In 1936 Stalin decided a change in national anthem was needed, believing the lyrics of the “Internationale” spoke of work that was yet to be done by the workers of the world; Stalin, however, believed that the workers’ ultimate goal has been achieved. Stalin also felt that his soldiers would respond better to an anthem about their country, rather than a movement; also the fact that “The Internationale” was written by non-Russians was an issue for him. This task was delayed by the outbreak of World War II; however, during the heat of the war in 1942, money was set aside to create a new anthem. On June, 18, 1943 the deputy prime minister of the USSR Marshal Kliment Voroshilov and Party Secretary Alexander Shcherbakov had been instructing about 20 soviet poets and composers for about two hours what anthem they should create: “Its lyrics must live decades at least, and maybe, and even for sure, hundreds of years. Its music must be easy to understand, expressive, plain for Russians as well as for Kalmyks. People will sing in both in joy and in misfortune.”
Two war reporters Captain S. Mikhalkov (also a popular children’s author) and Major Gabriel Uryeklyan (writing under the name “El-Reghistan”) were not invited to visit Voroshiliv’s lecture about a future anthem. One night El-Reghistan in his sleep saw himself with his friend Sergey Mikhalkov writing these words of anthem: “The noble union of free peoples / Great Russia has welded for ever!” In early morning he came in a great hurry to Sergey and they finished the first stanza together.
On September, 20 they were called into the Kremlin. Then the text was corrected by Stalin (who has written poetry in his youth). The first version of the text, officially adopted on Sep. 26, had only two stanzas and a refrain, different from the one that was eventually approved for use. But after the meeting with Foreign Ministers of the countries of the Anti-Hitler coalition in Moscow, at night on Sep., 27 Stalin by phone asked Mikhalkov to write the third, “militant” stanza. After the text was ready work was begun on the music. Mikhalkov and Reghistan considered that the music must be created by the composers S.S. Prokofiev and D.D. Shostakovich, two of the great composers of the country. But, on November 4 Stalin again telephoned to Mikhalkov and told him to write his refrain in Alexandrov’s hymn meter: “Keep present stanzas and in the new chorus emphasize that our country is soviet and socialist”. Alexandrov’s melody was already in use as the anthem of the Bolshevik party, and Stalin perhaps had in mind to use this melody as the anthem, holding the contest so that lyrics could be written that matched the tune.
Some of the failed entrants of the competition went on to write anthems of the various republics, like Tikhon Khrennikov (whose entry became the anthem of the Russian region of Omsk, with new lyrics); Boris Alexandrov (son of the winning composer), whose entry became the anthem of Transnistria; Pavel Tychina, who later wrote the lyrics for the Ukrainian SSR anthem; Samed Vurgun, who later wrote the Azerbaijan SSR anthem lyrics; and the composer Shostakovich, who was advised by Stalin to collaborate with Khachaturyan (another failed entrant, and the composer of the Armenia SSR anthem), their joint venture became “The Song of the Red Army”.
Also, from the period of 1944-1955, most Soviet republics adopted their own anthems (links are below). Only Russia didn’t get its own anthem, however party authorities chose the lyrics of Stepan Shchipachev as the basis for further work and the famous composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote music “Hymn of the RSFSR”, yet it was never adopted. After the death of Stalin in 1953 (as his name appeared in the lyrics of the anthem at the time), it was proposed to create a new anthem for the nation, but this never came about. Instead, it was performed without words until 1977, when new words, also written by Mikhalkov in 1970, were adopted by the Supreme Soviet.
Special thanks to: Klaus Caussmacher for some of this information and the official English lyrics, and to Bernardo Galker and Pavel Zinovatny for some additional information.