”Maamme” (Our country), the national anthem of Finland, must be one of the most international of all national anthems. The music was composed by a German immigrant, the lyrics were originally written in Swedish, and the same melody, with different lyrics, also serves as the national anthem of Estonia.

Fredrik Cygnaeus speaking at the Flora’s Day Celebration in 1848. Source: The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland. Public domain

Fredrik Cygnaeus speaking at the Flora’s Day Celebration in 1848. Source: The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland. Public domain

The poem “Vårt land”, or “Maamme”, was first published in 1848 as a prologue to Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s book “Fänrik Ståls sägner” (Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat / The tales of ensign Stål). The book is a verse cycle, a collection of poems celebrating the heroes of the Swedish-Russian war of 1808-1809. As a result of the war, Finland was separated from Sweden and became a Grand-Duchy in the Russian empire. 1848 was a year of revolutions in Europe, and the book was immediately received with great enthusiasm by the Finnish public. It helped to establish Finland as a “nation among nations”, and paved way for our future independence. The poems were of course written in Swedish, which at that time was the literary language of Finland, but it was soon also translated into Finnish. After Finland gained her independence in 1917, the book became a standard textbook in all schools, and I remember that my mother could still remember many of the poems by heart. On the basis of “Fänrik Ståls sägner” and other works, Runeberg (1804-1877) is recognized as the national poet of Finland. His statue can be found in the Esplanade Park in Helsinki, and his home in Porvoo is a museum.

A portrait of J.L. Runeberg, from the 1880 edition of Fänrik Ståls sägner. Public domain

A portrait of J.L. Runeberg, from the 1880 edition of Fänrik Ståls sägner. Public domain

“Maamme” celebrates the beauty of the hills and valleys of our “northern homeland, precious land of our fathers”. Here is the first verse in Runeberg’s original text:

Vårt land, vårt land, vårt fosterland,
Ljud högt, o dyra ord!
Ej lyfts en höjd mot himlens rand,
Ej sänks en dal, ej sköljs en strand,
Mer älskad än vår bygd i nord,
Än våra fäders jord.

Paavo Cajander’s Finnish translation closely follows the original:

Oi maamme, Suomi, synnyinmaa,
soi, sana kultainen!
Ei laaksoa, ei kukkulaa,
ei vettä rantaa rakkaampaa,
kuin kotimaa tää pohjoinen,
maa kallis isien!

The last verse spells out the hope that one day the nation will rise to glory:

Your splendour from its shell
one day will bloom;
From our love shall rise
your hope, glorious joy,
and once your song, fatherland
higher still will echo.
(Unofficial translation from Wikipedia)

“Vårt land”, from the 1880 edition of Fänrik Ståls sägner. Public domain

“Vårt land”, from the 1880 edition of Fänrik Ståls sägner. Public domain

Fredrik (Friedrich) Pacius (1809 – 1891) was a German composer who held the position of music teacher at the University of Helsinki. Soon after the publication of the book, he set “Vårt land” to music, and it was first performed at a student festival in Helsinki on May 13, 1848.

The young Fredrik Pacius. Drawing by C.P. Mazér from 1836. Source: The National Board of Antiquities of Finland. Public domain

The young Fredrik Pacius. Drawing by C.P. Mazér from 1836. Source: The National Board of Antiquities of Finland. Public domain

In the late 19th century, there was a great demand for patriotic songs, and after “Vårt land” had been translated into Finnish (the current version is based on the translation of Paavo Cajander), the song soon became established in songbooks and as a program number at public gatherings. After Finland became independent in 1917, it was almost automatically adopted as the national anthem. However, it has no legal status, and over the years there have been several attempts to introduce a new anthem. The most popular contender has been “Finlandia”, by Jean Sibelius.

There are innumerable recordings of “Maamme” / “Vårt land”, both instrumental and vocal versions. The earliest are from the period before 1917, when the song was not yet established as our national anthem. Important early recordings include interpretations by opera singers John Forsell (in Swedish, 1908) and Väinö Sola (in Finnish, 1915). Today, “Maamme” has a well-established position in Finnish life.

Listen to the anthem (on Europeana).

When Finland celebrates its national day on December 6th, the day when the country declared its independence in 1917, it would be unthinkable not to perform the national anthem. As Finland is constitutionally bilingual, it is customary on formal occasions to sing the anthem in both languages. Children learn the song at school, and it is also frequently heard on less serious occasions such as sports events. However, it is interesting to note that our president have chosen another song from the second volume “Fänrik Ståls sägner” (1860) as their theme song. As the President of the Republic enters, the band plays “Porilaisten marssi” / “Björneborgarnes mars”, a more militaristic song celebrating the exploits of Finnish troops in the Thirty-years war of 1618-1648.

Finnish and Estonian are closely related languages, and in the 19th century Estonian nationalists eagerly followed developments in Finland. At that time, copyright was not as important as today. In 1869, Johann Voldmar Jannsen wrote the poem “Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm”, which was loosely based on Runeberg’s text and sung to the music of Pacius. It was adopted as the national anthem of Estonia in 1920, when the country first became independent, and reintroduced in 1990.

by Pekka Gronow, University of Helsinki