Which song defines your generation

Sound of the century

Hanns-Werner Heister

Hanns-Werner Heister, Dr., Professor of Musicology at the Hamburg University of Music and Theater (retired).

Forward and don't forget

One of the classic battle songs of the labor movement, the United front song, was not untypically created just two years after the victory of the Nazis in exile. On behalf of the International Music Office, the director Erwin Piscator asked Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler for a "good united front song" in December 1934. The song was premiered at the 1st International Workers' Music and Singing Olympiad in Europe in Strasbourg on Whitsun 1935 and quickly spread internationally. In Brecht's text it says: "And because a person is a person, he needs something to eat, please!" (1st stanza), and further "that's why he doesn't like boots on his face, he doesn't want to see any slave among himself and no master above himself." Eisler reproduced this universally valid logic musically - for example by ascending and responding fourths and fifths as elementary, fundamental structures. In the German Reich meanwhile, only the songs of the NSDAP and its subdivisions such as SA or HJ could be heard on streets and squares, the most important places of the battle song. The two mainstreams of the labor movement, social democratic and communist, had lost the battle.

1932: Record with songs from the Iron Front. (& copy Wikimedia, Meyer-Rähnitz Collection)
As early as 1932, the choir conductor and composer Karl Rankl, like Eisler from the Schönberg School, composed another song with the same title based on the text of an unknown poet. There it said, among other things: "We are against war and fascism and hardship [...] / We close the ranks, march together, / We beat the common enemy together!" Brecht / Eisler's battle songs took this aim into account. your United front song belongs to the Austro-German heritage of world musical culture.

Between soldier's song and morality

The beginnings of the battle song in the 1920s were and sound different. Instead of the elaborate text with a high degree of generalization and a musical setting that reflected the arts of the current composing trade, there were spontaneously composed, event-related verses and simple melodies. They were created in combat, often on the fly and therefore not very picky about argumentation, diction and music. This is directly related to the numerous battles in the course of the counter-revolution after November 9, 1918 Büxenstein song. It deals with the occupation and defense of the Büxenstein printing company in the Berlin newspaper district against the troops summoned by Reichswehr Minister Noske in January 1919. In the text by the locksmith Richard Schulz it says, among other things: "[...] a Spartakist [...] fights for freedom and for Right […], / That all people, big and small, / On earth should be brothers, / That no one should suffer further distress / And everyone has enough daily bread. " Here there are characteristic differences to right-wing, nationalistic or "National Socialist" battle songs - thoughts such as the ideal of global brotherhood are not to be found there. The "January battles" ended with the defeat of the forces that wanted to preserve and develop the achievements of the November Revolution instead of eliminating them.

As early as January 1919, posters on Berlin advertising pillars had called for the murder of the leaders of the KPD, which were essential goals of the Russian October and German November revolutions, which the Büxenstein song treated, cynically twisted: "Beat their leaders to death! Kill Liebknecht! Then you will Peace, work and bread Just as brutal is the battle song of the Ehrhardt naval brigade from 1918/1919: "The Ehrhardt brigade / Beats everything short and sweet, / Woe to you, woe to you, / You working pig." After the formal dissolution of the many former members of the imperial Army existing Freikorps, the SA took over their battle song in 1923. Apart from the name in the opening lines, it did not have to change much: "Swastika on a steel helmet /Blood red the ribbon [instead of: black-white-red ribbon] /Sturmabteilung Hitler [instead of: The Ehrhardt Brigade] / we are called. "

Battle song as political music

The concept of the battle song not only describes songs that directly call for a fight against or for something, but also songs of lament, accusation and mourning such as Immortal victims (1919), Leuna song (1920) or The little trumpeter (1925). Mourning remembrance and aggressive challenge can equally activate through emotions, sometimes even, as with United front song von Brecht and Eisler, on reflection and "intervening thinking". Mostly there are keywords: freedom or death, flag and fatherland, peace and brotherhood, and key sounds: march dots and appealing fourth prelude. The latter touch an archaic psychological-social deep structure. Above all, this gives rise to the much-cited power of music.

The battle song is a genre of political music that is particularly clearly included in the political and social disputes. Battle songs are assigned to specific currents, institutions or collectives. They act as an expression and to reinforce group identities and are used for propaganda and agitation between overwhelming, persuading and convincing. Battle songs are embedded in organizational structures and overarching processes such as demonstrations and outdoor celebrations. They are also sung or played in closed rooms at larger or smaller events that are a mixture of rally and concert. During demonstrations, instrumental music by drummers and whistlers, shawm bands, marching bands and brass bands complements the singing, sometimes as accompaniment, sometimes independently and then often with marching music or instrumental versions of the songs.

