The Dutch national anthem is not meant to be sung as solemnly as it is now and a faster tempo would better reflect its original purpose, music experts have said.
The Wilhelmus has 15 verses but only the first, and occasionally the sixth, are ever sung. The first verse, whether mumbled, mimed, or sung wholeheartedly, is 33 words long and takes almost a minute to play, much longer than originally intended, Dutch literature expert and singer Margo Kalse told the AD.
The words were written to an existing melody in 1570, when the Netherlands was embroiled in the Eighty Years’ War. The Wilhelmus of the title is Willem the Silent, who led the Dutch rebellion against Spain. It was chosen as the national anthem in 1932.
‘At the end of the 16th century it was a rousing song meant to celebrate victories, but not much of that is left,’ Kalse said.
The adagio version of the Wilhelmus came about in 1877 when it was adapted to the tastes of the time.
‘That is still suitable to more solemn occasions such as the remembrance ceremony on the fourth of May,’ Kalse said. ‘But at the start of a football game you need something with a bit more pep.’
Kalse and lecturer in Dutch literature and culture, Olga van Marion, have put together a website with songs popular during the 17th century, including the Wilhelmus, where both the original and the modern version can be heard.
Kalse doesn’t think the words of the Wilhelmus needs updating. ‘We may feel references to the ‘Koning van Hispanje’ (king of Spain) and all that is irrelevant in 2022 but we can’t just chuck the text in the bin. It’s part of how the Netherlands came to be.’
The Dutch national anthem is one of the oldest in the world, both in melody and words. The himno nacional of its old adversary Spain, the upbeat Marcha Real, dates from the 18th century and officially has no lyrics.
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