To Anacreon in Heaven too many times this weekend


I don’t think of myself as a couch-potato-sports-jock. But, I can be…occasionally…a lot. This Memorial Holiday week-end I was. I did way too much watching cars go in circles, tall guys dunking, and guys on skates punching each other. Each event I watched started with that familiar unsingable (at least by me) tribute to the flag.

I’ve never heard the original lyrics sung that Francis Scott Key hummed to himself as he changed the words and wrote The Star Spangled Banner. Actually, Mr. Key loved that drinking tune so much he wrote two different poems to the familiar melody. His first set of lyrics was called, “When the Warrior Returns.” It also had a lot of ‘star-spangled-banner-waving’ references. But, when he was detained on a British ship in 1812, watching the British bomb Ft. Henry, Key wrote the second set of lyrics to the same drinking song. This tune was called “Defence of Fort Henry.” (British spelling).

When someone writes new lyrics to an old tune that is called a contrafactum. I guess Mr. Key was a double-contrafactumater, or something like that.

The original song was called, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” A name like that is never going to make the Billboard Top 40.

Anacreon was a Greek court poet (6th century BC) who wrote about “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” (or wine, women and song…whatever). His songs became popular and were referred to as “anacreontics.”

It seems a bunch of musicians, lawyers and other professional men of 18th century Britain had some time on their hands and needed an excuse to form a club. They called it the “Anacreontic Society” and they used the club to perform concerts, promote music and, like their namesake, have some fun singing about wine, women and song (sex, drugs and rock and roll). They actually did serious music too, and even had Joseph Haydn as a special guest in 1791.

One of their members, John Stafford Smith, wrote the official song of the Anacreontic Society, the above mentioned, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”

Here is the original song, which after the Francis Scott Key lyrics were added, was designated the official National Anthem of the USA in 1931.
The_Anacreontic_Song_

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About bakoheat

Writer/Musician
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2 Responses to To Anacreon in Heaven too many times this weekend

  1. fiddlrts says:

    It is a bit naive to think that “sex, drugs, and rock n roll” originated in the 60s. Fun stuff too about the history of the tune.
    A couple of my favorite contrafactums:
    1. Martin Luther stole a drinking song for his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which was then borrowed by Mendelssohn for his 5th Symphony.
    2. Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, his thanks for an honorary degree wherein he showed his respect for academia by writing an entire piece based on drinking songs.

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