July 01, 2008

Canada Day, 2008

Today is Canada Day - more specifically, Canada's 141's birthday. (She doesn't look a day over 120 . . .)

It has been my practice, since my first Canada Day blogging in 2004, to tell the story of one Canadian patriotic song. This year, the song both isn't, and is, Canadian: "God Save the Queen."

This song is actually a British patriotic song. The author and composer are unknown. The phrase "God save the King" originated in the English Bible (specifically, the Coverdale Bible of 1535, though it was retained also in the King James Version). It was also employed as a naval watchword, the countersign to which was, "Long to reign over us."

The form we are familiar with originated in 1745, when it was sung in theatres (anyone else old enough to remember singing the national anthem at the movies?):

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.

"God Save the Queen" is the unofficial national anthem of England, its usage having been established by tradition rather than legislation. Similarly, here in Canada it is the unofficial "Royal Anthem," played in the presence of royalty or the Governor-General, but has no legal standing. When I was in elementary school, it was sung after "O Canada" during daily opening exercises.

Two other, more politically incorrect verses, are rarely sung today:

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter thine 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.

Though it isn't a Canadian song, in a sense it is, since Canada is a constitutional monarchy, and the Queen of England is also our head of state, designated the Queen of Canada. While pro-royalty sentiment in Canada may not be what it is in London, or what it used to be, naturally Canadians wish Her Majesty well.

In Canada the anthem has an additional verse, though again it is almost never sung. Admittedly, the reference to the British Empire is rather obsolescent:

Our loved Dominion bless
With peace and happiness
From shore to shore;
And let our Empire be
Loyal, united, free
True to herself and Thee
God save the Queen.

"God Save the Queen" is, I"m sure, familiar to all natives of English-speaking countries. In the United States, the melody is used for "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." It is well known even outside the English-speaking world: the melody has been used in the past for the national anthems of Germany (Beethoven once composed a "theme and variations" on it), Switzerland, and Russia; and is still used as the anthem of Liechtenstein, as well as the royal anthem of Norway and Sweden. (Britannia certainly does rule the sound waves!) So it seems almost redundant to provide the usual link to the tune in MIDI format. Nonetheless, here it is.

Happy Birthday, Canada. And God save our gracious Queen.

Previous Canada Day songs: