It is one of the most famous national anthems in the world, but did young Haydn snatch the tune for the German national anthem from a Croatian folk song?
City tours vary in quality depending on two main factors in my opinion – the things to see and the skill of the tour guide. One can have the most fascinating city on the planet ruined by a dull tour guide merely spouting out dates of construction and the like.
And then there is Mislac Pavosevic from the Tourist Board of Osijek in north-eastern Croatia, close to the borders of Serbia and Hungary. I had told Mislav that I would prefer to see the city through his eyes, rather than looking at monuments and memorising dates, and despite the rain, he managed to engage his audience more than any other guide I have had in the last few years.
We had many laughs during our tour, and I teased him about the number of monuments in his city, and how he had not explained them all to us. As it happened, we were just walking past one of a guy called Franjo Kuhac.
“Ah, this guy IS interesting. Did you know that the German national anthem had its origins in Croatian folk music?”
I laughed. Here we go again, a tour guide proudly boasting something about his city which could not possibly be true.
He pulled out his phone, pressed a few buttons and beckoned me nearer to listen, first to the German national anthem, and then to a second, earlier Croatian folk song. Listen to the first ten seconds – sound familiar?
I asked around my Croatian friends, but nobody had heard of this connection, even though there is (just a little) information on the Internet, even in English. Our man Franjo Kuhac was a “researcher who first propounded the view that Haydn’s music abounds in Croatian folk tunes was the Croatian ethnologist Franjo Kuhač, who gathered a great number of Croatian tunes in field work. Kuhač’s views, published in Croatian in his Josip Haydn i hrvatske narodne popievke (Zagreb, 1880) were made better known in English speaking countries by the musicologist Henry Hadow, in his book A Croatian Composer (1897) and in various editions of the prestigious Grove Dictionary).” Click here for more.