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Euro 2021: why does the Spanish anthem have no lyrics?

When Italy and Spain take to the pitch at Wembley Stadium for the first Euro 2020 semi-final, only one side will be belting out the words to their national anthem.

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Euro 2021: why does the Spanish anthem have no lyrics?
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV AFP

During Spain’s disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign, when the reigning world and European champions had headed to Brazil as one of the favourites for the title only to fall at the first hurdle, a British commentator offered a suggestion for the side’s woes ahead of the crucial second group game against Chile, hot on the heels of a 5-1 drubbing by the Netherlands in the opener: "There’s no passion," was the diagnosis. "They don’t even sing the anthem."

Spanish anthem one of four with no lyrics

Whatever the explanation for the players’ lack of cohesion on the pitch in Brazil, it didn’t have anything to do with vocal harmony before the games. The Spanish national anthem, the Marcha Real, is one of only four in the world that has no lyrics, along with those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and San Marino, despite also being one of the oldest in existence with the first record of the Royal March being used dated to 1761.

It has also been used in its original version since then, despite a few question marks over who the composer might have been (a long and erroneous story perpetuated by various publications led many to believe Frederick II of Prussia was behind the tune) with the Bartolomé Pérez Casas orchestration being declared by Royal Decree to the be the official version in 1908. It remained so until a version by Francisco Grau was similarly ennobled as the official anthem in 1997.

Franco's version of Royal March ditched in 1978

In any case, the Spanish Marcha Real has had no lyrics since 1978, when the lyrics adopted by the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco were abandoned following the dictator’s death as a new Spanish Constitution was ushered in. There was a previous version in use during the reign of Alfonso XIII, which also had lyrics. Alfonso's monarchy came to an end when the Second Spanish Republic was declared in 1931, a precursor to the civil war that would eventually be won by Franco’s Nationalist forces in 1939.

During the Second Republic (1931-39) the Marcha Real was shelved for the Himno de Riego, which did come with lyrics by Evaristo Fernández de San Miguel set to José Melchor Gomis’ composition in honour of Spanish general Rafael del Riego y Flórez, one of the leaders of an 1820 anti-absolutist military revolt against the rule of Ferdinand VII, which demanded the restoration of the liberal 1812 Constitution.

This replacement anthem was employed during the resulting Liberal Triennium period from 1820-23 and for the duration of the First Spanish Republic from 1873-84. It also served as the anthem of the Spanish Republican government-in-exile from 1939-1977.

Unsuccessful attempts to add lyrics

There have been several attempts to add some lyrics to the 1997 version of the Marcha Real, but these have generally met with resistance due to the historical regional identities forged across Spain and the autonomous and semi-autonomous nature of several of Spain's comunidades. A 2018 version by Spanish singer Marta Sánchez was roundly panned in the national press.