Imagine you are sitting in a full football stadium and the national anthems of both teams are being played. And both anthems sound exactly the same. Unimaginable?

1st August – Swiss National Day
1 August – Swiss National Day, is the perfect occasion to sing the Swiss anthem

Copied from the English – or shall we say stolen?

Not in Switzerland. That’s exactly what happened in Zurich’s Hardturm Stadium on 28 May 1952 before the international football match between Switzerland and England. Until 1961 both countries had the same anthem song. In Switzerland it was called “Rufst du, mein Vaterland”, while for the British it was “God Save the King/Queen”, or rather still is.

The Swiss had copied the melody from the English. Johann Rudolf Wyss wrote the text in 1811. So at least the Swiss audience in the Hardturm-Stadion in 1952 was probably not surprised, but a little embarrassed by the audacity of the ancestors who hadn’t tried to create their own melody.

“Schweizerpsalm” was composed by a monk

Switzerland would have had its own anthem as early as 1840. At that time the monk Alberich Zwyssig of Wettingen Monastery composed a melody to the text by Leonhard Widmer and called it “Schweizerpsalm”. The song was translated into all four national languages and was so popular with the Swiss people, that they wanted to introduce the psalm as their national anthem. The then Federal Council, however, rejected this on the grounds that the anthem “Rufst du mein Vaterland” already existed. Unfortunately, this was and still is the hymn of the English. But that didn’t seem to bother the Federal Council at that time.

It was not until more than 100 years later, in 1961, that the Federal Council decided that the so-called “Schweizerpsalm” was going to be the provisional national anthem. It reacted to the increasingly frequent confusion that the British and Swiss anthems created because of their same melody. Especially at international sporting events.

Sounding exactly the same, the Swiss and British anthems created some confusion at international sport events
Sounding exactly the same, the Swiss and British anthems created some confusion at international sport events

Switzerland has only had its own anthem since 1981

In 1965, after a three-year probationary period, the cantons in Switzerland were able to vote on the provisional national anthem, and they did so in the typical Swiss manner. 12 were for the “Schweizerpsalm”, 6 against, and 7 voted for the extension of the provisional. A classic stalemate. However, the subsequent search for a new hymn did not lead to any result. It took another 20 years until the Federal Council finally put an end to this embarrassment and in 1981 declared the “Schweizerpsalm” to be the official national anthem.

Effort to modernize with no results

But even today the Swiss are not really happy with their anthem. For many, it seems antiquated and depressing. Therefore, most Swiss people either don’t know the lyrics at all, or they have a hard time even knowing the first verse. Probably nobody in this country can do all 4! verses by heart. If the “Schweizerpsalm” sounds at an international event, most people hum along out of decency. In 2004, National Councillor Margret Kiener Nellen made a political effort to modernize the anthem and adapt it to the times, but the push came to a halt somewhere in Berne’s political mills.

Sing and celebrate on 1 August

If you organize a big bbq, don't forget about the decoration
Take part of an official 1 August celebration and sing the Swiss anthem

Switzerland’s birthday is just around the corner. On 1 August, the Swiss Confederation celebrates its national holiday. The perfect occasion to sing the “Schweizerpsalm”. Maybe you are invited to a private barbecue or take part in an official celebration. So that you, unlike most Swiss people, don’t just have to hum along, we’ve put together all four verses for you. And you can find the melody here.

And in case you are now surprised that the text is not in Swiss but in High German, then simply register for our online Swiss German course. There you will learn real dialect!

Der “Schweizerpsalm”

Erste Strophe 
Trittst im Morgenrot daher,
Seh’ ich dich im Strahlenmeer,
Dich, du Hocherhabener, Herrlicher!
Wenn der Alpenfirn sich rötet,
Betet, freie Schweizer, betet!
Eure fromme Seele ahnt
Eure fromme Seele ahnt
Gott im hehren Vaterland,
Gott, den Herrn, im hehren Vaterland.

Zweite Strophe 
Kommst im Abendglühn daher,
Find’ ich dich im Sternenheer,
Dich, du Menschenfreundlicher, Liebender!
In des Himmels lichten Räumen
Kann ich froh und selig träumen!
Denn die fromme Seele ahnt,
Denn die fromme Seele ahnt
Gott im hehren Vaterland,
Gott, den Herrn, im hehren Vaterland.

Dritte Strophe 
Ziehst im Nebelflor daher,
Such’ ich dich im Wolkenmeer,
Dich, du Unergründlicher, Ewiger!
Aus dem grauen Luftgebilde
Tritt die Sonne klar und milde,
Und die fromme Seele ahnt
Und die fromme Seele ahnt
Gott im hehren Vaterland,
Gott, den Herrn, im hehren Vaterland.

Vierte Strophe 
Fährst im wilden Sturm daher,
Bist du selbst uns Hort und Wehr,
Du, allmächtig Waltender, Rettender!
In Gewitternacht und Grauen
Lasst uns kindlich ihm vertrauen!
Ja, die fromme Seele ahnt,
Ja, die fromme Seele ahnt
Gott im hehren Vaterland,
Gott, den Herrn, im hehren Vaterland.

 

“Schweizerpsalm” – how Switzerland got its own anthem after all
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