“To Anacreon in Heaven”


"To Anacreon in heav'n where he sat in full glee, A few sons of harmony sent in a petition." They ask the poet to be their patron, describe how they intend to drink and enjoy themselves, and wander off into sundry classical allusions


Anacreon (c. 563-476 B.C.E.) was a Greek poet for whom the anacreonitic metre (^^-^-^--) was named. Only fragments of his poetry survive; what scraps remain are in praise of wine, love, and pleasure.

John Stafford Smith is most frequently listed as the author of this tune, and his name appears on the first dated sheet music (1799; the earliest printing, probably c. 1782, has no author listed). However, Samuel Arnold, who conducted the Anacreonitic Society's orchestra, has also been named.

This song was written for the Anacreonitic Society, devoted (like Anacreon's writings) to wine and pleasure. The society broke up in 1786.

For commentary on the various obscure allusions in this piece, the reader is referred to Spaeth's _Read 'Em and Weep_. Those who wish to see a list of all the (generally dreadful) lyrics set to the tune around the beginning of the nineteenth century, see Spaeth's _History of Popular Music in America_, p. 40. - RBW

Anyone who complains that our national anthem is bad poetry (and some do) should look at the lyrics to this song, its ancestor. They are immeasurably worse. The Library of Congress conducted a study of the song's origins in the early part of this century; among other issues, they considered (and rejected) a suggestion that the tune was composed by the Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan. - PJS

Cross references


  1. Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 8-11, "To Anacreon in Heaven" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Fuld-WFM, pp. 528-533, "The Star Spangled Banner"
  4. BI, SRW008


Author: Words: Ralph Tomlinson / Music: John Stafford Smith (?)
Earliest date: 1778 (The Vocal Magazine)
Keywords: drink nonballad gods
Found in: Britain(England)