In the mid-1760s, the Anacreontic Society commissioned a young church musician, John Stafford Smith, to compose music for material written by its president, Ralph Tomlinson. Smith's tune, "To Anacreon in Heav'n," was a vehicle not only for the society's accomplished amateurs, but also for its best baritone singer to display virtuosity through an astounding vocal range. Its musical complexity has been compared to that of the famous "Toreador Song" in Bizet's opera Carmen.
About 50 years later, on Sept. 14, 1814, while detained aboard a British ship during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Md., Francis Scott Key witnessed at dawn the failure of the British attempt to take Baltimore. Based on this experience, he wrote a poem that poses the question, "Oh, say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave?" Almost immediately his poem was published and wedded to the tune of the "Anacreontic Song." Some historians believe that Key had the melody, which was very popular and widely recognized in his time, in mind when he wrote "The Star Spangled Banner."