What is the Spanish national anthem, and why does it have no words?

25 June 2018, 14:49 | Updated: 25 June 2018, 23:06

National flag of Spain
National flag of Spain. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

It’s the military anthem that leaves Spain’s World Cup players awkwardly swaying and half-heartedly humming along. But where did the anthem come from, and why are there no words?

As World Cup fever takes over for the next few weeks, we’ve been taking solace in an amusing Twitterstorm that broke out in the run-up to Spain’s game against Iran on 20 June.

It seems that some members of the Twittersphere took offence at Spain’s players ‘refusing’ to sing along to their *ahem* wordless anthem.

Funnily enough, ‘Marcha Real’ is one of only four national anthems in the world (along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and San Marino) that has no official lyrics.

The usual practice for audience members is to hum or ‘na na na’ along to the tune, while the players stand and listen in silence.

Read more: The best national anthems in the world

Why does Spain’s national anthem have no lyrics?

‘Marcha Real’ was composed in 1761 by Manuel de Espinosa de los Monteros, who wrote the tune as a military march for the Spanish Infantry.

In the 1770s, Charles III declared it the official march of Spain, and it later became the country’s national anthem.

There have been a number of attempts to set words to the ‘Marcha Real’, some of which have been used at past events. However, none of the suggested lyrics have been officially approved by the Spanish government.

What happened during Franco’s dictatorship?

During the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, the following lyrics, written by fascist poet José María Pemán, were employed.

Long live Spain! Raise your arms, sons
Of the Spanish People, which rebirths anew.
Glory to the Fatherland that knew how to follow,
Over the Ocean blue, the course of the setting sun.
Triumph, Spain! The yokes and the arrows
Sing to the rhythm of the anthem of faith.
Let’s stand and sing along with them
For the new and strong life of work and peace.
Long live Spain! Raise your arms, sons
Of the Spanish People, which rebirths anew.
Glory to the Fatherland that knew how to follow,
Over the Ocean blue, the course of the setting sun.

On Franco’s death and Spain’s move to democracy, the lyrics were dropped.

General Francisco Franco salutes during the singing of the Nationalist national anthem - 1938
General Francisco Franco salutes during the singing of the Nationalist national anthem - 1938. Picture: Getty

What is the current version of the Spanish national anthem?

In 2008, Spain’s Olympic Committee tried to set lyrics to the anthem, but their suggestion was widely criticised due to its opening line of ‘Viva España’, an expression associated with Franco’s dictatorship.

The current version of ‘Marcha Real’ as it stands is a word-less 16-bar phrase, divided into two sections with a form of AABB. There are three official arrangements: for orchestra, military band and organ.

Here’s the rather grand organ arrangement…