Contest to scrap 'too solemn' Swiss anthem gets 200 entries

ZURICH Tue Jul 8, 2014 9:28am EDT

Switzerland's national soccer team sings their national anthem before a friendly soccer match against South Korea at the Seoul World Cup stadium in Seoul November 15, 2013.   REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Switzerland's national soccer team sings their national anthem before a friendly soccer match against South Korea at the Seoul World Cup stadium in Seoul November 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

ZURICH (Reuters) - More than 200 budding Swiss songwriters have entered a public competition to come up with a new, more rousing national anthem, according to organizers who want to ditch a traditional work many view as far too solemn.

The contest, organized by the Swiss Society for Public Good, aims to replace "The Swiss Psalm" composed by Alberich Zwyssig, a Swiss monk, in 1841, which critics say is too hymn-like and at odds with modern-day Switzerland.

Some point to the anthem's recent outing at the soccer World Cup, where Switzerland's multi-ethnic team mumbled their way through the words ahead of a clash against France, whose players belted out "La Marseillaise" with confidence.

"The lyrics are very difficult and many can't identify with the text since it was originally a church song," said Lukas Niederberger, director of the 200-year-old Society, a respected independent body.

The anthem has been mocked as a "Swiss weather report" because of its mentions of the Alps, morning skies and misty valleys. Only a small percentage of the population is said to be able to sing more than one verse by heart.

Of the 208 proposals submitted, 129 are in German, 60 in French, seven in Italian and 10 in Romantsch, a minority language spoken in southeastern Switzerland.

Niederberger said the society was looking for an anthem suited to national events that could be sung by laymen.

"Some of the entries are ceremonial while some are more modern," he said.

A 30-strong jury including a slam poet, yodelling experts, musicians and members of sporting associations has until autumn to whittle down the submissions to a shortlist of 10, which will be posted online next year so the public can pick the top three.

Spectators and television audiences will have the chance to vote for their favorite when the finalists are performed at a national music festival next year.

The winning entry will be submitted as a suggestion to the government, who could decide to consult Switzerland's cantons about the new anthem or put it to a national referendum.

According to the rules of the competition, the new lyrics must reflect the values laid out in the preface of the Swiss constitution, which include democracy, acceptance of diversity, freedom, peace and solidarity.

The text can be written in any of Switzerland's four national languages, while the melody can bear some resemblance to the current anthem or be an entirely new tune.

The current anthem was adopted in 1981 and replaced a previous version sung to the same melody as Britain's anthem "God Save the Queen", causing confusion at sporting events.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Michael Roddy and Andrew Roche)