Anacreontic Song

The Anacreontic Song was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century club of amateur musicians in London who gathered regularly to perform concerts. The song is commonly (albeit incorrectly) referred to as "To Anacreon in Heaven", which is not the title, but rather the opening line of the lyrics. These barristers, doctors, and other professional men named their club after the Greek court poet Anacreon (6th century BC), whose poems, "anacreontics", were used to entertain patrons in Teos and Athens. His songs often celebrated women, wine, and entertaining, and today can be considered eroticism.

The connection with Anacreon, along with the "drinking" nature of the lyrics, have caused many people to label "The Anacreontic Song" a drinking song. The chorus certainly suggests Bacchanalia with its lyrics "And long may the sons of Anacreon intwine the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus' vine." In all probability some drinking did occur at Society meetings, but the primary purpose of the Society (and its song) was to promote an interest in music. This absence of an official connection to drinking did not keep the song from being associated with alcohol, as it was commonly used as a sobriety test: If you could sing a stanza of the notoriously difficult melody and stay on key, you were sober enough for another round.


The tune was probably composed (there is only one known firsthand account, by Society member John Samuel Stevens) by a member of the Society, John Stafford Smith, to lyrics by the Society's president, Ralph Tomlinson. Smith wrote the tune in the mid-1760s, while still a teenager. It was first published by Longman & Broderip in London in 1778/1779.

Popularity and use

The song, through its bawdy and imbibing lyrics, gained popularity in London and elsewhere beyond the Anacreontic Society, and new lyrics were also fashioned for it, including, in the United States, under such patriotic titles as " Adams and Liberty" and "Jefferson and Liberty."

The Star-Spangled Banner

The melody, if not the original lyrics, became well-known after Francis Scott Key, an attorney, wrote "Defence of Fort McHenry" while detained on a British ship during the night of September 13 1814, as the British forces bombarded the American fort. His brother, on hearing the poem Key had written, realised it fit the tune of "The Anacreontic Song". Key had also written a different poem in 1805 to the same metrical scheme. Later retitled "The Star-Spangled Banner," Key's words, with a modified version of Stafford Smith's music, became a well-known and recognized patriotic song throughout the United States and was officially designated as the U.S. national anthem in 1931.

External links


Star Spangled Banner


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