Jean-Antoine Zinnen (1827-1898)

The composer of the national anthem, Jean-Antoine Zinnen (1827-1898) was born in Neuerbourg, a part of the Eifel that the Treaty of Vienna of 1815 had assigned to Prussia.

His father, Jean-Baptiste Zinnen, as well as his brothers Adolphe and Auguste, were also musicians. In 1833, the family settled first in Clervaux, then in Diekirch and then, from 1836, in Larochette. Jean-Baptiste Zinnen held the position of music director of the Larochette fanfare and of the local music school that his son, Jean-Antoine, was going to attend. 

At the age of 15, young Zinnen joined the musical corps of the 1st hunter battalion of the federal contingent stationed in Echternach. He perfected his knowledge there under the direction of Ferdinand Hoebich before accepting the position of bandmaster in the 2nd battalion of the Luxembourg contingent in Diekirch. On February 14, 1849 Zinnen became naturalised.

In 1851 he moved to the capital as a teacher of wind instruments and a tutor of the violin class at the “Musik-Conservatoire des Grossherzogtums” in the capital. On August 26, 1857 he was appointed director of this establishment. Zinnen successfully directed an orchestra composed of teachers and students from his establishment, reinforced if necessary by good amateur musicians. During this period (1860) he became a member of the Masonic lodge “Les Enfants de la Concorde Fortisée”.

Zinnen was also fervently committed to music by accepting the position of director of the Philharmonic Society and of the mixed choir “Cercle musical”, being, in 1863, co-founder and first president of the “Allgemeiner Musikerverband” (today Union Grand -Duke Adolphe). He also directed the amateur orchestra of the gymnastics society which was at the origin of the Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg.

From 1872, dissensions arose over the proper functioning of the music school in the capital and in 1882, the municipal council decided to close the school. The same year, Zinnen left Luxembourg to live with his daughter in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris. He accepted a position as violinist in the Lamoureux orchestra and continued to compose instrumental works. He also founded a music group “la Luxembourgeoise” bringing together Luxembourgish emigrants in the French capital. 

Jean-Antoine Zinnen died accidentally on May 16, 1898. His body was transferred to Luxembourg in 1900. A national subscription was organised and the funerary monument designed by the architect Villedieu-Zinnen, brother-in-law of the composer, was inaugurated on May 11 1902 in the presence of the mayor of the City of Luxembourg, the military corps, the organising committee and a huge crowd.

Zinnen entered the collective memory as the composer of the anthem “Ons Heemecht” which was presented in 1864 in Ettelbruck during a concert organised by the “Allgemeiner Musikerverband” with 550 singers and 240 musicians on a poem of Michel Lentz. A prolific composer, Zinnen wrote some 130 musical works. The works of the national poet Michel Lentz often inspired his compositions.

By the Luxembourg law of July 27, 1993, the first and fourth verses of Ons Heemecht (1859), text by Michel Lentz, music by Jean-Antoine Zinnen, constitute the national anthem of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.


Text: Robert L. Philippart, City of Luxembourg