Britten’s lost anthem

Britten’s lost anthem


norman lebrecht

October 02, 2015

Fascinating story on the BBC website of a national anthem that Benjamin Britten wrote for the newly independent state of Malaysia in 1957, only to have it rejected.

You can listen to Britten’s proposed anthem here.

This lovely hymn displaced it.

britten pears recital


  • Alex Marshall says:

    Thanks for linking to my piece, Norman – I really appreciate it. I hope if you get the chance to see my book on anthems, you enjoy it too.


  • Gerald Newson says:

    I recall going to John Taverner’s parents home in London for Sunday dinner in 1959 when I was about 14 and he a few years older ,where he played the piano for a competition for a new national anthem for an emerging African country. It is heartwarming to hear of Britten doing similar and a reminder of how great composers can also be very down to earth when required

    • Alex Marshall says:

      Hi Gerald – if the country ever comes to mind, please let me know. You’ll find my contact details on my website ( I’m the person who wrote the BBC piece and have just written a book on anthems so am bizarrely interested. Most anthem competitions are anonymous so quite easily many famous composers could have written them, they just haven’t had them subsequently unveiled like poor BB!


  • da96103 says:

    Thanks Norman for highlighting my country’s national anthem. This article encouraged me to do a wikipedia search about Negaraku.

    It states:

    “514 entries were received from all over the world. None were deemed suitable.

    Next the committee decided to invite selected composers of international repute to submit compositions for consideration. The composers chosen were Benjamin Britten, Sir William Walton who had recently composed the march for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the American opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti and Zubir Said, who later composed Majulah Singapura, the anthem of Singapore. They were all turned down too.”

    The Benjamin Britten version is quite nice, but it is a bit repetitive and sounds like an overture to an opera.

    The current melody of ‘Negaraku’ is not an original composition but is based on a French tune from the 19th century called ‘La Rosalie’. The tune had been used in other songs. My favorite is a Hawaiian themed song called ‘Mamula Moon’.