss nationals and foreigners living in Switzerland.

The winning anthem will be presented to the government - the Federal Council - for approval.

'Problem is text'

The judging panel has just been selected. It has 25 members from various areas of national life, including football, the Olympics, music, literature and yodelling.

There are four jury presidents - Christine Beerli, Patrizia Pesenti, Pierre Kohler and Oscar Knapp - representing respectively the four official languages spoken in the federation: German, Italian, French and Romansch.

The current anthem is called the Swiss Psalm. In 1981 it replaced Rufst du mein Vaterland (When you call, my Fatherland), which was set to the same tune as the British national anthem - God Save The Queen.

"The real problem is above all the text," Mr Niederberger said. He is in the Swiss Society for Public Utility (SGG), the competition organiser. The SGG, founded in 1810, seeks to promote Swiss values and has previously launched social and cultural initiatives.

"Officially the anthem is a psalm, a prayer, but of course we have an open society, religiously neutral. We have atheists, no single god, so this anthem is a difficulty," he explained by phone.

Since the 1970s pressure for a new anthem has gained momentum, but previously the calls came from individuals or small groups, Mr Niederberger said.

"Many people are conservative and the anthem is emotional, but if a composer creates a super song, then we can change the tune too. But that's a bit difficult for conservative people, so we say the contestants don't have to change the music," he said.

The SGG says the preamble to the Swiss constitution "forms the textual basis for the new national anthem".

It speaks of the Swiss people's "striving... to strengthen their freedom and democracy, independence and peace in solidarity and openness to the world". It also speaks of "living together in mutual consideration and respect for differences".

In 2011 Switzerland's Alpine neighbour Austria decided to change the wording of its national anthem to recognise its "great daughters" alongside its "great sons".