Political groups and parties often appeared martial and uniformed. The militaristic mentality of the Wilhelmine Reich, reinforced by the World War, continued to have an ominous legacy across political fronts and beyond the end of the civil war-like situation in 1923, leaving uniforms, a "dashing" demeanor, disciplined marching, columns of cyclists and trucks as well as theatrical-military props how flags, banners or torches appear particularly attractive, and not just for the right-wing.

Battle song and battle music, counterfactures and "re-functions"

Two main groups can be distinguished: "mass songs" like that United front songthat, when sung collectively, are primarily intended for a wider public, as well as agitprop songs like that Banking song or Soap songthat are more suitable for performance by smaller groups or individuals. According to the origin and creation, the battle songs were either newly composed songs or so-called counterfactures, i.e. H. Songs on existing melodies that have been given new lyrics. The latter predominated. Because an already familiar melody does not have to be learned first. Their familiarity, familiarity and popularity also rub off on what is to be conveyed. And because the melody is familiar, attention can focus on the political message of the text.

Most of the time, well-known, popular melodies were rewritten. Genres of popular music such as bench song, couplet and hit song were the first, soldier songs the second important source for melodies of the battle song. In terms of their emotional content, they are sometimes plaintive to sentimental, sometimes militant to brutal. In addition, some "tendency songs" composed in the youth of the social democratic labor movement, such as the Worker marseillaise continued to be used. And finally, international songs were also part of the battle songs repertoire. The anarchist Erich Mühsam, for example, backed Pierre Degeyter's melody of the International in March 1920 with a new text. In that now International of the Red Guards Instead of the usual "Wake up, damned of this earth", the song entitled "Let go of the levers of the machines / To fight out of the factory. / We want to serve the work of the future / The free ones." Soviet Republic."

In addition to the battle song, there were instrumental music genres. Both complemented each other in what we termed Eisler's "strugglemusicMost of the instrumental pieces, at least on the street, were marches, old ones with the right, with the left preferably newer, textless versions of battle songs. A specialty of the KPD were shawm orchestras. The Nazis adopted many aesthetic ones , verbal and even conceptual elements of the labor movement as set pieces and reworked them (a term used by Brecht) .They proceeded in the same way with battle songs, e.g. a left-wing battle song composed in 1919 as a rewrite of a soldier's song in which it among other things means "on, on to the fight! To fight! / We are born to fight. / On, on to the fight! To fight! / We are ready to fight! / We swore it to Karl Liebknecht / We shake hands with Rosa Luxemburg. "The Nazis could easily change this refrain, for example to" We swore it to Adolf Hitler / We shake hands with Adolf Hitler. "

There are particularly many versions (over 50) of the Leuna song; in them, it is mainly the location information that varies. It is a rewording of the soldier's song Many fell in France. It probably originated during the Ruhr struggles in 1920 - after the workers' movement had triumphed through a general strike and armed struggle, the military immediately took action against the "Red Ruhr Army" on behalf of the Reich government; For example, it says: "Many fell near Duisburg / Many were lost near Duisburg." The reference to Leuna (in the central German industrial area Halle-Merseburg-Mansfeld) is due to the - ultimately unsuccessful - defensive struggles of the workers' movement against the "security police" and the Reichswehr in March 1921. After the suppression of this central German uprising, it was called Leuna song one of the most sung battle songs. Once again the Nazis attached themselves to this with a version related to the Munich November coup of 1923: "Many fell in Munich / Many were there in Munich."

1941: marching band of the National Political School in Potsdam (& copy picture-alliance, akg-images)
Just as little as with the content and form of the songs, especially the lyrics, just as little can one speak of a symmetry between left and right with regard to the quality and quantity of the production. The fighting music of the right, especially its extreme wing, the Nazis, was predominantly parasitic: On the one hand, it drew from war and pre-war traditions such as the nationalist march and marching song, and on the other hand, it used the repertoire of the youth movement, especially for the younger generation of its supporters . This emerged as a romantic, anti-bourgeois movement, mainly among bourgeois youth at the end of the 19th century ("Wandervogel"), spread to other strata up to the First World War and further differentiated itself after the war with a politically broad spectrum, in dominated by the right currents. This repertoire includes B. the song We are the Geyer's black bunch. The text contains slogans from the Peasants' War of 1525, which have been underlaid with a new melody. The song was even included in the SS repertoire. Thirdly, the right rewrote songs from the environment of the labor movement.

Similarities in the material-formalities between the right and left battle songs, even where they were not taken over, are simply due to the fact that here, as there, it was often a matter of counterfactors, above all of existing soldier songs. To conclude from this similarity that the left and the right are equal in terms of content and politics, as the followers of the totalitarian theory do, is misleading.

