Monday, July 12, 2010

Hymn to the United Nations

Though many songs have been written about the United Nations or on related themes, there is no official anthem or hymn for the Organization. One such song, or hymn, was written and performed at the United Nations on 24 October 1971, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations, by maestro Pablo Casals of Spain. The words were written by poet W.H. Auden of the United Kingdom.

The two, though they had never met, were brought together in this unusual collaboration by then United Nations Secretary-General U Thant. For centuries, poets and musicians have sung in praise of war and celebrated victories in battles. Mr. U Thant was intrigued by the fact that there existed no hymn to peace. Pablo Casals was a personal friend of his, and when approached by U Thant, he readily agreed to write the music. As the Secretary-General explained, the song was to be based on the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations. Although it would not be formally adopted as the official anthem of the United Nations, U Thant hoped it would be performed on appropriate occasions.

While Casals greatly liked the ideas contained in the preamble, there was no way he could put music to such a document. The task to write an appropriate poem, based on the theme of peace and ideals enshrined in the preamble, fell on W.H. Auden, then regarded as the greatest living English poet. When a representative of the Secretary-General approached the poet, he immediately agreed to write the poem. In three days’ time, Auden finished writing A hymn to the UN, which was then set to music by Casals.

On 24 October 1971, the Orchestra of the Festival Casals, with the Maestro himself as conductor, presented the hymn in a première performance at UN headquarters.

The stamp above issued by Andorra in 2006 features Casals, commemorating his 130th Birth Anniversary. Below is a stamp issued by France also in 2006.