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Deşteaptă-te, Române!: the Story Behind Romania’s National Anthem

Together with the coat of arms and flag, the national anthem plays a huge role in the identity and unity of a state. Even though their importance might often be dismissed, national anthems have managed to unite peoples during times of crisis, revolutions or other key turning points throughout history. Romania’s current national anthem is defined by a very bumpy history: being shaped as early as 1848 followed by its ban under the Communist regime and later being sang in unison by hundreds of protestors aiming to get back their freedom.

The origins of the national anthem

During the 1848 revolution, the patriotic poem Un răsunet (A sound) by the poet Andrei Muresanu made its first appearance in the magazine entiled Foaie pentru minte, inimă și literatură (Pages for the mind, heart and literature.) On music written by composer Anton Pann, the anthem was firstly sung in the Zăvoi park from Râmnicu Vâlcea by a numerous group led by none other but the composer himself. 29 July, the day on which the anthem was firstly heard during the Romanian Revolution of 1848, to this day marks the national day dedicated celebration of the anthem.

Controversy surrounding the anthem

The true origins of the melody on which the anthem is sung are still widely debated. Even though Anton Pann is considered the rightful composer of the song, his fist drafts for the melody, dating back to 1839, are believed to be inspired from the song Din sânul maicii mele (From my mother’s breasts), a very famous song at the time, which bears a striking similarity to the music of the national anthem. The latter melody was composed by Romanian church singer and music teacher at the first Romanian gymnasium in Brașov, Gheorghe Ucenescu who was also Anton Pann’s “most devoted and hard-working” student. As Gheorghe Ucenescu recalls, in the midst of revolution, the poet Andrei Muresan reached out to the church singer for inspiration in the process of composing a hymn for the revolution. Ucenescu reportedly sung a number of melodies before the poet settled on Din sânul maicii mele and returned to his home to write a poem that would fit it. A few days later the singer was presented the poem, which, to his surprise, perfectly matched his melody, thus creating what is nowadays known as Romania’s national anthem. It is believed that the hymn then traveled from person to person until reaching Anton Pann in Bucharest who made the last alterations to the melody and thus imprinted his name in history as the composer of the national anthem of Romania.

Banning of the anthem

30 December 1947 marked the installation of the Communist dictatorship over Romania, following King Mihai the First’s forced abdication in favor of the Communist government led by Petru Groza. “Deşteaptă-te, române!” as well as countless other patriotic songs, hymns or poems were banned, their chanting or humming being punishable by years in prison.

Consequently, the song Trei Culori replaced previous patriotic songs and gained recognition as the anthem of the Socialist Republic of Romania. The song, originally composed by Ciprian Porumbescu with lyrics altered by the Romanian Communist Party, made reference to the Romanian flag consisting of three colours- blue, yellow and red- and exhibits a number of elements from the party’s ideology. One such example is how the verse originally reading: “Liberi să trăim în ţară//Ziditori ai lumii noi.” (Free to live in the country// Builders of the new world) was replaced by “Să trăim stăpîni în ţară,//Ziditori ai lumii noi” (Let us be masters in the land,//Builders of the new world) clearly stating the Communist ideology and the belief that life under Communism was synonym to liberty, thus easily replacing the original lyrics.

On 22 December 1989, in the midst of the Anticommunist revolution, the song found its way on the streets uniting masses of Romanians fighting against the regime. Under the pressure and insistence of the protestors, the song was chosen to be Romania’s national anthem securing its official position in the Constitution of 1991. It was a gesture of recovering a symbol and freeing the Romanian people from one of the prominent symbols of Communism.

What is the current purpose of the national anthem?

National anthems are usually played or sung during national holidays (especially during the independence day, national day or unification day celebrations in a country) as well as the anthem of the host country commonly being performed during festivals or cultural events, commonly marking the beginning and end of such occasions. Furthermore, national anthems are also frequently intonated during international sporting events, for example, in the Olympic Games, when the national anthem of the winning team is played at the time of the medal ceremony. As for the Romanian national anthem, although it is formed of eleven stanzas with four verses each, for festive occasions only the first three and final stanzas are customarily sung.

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The Young Journalists
The Young Journalists
May 19, 2021


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