Songs battle to be­come new Swiss an­them

The China Post - - LIFE - BY NINA LAR­SON

The lofty tones fill a wood cabin on the out­skirts of the emer­ald green meadow con­sid­ered the birth­place of Switzer­land, as three songs com­pete to be­come the coun­try’s new na­tional an­them.

The choir on the screen en­thu­si­as­ti­cally belts out the tunes, all cel­e­brat­ing high-minded val­ues like free­dom, democ­racy and sol­i­dar­ity.

The three are fi­nal­ists in an unof­fi­cial com­pe­ti­tion that could lead to Switzer­land re­plac­ing its less than beloved na­tional an­them.

Crit­ics have likened “The Swiss Psalm,” penned in 1841, to a weather fore­cast crossed with a re­li­gious hymn, given its re­peated ref­er­ences to God and breath­tak­ing Alpine views. The bid to find a re­place­ment has been widely em­braced.

“It’s been quite a suc­cess,” said Jean-Daniel Ger­ber, chair­man of the 205-year-old Swiss So­ci­ety for Public Good be­hind the com­pe­ti­tion.

A full 208 song­writ­ers sent in con­tri­bu­tions by the dead­line last July, with con­tri­bu­tions in all four of Switzer­land’s of­fi­cial lan­guages, Ger­man, French, Ital­ian and Ro­mansh — a Ro­mance lan­guage spo­ken by sev­eral thou­sand Swiss.

Af­ter a jury, made up of politi­cians, mu­si­cians, jour­nal­ists and mem­bers of yo­del clubs, choirs and sports as­so­ci­a­tions, whit­tled down the list to six, some 70,000 peo­ple voted on­line for the fi­nal three, Ger­ber told AFP.

The three win­ning songs, which have been trans­lated into all four of­fi­cial lan­guages, were pre­sented for the first time Fri­day at the his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant Ruetli meadow.

Leg­end has it that rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the coun­try’s three first can­tons signed a pact here in 1291 that laid the foun­da­tion for the Swiss Con­fed­er­a­tion.

It is also the spot where myth­i­cal 13th cen­tury Swiss free­dom fighter Wil­liam Tell shot an ap­ple off his son’s head, as por­trayed in Friedrich Shiller’s fa­mous 1804 play.

New Ver­sions Re­flect Mod­ern

Switzer­land

“The new texts seem to bet­ter re­flect the spirit in Switzer­land to­day,” said 58- year- old Elis­a­beth Golo­vanow, one of about 30 peo­ple to have made the jour­ney to Ruetli.

It can only be reached by the white steam­boats that crisscross the turquoise wa­ters of Lake Lucerne, which is flanked by tow­er­ing snow-capped moun­tains.

The com­pe­ti­tion rules called for the texts to drawn from the pre­am­ble to Switzer­land’s up­dated con­sti­tu­tion, which was ap­proved by the public in a 1999 ref­er­en­dum.

For the melody, mean­while, par­tic­i­pants were free to use the ex­ist­ing one, mod­ify it a bit or com­pose a new tune, with the three fi­nal­ists each rep­re­sent­ing one of those cat­e­gories.

A sec­ond round of on­line vot­ing that kicks off on Mon­day will help de­ter­mine the win­ner, along with votes cast at a na­tional mu­sic fes­ti­val in the can­ton of Aa­rau on Septem­ber 12, where the cham­pion will be crowned.

But this is only the be­gin­ning of a process to try to con­vince the par­lia­ment, gov­ern­ment and Swiss peo­ple to of­fi­cially agree to re­place the ex­ist­ing an­them.

That could pave the way for a ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue in a coun­try renowned for its di­rect democ­racy, but Ger­ber ac­knowl­edged that the whole process “could take a while.”

Those be­hind the com­pe­ti­tion com­plain that the “Swiss Psalm,” which sets a poem on piety and Alpine beauty to mu­sic com­posed by a priest, is too re­li­gious and too long, with few Swiss able to sing along.

The en­tries in the com­pe­ti­tion mean­while, were merely “songs you can sing around the camp­fire while you grill your hot­dogs,” he com­plained to AFP.

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