3 tunes battle to become new Swiss national anthem

GMT 20:37 2015 Friday ,05 June

Arab Today, arab today 3 tunes battle to become new Swiss national anthem

Swiss flag
Ruetli - AFP

The lofty tones fill a wood cabin on the outskirts of the emerald green meadow considered the birthplace of Switzerland, as three songs compete to become the country's new national anthem.

The choir on the screen enthusiastically belts out the tunes, all celebrating high-minded values like freedom, democracy and solidarity.

The three are finalists in an unofficial competition that could lead to Switzerland replacing its less than beloved national anthem.

Critics have likened "The Swiss Psalm", penned in 1841, to a weather forecast crossed with a religious hymn, given its repeated references to God and breathtaking Alpine views. The bid to find a replacement has been widely embraced.

"It's been quite a success," said Jean-Daniel Gerber, chairman of the 205-year-old Swiss Society for Public Good behind the competition.

A full 208 songwriters sent in contributions by the deadline last July, with contributions in all four of Switzerland's official languages, German, French, Italian and Rumantsch -- a Romance language spoken by several thousand Swiss.

After a jury, made up of politicians, musicians, journalists and members of yodel clubs, choirs and sports associations, whittled down the list to six, some 70,000 people voted online for the final three, Gerber told AFP.

The three winning songs, which have been translated into all four official languages, were presented for the first time Friday at the historically significant Ruetli meadow.

Legend has it that representatives from the country's three first cantons signed a pact here in 1291 that laid the foundation for the Swiss Confederation.

It is also the spot where mythical 13th century Swiss freedom fighter William Tell shot an apple off his son's head, as portrayed in Friedrich Shiller's famous 1804 play.

- New versions reflect modern Switzerland -

"The new texts seem to better reflect the spirit in Switzerland today," said 58-year-old Elisabeth Golovanow, one of about 30 people to have made the journey to Ruetli.

It can only be reached by the white steamboats that criss-cross the turquoise waters of Lake Lucerne, which is flanked by towering snow-capped mountains.

The competition rules called for the texts to drawn from the preamble to Switzerland's updated constitution, which was approved by the public in a 1999 referendum.

Its references to values like freedom and democracy "reflects well what Switzerland should be," Gerber said.

"Let us allow peace to reign, harmony and fraternity, and let us seize the good fortune of our differences," is the translated message in one of the songs.

For the melody, meanwhile, participants were free to use the existing one, modify it a bit or compose a new tune, with the three finalists each representing one of those categories.

A second round of online voting that kicks off on Monday will help determine the winner, along with votes cast at a national music festival in the canton of Aarau on September 12, where the champion will be crowned.

But this is only the beginning of a process to try to convince the parliament, government and Swiss people to officially agree to replace the existing anthem.

That could pave the way for a referendum on the issue in a country renowned for its direct democracy, but Gerber acknowledged that the whole process "could take a while".

Lukas Niederberger, manager of the so-called Chymne Project, said the ease of convincing the Swiss to embrace a new anthem would likely depend on which tune wins.

"If for example the melody doesn't change and only the text changes, it will probably be easier to convince the parliament and government and also the whole people to change," he told AFP, pointing out that many appreciate the existing melody.

Those behind the competition complain that the "Swiss Psalm", which sets a poem on piety and Alpine beauty to music composed by a priest, is too religious and too long, with few Swiss able to sing along.

But Hubert Spoerri of the fan website slammed the competition, insisting that "each national anthem has its history, and you cannot simply toss it aside."

The entries in the competition meanwhile, were merely "songs you can sing around the campfire while you grill your hotdogs," he complained to AFP.

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