The Chilean Anthem performed today for official purposes assures Chileans that the sea which peacefully bathes a pure Chile promises them a future of splendor under blue skies. The chorus goes on to repeatedly offer the sweet fatherland a clear choice that leaves freedom as an only option: “either the tomb of the free you will be or the refuge against oppression.”
This official version of the anthem is only a short excerpt of the full version, which Eusebio Lillo wrote in 1847 as a brighter replacement to an earlier 10-verse epic anthem whose entire content makes dramatic reference to the nation’s bloody war for independence from Spain and appeals to anti-Spanish sentiments. The music behind the Chilean National Anthem’s lyrics also underwent early changes.
The Chilean musician Manuel Robles composed the first version in 1819. Several years later, after unfavorable reviews of Robles composition came to light in Britain, the Chilean Minister in London requested that Spanish composer Ramón Carnicer create a new version, a version still used today as the current Chilean Anthem. In 1819, the poet Bernardo de Vera y Pintado wrote the words to the first Chilean anthem; a short-lived national hymn used only until 1847 when Spain’s recognition of an independent Chile and positive relations between the two countries inspired Lillo’s version, which removed Vera y Pintado’s anti-Spain lyrics. Lillo’s piece, which celebrates the brotherly relationship between Spain and Chile, stands in stark contrast to the original anthem-poem written less than 30 years earlier, which refers to the Spanish as “monsters of infamous character.”
Vera y Pintado’s original anthem calls upon listeners to “reject the old chains offered by the haughty Spanish, rip away the tyrant’s dagger” and finally to “break his ferocious neck.” The work goes on to request that Spaniards learn to whimper at the sound of their own chains after three centuries of slavery. While Lillo’s song, which refers to Spain as “our brother” in the second line of the first verse, talks about flowers on fertile soil shaded by peace and pure breezes, all of which “are a happy copy of Eden,” Vera y Pintado’s encourages listeners to respond to vengeance in war and to gaze upon the dead bodies of vile invaders in the fields.The differences in the two works and the political climates that inspired them to remind us of how quickly political relations can turn from violent to harmonious, and offer a certain sense of hope to modern observers on the future of current tense international relationships. Lillo’s version is still the national anthem today, but only the chorus and the fifth verse are used for official purposes.
During August Pinochet’s military regime, which lasted from the year of his successful coup d’état in 1974 to Chile’s return to democracy in 1990, an extra second verse was added that praised the military. During this period, many Chileans refused to sing this extra military verse included in the official version of the anthem to express disapproval of Pinochet’s dictatorship, which was characterized by repression and human rights abuses. Some supporters of Pinochet still recognize and sing the extra verse.
The Chilean National Anthem has survived many different political landscapes over the country’s nearly 200-year history, and it will continue reminding its citizens within future political contexts of what their forefathers expected of them: to make this happy copy of Eden under blue skies the tomb of the free or the refuge of oppression.