A Sound Legacy


Wage Rudolf "WR" Supratman is best known as the composer of Indonesia's national anthem, as well as a war hero whose birthday is also observed as the National Music Day of Indonesia. The legacy of Supratman, whose face adorns the Rp 50,000 banknote, is celebrated in a museum bearing his name in Surabaya.

Museum WR Supratman

Photo By Bagus Tri Laksono

Born in March 1903 to a Dutch colonial army sergeant and his wife, Siti Senen; WR Supratman started playing musical instruments and attending school from an early age. For his 17th birthday, he was gifted a violin by his brother-in-law van Eldik. Together, they started the "Black & White Jazz Band", with WR as the violinist.

When he was 25, Supratman wrote the lyrics and the melody for "Ibu Kita Kartini", a song about Indonesia's famous heroine and proto-feminist, as well as "Indonesia Raya", now the national anthem, albeit after some rearrangements. "Indonesia Raya" was first played publicly during the Second Indonesian Youth Congress (known as the Sumpah Pemuda, or Youth Oath conference) in 1928 to an impressed audience. Something about the song added fuel to the fire in the hearts of the locals and "Indonesia Raya" helped spark a nation-wide movement towards independence.

Seeing how impactful WR's song could be, the Dutch constantly pursued him. He composed one last song, "Matahari Terbit" (The Rising Sun), before his capture and subsequent death on 17 August 1938, exactly seven years before Indonesia would declare its independence. Unfortunately, the young composer didn't live to witness the official pronouncement of "Indonesia Raya" as the national anthem in 1959.

To commemorate Supratman, a museum was inaugurated in Surabaya in October 2003 by then culture and tourism minister. A life- size statue of Supratman playing the violin greets visitors upon entering. Past a small driveway and front lawn and inside the modest white-clad museum are Supratman's original sheet music, violin and family pictures. Those in Jakarta wanting to honour Supratman can visit the Museum Sumpah Pemuda, which also presents photographs and memorabilia about this famed figure.

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