Monday, April 14, 2008

What I Learned Today II

The Hymn "How Great Thou Art" (link), once voted Britain's favorite hymn, has the same chord structure, etc. as "Horst-Wessel Lied," (link) the Nazi anthem. But it's not what you think. As reported in the fountainhead of all truth and all knowledge (link) , the hymn was originally Swedish--the text "O Store Gud," set to a Scandinavian folk song. And:

Numerous musicologists (see, e.g., have pointed out that the metrical pattern and chord progressions of "O Store Gud" are similar to those of the "Horst Wessel Lied" (first line "Die Fahne hoch"), which the Nazis customarily appended to "Deutschland über Alles" (the German national anthem). Informed opinion overwhelmingly denies that Horst Wessel composed that tune, the view which Dr Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, made legally exclusive in Nazi Germany. A likely explanation is that Wessel heard the tune from World War I veterans of the German Imperial Navy, where numerous such melodies had circulated in the fleet. In metrical pattern and chord progressions "O Store Gud" is similar to scores of tunes prevalent in the folk traditions of Scandinavia and the Baltic region during the decades preceding World War I. Although "O Store Gud" and "Horst Wessel Lied" both have an metrical pattern in the verses, "O Store Gud" switches to in the refrain, but "Horst Wessel Lied" either repeats the 11.10 of the last two lines of the verse as the refrain or (optionally) ends without refrain. Subject to specific caveats respecting scholarship and artistry, "Horst Wessel Lied" has been censored in Germany since the end of World War II, but "How Great Thou Art" ("Wie groß bist Du") is sung there freely.

So, a devilish (tee hee) trick of fate.

Afterthought: This may be the coolest thing I learned since I learned that "Cherokee" has the same chord structure as "Salt Peanuts"--a fact curiously overlooked by Wiki.

Two More Afterthoughts: Actually, what I was told was that if I didn't know that "Cherokee" and "Salt Peanuts" had the same chord structure, then I couldn't call myself a jazz fan. Meanwhile, my friend Carlton reports that "Amazing Grace" is the only major hymn that is pentatonic, i.e., can be played only on the black keys. I wonder, is this somehow related to all those exotic "modal" tricks that Jean Ritchie plays with the mountain dulcimer?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The melody of Horst Wessel Lied is also very similar to the popular Christian Hymn "Until Then" with the exception of the refrain.

"Until Then" was composed by Carl Stuart Hamblin.