The FIDE anthem

Your sing-along guide to a classic of chess and music

The recent match for the chess World Title in London brought what was for me a revelation, which was that FIDE (The Fédération internationale des échecs) has its own anthem. This was played as part of the closing ceremony, along with the national anthem of the UK (the hosting nation) and, eventually, the national anthem of Norway for the winner, Magnus Carlsen.

The 2018 World Title match closing ceremony

Before I embark on a discussion of the FIDE anthem, I have to comment on the breathtakingly amateurish, indeed gloriously inept, nature of the closing ceremony for the World Championship. The contrast with the incredibly precise play and meticulous preparation of the two contenders for the title over the chess board in the previous three weeks was staggering. The MC, Anna Rudolf (who with Judit Polgar had been a wonderfully perceptive and thoroughly professional live commentator for the whole match), began by telling us the names of the contenders, which seemed a little superfluous; Magnus Carlsen was given so many separate awards that he could not hold them and several had to be whisked away from him again; the organisers could not find the commemorative FIDE Du Pont pen at the moment it was to be presented; and Carlsen actually left the stage at the moment that the Norwegian anthem was to be played. I loved every second of the twenty-minute ceremony, and perhaps you will too:

What is the FIDE anthem?

Watching the closing ceremony left me with several resolutions, one of which was to find out more about the FIDE anthem. I of course turned to the best online resource for anything to do with the history of the game, Edward Winter’s Chess Notes, which I described in the blog post Edward Winter’s chess and music articles. Sure enough, he has a note on the FIDE anthem. His note even reproduces a scan of the music for the anthem. Sadly, the scan was of too low a quality for the words of the anthem to be legible. However, courtesy of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I am able to rectify that with this post.

The FIDE anthem was written in 1951 and first performed at the FIDE Congress held that year at Venice. The authors were two of the FIDE delegates: the music was written by Count Gian Carlo dal Verme, the Italian delegate, and the words by Marcel Berman, the French delegate. The report on the Congress in the August 1951 issue of CHESS includes the official photo, in which they are sitting next to each other:

Delegates to the 1951 FIDE congress with circles
The authors of the FIDE anthem among the delegates to the 1951 Congress. (image from CHESS Vol. 16 No. 191 p. 253)

The report in CHESS also includes the score of the anthem:


At the end of the score, the footnote states,

Superbly rendered by a male voice choir during the Congress at Venice, the anthem proved stirring and effective. (CHESS Vol. 16 No. 191 p. 255)

My images here are of a much better resolution than those in Chess Notes, and if Edward Winter ever reads this, I would be more than happy to send him copies. Because of the format of this blog, they are still rather small here (especially if you are reading this via a mobile phone), so I have put larger versions in another post.

Here are the words of the anthem, transcribed with my translation.

Délégués de notre FIDE
venus des quatre coins du monde,
pour former un seule ronde,
travaillez en fraternité.

Que rien ne trouble ou divise
les décisions et les avis,
que le congrès soit à Paris,
à Copenhague ou à Venise.

Pour la paix et la liberté
que le FIDE sur notre terre
poursuive la longue carrière,
pleine de bonne volonté.

Delegates of our FIDE,
drawn from all corners of earth,
to create a single circle
work in fraternity.

May nothing disturb or divide
its decisions and opinions,
be the Congress in Paris,
in Copenhagen or in Venice.

For peace and liberty,
may FIDE in our lands
long pursue its career,
full of goodwill.

I didn’t try to make my translation rhyme or scan, but reading the words may explain why the anthem is nowadays rendered by instruments only.

Why does FIDE have an anthem anyway?

National anthems are a musical genre all of their own. Begun by the emphatic repetition of the monarch’s name in “God save great George our King” (the original wording of the British National Anthem), continued with the bloodthirsty Marseillaise of the French Revolution, they have always served political ends of varying sorts. Quite apart from the Marseillaise, military marches have been a frequent resort of regimes intent on social change, from the Internationale adopted by socialist movements across Europe from the 1890s onwards, to the anthem of the Soviet Union, composed in 1944 and to which the near-contemporary FIDE anthem bears a passing resemblance (compare the introduction to the FIDE anthem with bars 5-6 of the USSR anthem (the beginning of the second line below):


While the music of the FIDE anthem may recall these revolutionary forerunners, the lyrics carry a typically post-WW2 message, in which chess will bring nations together in peace and brotherhood (perhaps rather surprising ambitions for a highly competitive game defined by Cold War tensions for at least the next forty years after the composition of the anthem).

If you are not actually a nation state, though, the adoption of an anthem is necessarily an aspirational statement. Both the Internationale and the State Anthem of the USSR were created by political movements that aspired to radical social change. The European Union in 1972 adopted as its anthem Beethoven’s setting of the Ode to Joy, with its message of international brotherhood. At almost the same time (1971), the United Nations commissioned the Hymn to the United Nations from W. H. Auden, set to music by Pablo Casals — although never officially adopted as an anthem, this was a much classier effort than most others to create the requisite stirring of the emotions.

Eagerly, musician,
Sweep your string,
So we may sing,
Elated, optative,
Our several voices
Playfully contending,
Not interfering
But co-inhering,
For all within
The cincture of the sound
Is holy ground,
Where all are Brothers,
None faceless Others.

(W. H. Auden, first verse of Hymn to the United Nations)

Sporting bodies with anthems are another matter altogether. Clearly, the idea that sport might be a force for peace, and as important as any individual nation, was “in the air” in the post-WW2 world. And if you are a force for international peace and brotherhood, you clearly need an anthem. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) adopted its anthem at almost the same time as FIDE, in 1958 (previously, a new anthem had been written for each Olympic Games held between 1896 and 1956). The IOC anthem’s lyrics are not dissimilar to FIDE’s in tone, and much better as poetry:

Olympian flame immortal,
Whose beacon lights our way,
Emblaze our hearts with the fires of hope
On this momentous day.

As now we come across the world
To share these Games of old,
Let all the flags of every land
In brotherhood unfold

I suspect that FIDE’s need for an anthem was not unrelated to its long campaign to be recognised as a sporting body by the IOC, which consistently turned down its overtures in the 1920s and 30s (the IOC eventually recognised FIDE as a brother sporting organisation in 1999).

Other sporting organisations with international aspirations have also turned to anthems to bolster their image — notably FIFA, which in 1994 adopted an anthem written by Franz Lambert, a German virtuoso of the Hammond Organ. My favourite anthem of this sort, though, remains that of Formula One motor racing, which always plays the overture from Bizet’s Carmen at the prize-giving ceremony after each Grand Prix. It took me some years before I got the pun.

Can I see a large image of the FIDE anthem score?

Yes, of course you can. I’ve put it in this post: The FIDE anthem score.

Can I hear the FIDE anthem?

Yes, of course you can. I cannot embed the MP3 file here, sadly, but FIDE itself hosts it on its website. Here it is:

This is the official recording, played at the opening and closing ceremonies of the FIDE World Championship. That is, as long as someone remembers to play it at the right moment.

Author: Robert Samuels

I teach music for The Open University and play chess for Cowley Chess Club in the Oxfordshire Chess League.

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