As a hymn was originally a solemn praise or prize song, mostly heroes and gods were honored or nature was sung. From these praises developed the poem form of the anthem. This type of poem has no fixed form, which is why it is mostly translated into free verse. The hymn is a festive prize, often referring to a god. However, there are examples of localities, people, circumstances, or feelings. Stylistically, the anthem therefore resembles the Ode. In the course of the apotheosis of a person (deification of mortals) hymns are often used. The anthem, therefore, according to today’s understanding, is always directed towards something higher and characterized by a subjective enthusiasm of the speaker. Hymn is also a shorthand for the national and country anthem.
The term is derived from the ancient Greek noun hymnos (ὕμνος) and can be translated into approximately with sound structures. Consequently, the translation points to the fact that the term was originally a kind of (praising and praising) song, and only later was a text-point.
Nevertheless, both forms – the singing and the transcription – are characterized by a high enthusiasm for something higher. The scientific examination of these forms of presentation is called hymnology, and the scientist who conducts research in this field is a hymnologist, although hymnologists devote themselves above all to researching the poetical poetry.
As regards antiquity, therefore, the term usually means a solemn prize or a song of praise dedicated to heroes and gods. In the Middle Ages the concept (also hymn) is usually a spiritual, ecclesiastical and liturgical singing which praises the Christian God as well as a part of the liturgy and thus anchored in worship. Later on, however, since the sensibility, the concept also meant a poem which was not primarily directed to something divine, but was always directed towards something higher and characterized by an enthusiasm of the speaker (cf. lyrical ego).
History of the anthem
Hymns in the (Egyptian) antiquity
In antiquity, hymns are mainly praises to the divine or various heroes. They were – mostly accompanied by a musical accompaniment – presented to religious festivals by a chorus, several persons or in a single lecture. The first predecessors are found in Egyptian antiquity, such as in the Great Suns Hymn of Akhnaton (also hymn at Aton). The following is an excerpt:
Everything that surrounds the sun is Aton. The Lord of heaven, the Lord of the land, and the lord of the house is Aton, on the horizon is Aton. He is the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, he lives in righteousness and lord of the two countries, Son of Ra […] (Source: astrodoc.net)
The text of the above example arose at the time of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s reign, that is, in about 1345 BC, Chr., Akchnaton himself being the author of the text, and calling himself his wife Nefertiti and the Sun God in the first line of the work. To be found is the text in the tomb of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Eje II, where he covers an entire wall of the entrance corridor in 13 vertical columns (see: wikimedia).
The hymn to Aton praises the uniqueness of the sun god and reveals that this is the creator and preserver of the world, whose work creates the diversity of life. Consequently, ebendieser text can be regarded as one of the first predecessors of the later hymn poetry in Greek antiquity.
Hymns in the (Greek) antiquity
The ancient Greeks also wrote numerous hymns, which also resulted in the praise of various gods or heroes. Among these are the Homeric Hymn, a collection of 33 ancient Greek poems that all praise the Greek gods and are written in hexameters, characteristic of Homer’s poem. They were mostly introduced as the introduction of the Homeric songs by so-called rhapsodists (wandering singers), and were directed to Dionysus, Demeter, Hermes, Ares, Helios, Selene and other gods.
Also to be mentioned here are the dithyrambs, which are a genus of the ancient Chorlyrik. In Dithyrambos, the god Dionysus was praised, which was why they were presented by the choir and preacher, especially in the context of the Dionysia (festival in honor of the god Dionysos). They were passionately excited, stormy, ecstatic, and therefore a form of the hymn to the divine.
Other examples are, among others, the Carmen Saeculare of Horace, one of the most important Roman poets who were directed to Apollo and Diana, who were presented to secular celebrations (feast marking the end of an old and the beginning of a new era), or the hymns of the Greek poet Pindar, who were mainly concerned with winners of a competition.
Hymns in the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages the addressee of the anthem was mostly God, which is why there is an enormous proximity to the church member. Consequently, at that time, the term meant almost every hymn to the divine. In most cases such hymns were written in Latin, followed by a metric structure, and they were divided into stanzas. They were mostly melodically accompanied.
Mainly since the 13th century such hymns are found in numerous singing books, characterized by different rhymes (mostly end rhymes) and become an integral part of the Christian worship. They are collected in so-called hymns.
