To Anacreon in Heaven

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"The Anacreontic Song"
First page of the 1790 edition of the score.
First page of the 1790 edition of the score.
Song by the Anacreontic Society
Released 1778 (1778)
Label The Vocal Magazine
Writer Ralph Tomlinson
Producer John Stafford Smith
About this sound play 

"The Anacreontic Song", also known by its incipit "To Anacreon In Heaven", was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen's club of amateur musicians in London. Attributed to the composer John Stafford Smith, the tune was later used by several writers as a setting for their patriotic lyrics. These included two songs by Francis Scott Key, most famously his poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry". The latter combination became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner" and was adopted as the national anthem of the United States of America, in 1931.


The music is believed to have been composed[1] by a member of the Society, John Stafford Smith from Gloucester, to lyrics written by the Society's president, Ralph Tomlinson. Smith is believed to have composed the music in the middle 1760s, while still a teenager. It was first published by The Vocal Magazine (London) in 1778.[2]

These barristers, doctors, and other professional men named their club after the Greek court poet Anacreon (6th century BC), whose poems, called "anacreontics", were used to entertain patrons in Teos and Athens. His songs often celebrated women, wine, and entertainment ("wine, woman, and song").

The song, through its bawdy lyrics, gained popularity in London and elsewhere beyond the Anacreontic Society. New lyrics were also fashioned for it, including several patriotic titles in the United States. The most popular of these at the time was Robert Treat Paine Jr.'s Adams and Liberty[3] (1798).

"The Star-Spangled Banner"[edit]

Francis Scott Key wrote "Defence of Fort McHenry" during the War of 1812, while detained on a British ship during the night of September 13, 1814, as the British forces bombarded the American fort. Key specifically wrote the lyrics with this familiar patriotic tune in mind, just as he had done with an earlier set of his lyrics, "When the Warrior Returns", in which he had made similar use of "star-spangled banner" imagery.[4] Later retitled "The Star-Spangled Banner", Key's lyrics, set to Stafford Smith's music, became a well-known and recognized patriotic song throughout the United States, and was officially designated as the U.S. national anthem on March 3, 1931.[5] The setting of new lyrics to an existing tune is called a contrafactum.[6]


  1. ^ There is only one known firsthand account, by Society member John Samuel Stevens.
  2. ^ Glover, Raymond F. The Hymnal 1982 companion, Volume 3, Church Publishing, Inc., 1990.
  3. ^ "Adams and Liberty". 
  4. ^ "When the Warrior Returns". 
  5. ^ "John Stafford Smith: Composer of the Star Spangled Banner". 
  6. ^ As American as tarte aux pommes! Celebrating the Fourth with some American Music

External links[edit]


"The Star-Spangled Banner"[edit]