'THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER' Arranger chose anthem version that had contrast
The part about rockets and bombs was soft when played at the Olympics.
By WAYNE LEE GAY
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Where's the bombast?
As American gymnasts and swimmers hopped on and off the gold-medal stand at the Olympic games, you may have noticed the subdued, delicate version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" being used this year.
Most notably, you had to strain to hear the quiet strings playing the melody that goes with "And the rockets' red glare."
Is this a political statement? Did someone deliberately downplay the natural bombast of the music? Was it an attempt to present a kinder, gentler America in a world that's questioning U.S. foreign policy?
The answer is a simple no.
The International Olympic Committee chose the anthem recordings for each of the 200-plus nations, though each country had the right of final approval.
Slovakian-born composer Peter Breiner, 47, arranged and recorded this soft-sell version of the U.S. tune in the mid-1990s as part of a package of about 200 national anthems (great listening, huh?).
In light of this already completed project, the committee asked Breiner to update the collection for the 2004 Olympics. And the U.S. Olympic Committee accepted Breiner's arrangement, apparently without objection.
"The larger countries, like the U.S., generally accepted what was done," Breiner says, by phone from Toronto. "The smaller the country, the more objections from the country's committee."
Music over lyrics
Though Breiner paid attention to the words that go with each anthem, he says the music was his main guide -- hence the soft setting of the phrase that Americans usually connect with rockets and bombs.
"The music should have contrast," Breiner says. "It's not just about glories of war. There should be contemplation, too."
The melody of "The Star-Spangled Banner," incidentally, originated as a drinking song in 18th-century England and was adapted to patriotic words by Francis Scott Key in 1814.
Breiner's arrangement of "The Star-Spangled Banner" is available in Volume VI of "National Anthems of the World" on the Marco Polo label, where it falls between the anthems of the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay. The disc costs $16.99.