Josef Haydn, inspired by the British national anthem, felt that the Austrian Empire and Emporer Francis II could use a national anthem as well. Haydn’s patron asked the poet Lorenz Haschka to write lyrics, and the anthem was ready in time for its debut February 12, 1797 on the birthday of the emporer. (Haydn would use the melody later that year in his “Emporer Quartet”. He was said to be very fond of the piece and it is rumoured that “Die Kaiserhymne” (or “Kaiserlied” as it was also known) was the last piece of music Haydn sung and played before he took ill and died in 1809.)

“Die Kaiserhymne” is unique in that upon Francis II’s death in 1835 new words were written for the new emporer Ferdinand. Upon Ferdinand’s resignation in 1848, the original lyrics were used since the new emporer was also named Francis (also known as Franz Josef). In 1854, however, new lyrics were written, and translated into the many languages in use in the empire. Similar to Haydn over 100 years before, Franz Josef was said to have died in 1916 singing the “Kaiserlied”.

Special thanks to: Klaus Caussmacher for the sheet music.