National anthems---to vary or not to vary?

Edited: September 16, 2018, 4:19 PM · I'm performing at a cultural event in a little while and I'll be premiering my own work for a crowd of patriots. At the moment, it's a series of variations on the national anthem of Poland. I've intentionally kept them simple and musical (certainly not a-la-Paganini) as to show respect for the original, but I've been told it still might not go over well given how seriously they take this stuff.

I can still go back and replace the melody with my own---the piece is in the traditional dance style. I'd really like to play something recognizable that they will identify with, though.

Replies (3)

September 16, 2018, 4:33 PM · Well, Paganini or not Paganini, at the end it's all about you as a musician, how good you are and your creativity, how you conceive the anthem. You're the one performing, it's you and only you the one that must decide how is it going to go, you need to understand your version and like it.

First, it's clear that if you stick to the original version, no variations, you can't fail unless you're a bad musician. Nevertheless, when some musicians, specially with national anthems, try to be creative, they fail miserably. Many try to Paganinize anthems to WOW the public and the anthem become quite horrendous, plus I'd dare to say most of them try to do things they can't control at all and are over their level. The result, a very ugly anthem, although no one will say anything and the applause is guaranteed since it's an anthem, everyone will be happy. Many famous but mediocre musicians (not talking precisely about violinists) fail so bad when performing their high protein over saturated versions of anthems.

If it's, I don't know, Hahn, Vengerov, Garrett, Mutter, you name it... and they show all their fireworks, the anthem as a musical piece will survive, it will be enjoyable for sure because those a top level professionals, but they can fail at playing the actual anthem, a recognizable one. Being over-creative and almost making the original anthem vanish is very common.

For anthems I like to listen to the original melody, you can put your colors and ideas, but the core must be there. You got to be really good to change so much an anthem and still make it recognizable and enjoyable, from a violinist perspective (the public will enjoy almost anything). When playing anthems with a violin, I'd totally use a lot of double stops and chords, I'd forget about constantly fitting 16 fast notes where there are originally only 4 in the melody.

September 16, 2018, 7:43 PM · Ever hear a singer butcher "the star spangled banner" with tastelessly overwrought melismatic improvisation? So have I. My recommendation is to play it straight.
September 16, 2018, 8:30 PM · Hmm. Some people tell me it's a bad idea and that the public will be insulted. Some others I really trust say it will be a huge success. I've been living outside of Poland most of my life, so I'm really not sure what the attitude is about this.

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