Looking Back

Julian Felipe and the PH National Anthem

Julian Felipe is a composer whose fame rests on one tune—the Philippine National Anthem. Imagine the millions in royalties and licensing fees one hit tune could make today. Felipe didn’t earn a centavo from his intellectual property. Neither did Rizal or his estate from all the “Noli” and “Fili” editions, translations, movie-tie ins, and komiks that have been spawned in the last century.

Known as the “Abuelito de Cavite” (Little grandfather of Cavite), Felipe credited his longevity and youthfulness to a calm, routinary life. Conservative in outlook, he detested change and lived all his life as a piano teacher. He never went abroad, nor did he ever wish to be anywhere but Cavite.


Interviewed for Hispanidad (October 1941), the 80-year-old composer said there was no inspiration for “Lupang Hinirang” except an order from Emilio Aguinaldo:

“I repeat that it was simply an order. Some writers, perhaps in their eagerness to dramatize the history of our national march, have attributed various and interesting inspirations, more or less romantic. The reason for that enthusiasm, I don’t know. Probably, they consider the true origin as something prosaic [or commonplace], lacking in ideality [or poetic beauty]. But I do not subscribe to that opinion. Perhaps it was improper that a sentimental tango or a lulling waltz was inspired by an order. But that the inspiration in a martial air is an order, I think there is nothing special.


“It was on Sunday, June 5, 1898, in the house that the ill-fated Don Maximo Inocencio had on Calle del Arsenal, [Don Maximo was] one of the 13 Martyrs of Cavite who were shot in 1896. Don Emilio lived there. Early that Sunday, shortly after mass, I went with a letter of recommendation from General Mariano Trias to offer my respects and adherence to General Aguinaldo. The letter recommended me as a pianist and composer. Having read it and taking advantage of the opportunity that there was a beautiful upright piano in the house, Don Emilio made me play a piece entitled ‘Himno de Balintawak.’ It was a proposed Philippine national march written in Hongkong by a countryman whose name I can’t remember. While playing it on the piano, the General listened carefully. He made me repeat it over and over again and finally, getting up from his chair and approaching me, said: ‘I want you to compose a march to be used as the national anthem of our country. But it must be very different from the one just played. It has to be more serious, more majestic, as a substitute for the Marcha Real Española [Spanish Royal March]. Bring it to me as soon as you have finished it.’

“I returned to my house full of enthusiasm due to the fact that the great leader of the Revolution had entrusted to me, a humble music teacher, a mission of such transcendental character. I began work on the composition. During all the time I was devising and writing the march, I recalled the General’s words repeated in my mind: ‘… as to replace the Marcha Real Española.’ These words, and my desire to express in the hymn of our people the blessed influence of our beloved Mother Spain, is demonstrated by the fact that the composition carries vague melodic reminiscences of the Marcha Real Española, as can be seen in the first bars of our hymn.”

Felipe did not plagiarize elements of the Marcha Real as suggested by some critics; it was a musical homage to Spain’s benevolence, not its defects. Felipe’s march was completed in one to six days, and he carried the score under his arm to Aguinaldo on the morning of Saturday, June 11:

“The General was at a conference with several generals of the Revolution. General Trias received me at the door and after announcing my presence, Don Emilio declared a short recess; he asked me to enter and made everyone get ready to hear my composition. Eight or ten times I had to play it, while everyone present exchanged impressions, judging it. Everyone was pleased, and, at last, expressing their unanimous approval, they officially proclaimed my composition as the Philippine National Anthem, under the title Marcha Nacional Filipina.”

Next day, June 12, 1898, between 4 and 5 p.m., the Declaration of Philippine Independence was read from the window of Emilio Aguinaldo’s Kawit home, Felipe’s march was premiered by the San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias, Cavite) town band, the flag that saw action in the Battle of Alapan on May 28, 1898, was presented as the National Flag, and the rest is history.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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TAGS: Abuelito de Cavite, Emilio Aguinaldo, Julian Felipe, Philippine National Anthem
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