The anthem in the baroque
In the baroque period, ie around the years between 1575 and 1770, anthems were predominantly characterized by clear – sometimes rigid – rules and more closely resembled the Ode. At this time, it differs mainly in its content from the Ode, for the latter was usually of a religious nature in the hymn poetry. From the Ode, the anthem now clearly assumes the strophic structure.
Martin Opitz, a poet and theorist of the time, recommends that the content of the anthem be expanded, and that it can refer to secular occurrences or natural phenomena, as well as be written in German, remains unsuccessful with this recommendation.
The anthem of the Baroque is characterized above all by adhering to formal criteria. Thus, above all, texts were perceived as beautiful, which followed a regular construction. Pindar’s texts, which mostly focused on the classical structure of stanzas, antistropes, and epodes, served as a model. The first two parts, the stanzas as well as the antistoses, were then metric-like, while the epode was usually of a different metric form. An extension of the content can only be found later.
Enlightenment, sensitivity, storm and urge
In the following centuries the content of the anthem was expanded, leading to an even closer approach to the Ode. Furthermore, the poem form lost all formal definitions over time and was also written in free rhythms. As a result, a distinction from the Ode is scarcely possible at any time since that time.
In the Enlightenment the hymn poetry is characterized by the praise of a thing, but it also assumes an instructive character. Furthermore, the anthem now also addresses other gods and thus attacks Greek and Roman mythology (see myth). Typical representatives are, for example, August Wilhelm Schlegel or Christoph Martin Wieland.
An important representative is also Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, who enriched the anthem – mainly through influences of sensitivity – with various themes. If it was above all a question of an ego that talked about one’s own relationship to God, it is now also other themes (eg natural events) that become ecstatic and enthusiastic about the anthem. Klopstock chose a composition of four-line verses, which were not metric criteria.
It is also Klopstock, who, in the first part of his spiritual songs (1757), distinguishes between two kinds of spiritual-religious poetry: vocal and song. Thus he writes: “The singing is almost always short, fiery, strong, full of heavenly passion, often bold, violent,” which is why it is destined for “many,” while the song is the expression of a gentle devotion “Most” participants.
The hymn can thus appear in the sense of a song which serves rather to the ceremonial worship or praise of the divine, the song is fiery and strong, characterized by a heavenly passion, and is therefore supported by enthusiasm. The anthem, as it is now understood, fits more closely to Klopstock’s definition of hymnic singing.
In the storm and the urge, the hymns of youth, which are also characterized by free rhythms, are the most important. Above all, examples of this are the works of Goethe, such as Wandrers Sturmlied or Kronos. In the last-mentioned text, it is evident, especially in the last stanza, that this is a kind of anthem that praises a God:
Sounds, brother-in-law, your horn,
Raise the sounding trot,
That the Orcus perceives: a prince comes,
Down from their seats
Liberate the mighty.
As a result, Holderlin and Novalis, which influence the hymn poetry, but also Heine and Scheffel attack the poem form in their works. Nevertheless, the main development has been through the poem form in the previous centuries, and now it is changing the content of the poem, rather than its basic structure or form. Thus, the initial definition of the concept is that the hymn is a festive prize, often referring to a god. However, there are examples of localities, people, circumstances, or feelings.
Short overview: The most important part of the term at a glance
Originally, the anthem meant a solemn praise or prize. First predecessors are found in Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities. Mostly gods or heroes were praised, which was accompanied by a melodic accompaniment. In Greece it is mostly the chorus, which performs such hymns in honor of a god.
In the Middle Ages, the basic design was adopted, but now turned to the Christian God. Hymns of this time were mostly strophic, based on final rhythms and became an integral part of the Christian liturgy. Consequently, there are overlaps with the church member.
In the following centuries, the hymn of the Ode became more and more similar, so that a clear distinction between the two poems is hardly possible. It is true that the anthem often speaks of religious themes, but can also refer to natural events, heroes or something higher, which is praised and praised with enthusiasm.
Note: The term hymn is also used as a shorthand for the national anthem or country anthem. This term, however, is misleading because a national anthem is simply a song. This is due to the fact that, since many are to be achieved, these are mostly of low density as well as of musical quality.