The rest of this identity legend relates to the "steals from the commune" (Ernst Bloch). So it became primarily social democratic Brothers to the sun, to freedom probably as early as 1927 by the Nazis as Brothers in collieries and mines or as Brothers formed the columns taken into service, as well as the social democratic When we walk side by side. As far as can be seen, the fighting songs of the right did not even become hegemonic in the streets before 1933; except perhaps where, as in Thuringia, the Nazis came to power in the state government before 1933 - but then it was not about battle songs, but about "purges" especially of high culture.

"Operative art" between agitprop troops and cabaret

Agitprop troops in particular spread the politically topical, pointed battle song. Agitprop - the term stands for agitation and propaganda with artistic means - as one of the specific forms of workers' and street theater, relied above all on technically not complex, as catchy and direct-acting revue-like, cabaret-style programs linked by a red thread; they contained traditional individual genres such as brief scenic presentations, satirical sketches, short dialogues (blackout), Acrobatics and other forms from the circus, recitation as well as the new genres of speaking choir, song, fighting and folk song, hit song, morality, spoken song, dance, pantomime.

From agitprop as street theater there are numerous cross-connections and interactions with professional theater as well as with cabaret and genres such as couplet (the German-language song type still from the Wilhelmine Empire), chanson (the French-speaking type) and song (the song type originating from the English-speaking area, in connection with the musical with a standardized 32-bar form consisting of verse and chorus). Characteristic of the agitprop is the very popular one at the time Soap song of 1928, which relates to concrete events, but whose message is more general: "We have given our brothers / With campaign soap. / We will do that again next time; / It has paid off. // We are making foam. / We soap up. / We wash our hands / clean again. " During the Reichstag elections in 1928, the Berlin Social Democrats distributed "Toilett-Soife" with the imprint "Vote SPD" at their rallies. The second stanza alludes to the "truce" with the warmongers of the empire. On August 4, 1914, the majority of the SPD parliamentary group in the Reichstag approved the war credits: "We approved it / The great holy war. / We approved credits / Because our conscience was silent."

That was the answer to the Great Depression in 1931 Banking song with an update of an older text by Jean-Baptiste Clément by Walter Mehring (music: Hanns Eisler). Musically even more emphatic is Stefan Wolpe's version, who provided Mehring's text with a new melody, the title of the song We are fired gave and demanded for the song performance: "wild and rebellious".

Eisler believed that the different spheres of music making were permeable to one another. So he wrote it in 1929 Song of the Comintern (Song of the working people) on the text by Franz Jahnke and Maxim Vallentin for the agitprop troupe "Das Rote Sprachrohr". In 1933 he used it for film music too Dans les Rues. Eisler also arranged the film music as an orchestral suite in eight movements; the song can be found in VI. Sentence "Andante eroico (Andante - marching tempo)" as the theme. Eisler thus transformed "combat music" into "applied music" - here as film music - and into "concert music".

Belated blooming

New battle songs, some agitprop, some mass songs, were created mainly from 1928 onwards. The reason for the widespread song vom Red Wedding, for which Eisler wrote the music (text: Erich Weinert), was most likely the "Blutmai" in Berlin in 1929 - during a demonstration on May 1st, the social democratic police chief had demonstrators shot at. The original version contains a line of text, the statement of which corresponds to the united front concept: "We do not ask you about the association and the party." In the song accompaniment, Eisler also used the short quote from the beginning of the International as a kind break a: "Left, left, left, left! The drums are stirred, [respite; instrumental:" Wake up, damned of this earth "] / Left, left, left, left! The red Wedding is marching!"

The Solidarity song, another battle song classic, was written or composed by Brecht and Eisler for the film in August 1931 Kuhle Wampe or who owns the world from the year 1932. The refrain reads: "Forward and don't forget, / In what our strength consists! / When starving and while eating, / Forward and don't forget: / Solidarity!" Remarkably, Brecht calls here with "Black, White, Brown, Yellow!" - already a global unit that encompasses all continents and groups of people.

Portrait of Horst Wessel and text of the song named after him.(& copy picture-alliance, Mary Evans Picture Library)
From 1927/1928 onwards, a few (few) new songs were created on the part of the Nazis, which were not re-texting of soldiers 'or workers' songs or battle songs of the left. The one that was best known was that of the pimp and SA man Horst Wessel Horst Wessel Lied - after his death it became the hymn of the NSDAP and in the "Third Reich" even an official appendix to the national anthem (Germany song). "Raise the flag! / The ranks firmly closed! SA marches / With a steady, steady step. / Kam’raden, shot the red front and reaction, / Marching in spirit / In our ranks." It has often been rightly mocked that it is not clear what is subject and object in the sentence of the "comrades", i.e. who shot whom - a mistake that is characteristic of the Nazis' mendacity. Still, the ranks of rolling, alliterating Rs are impressive. The song is an effective intertextual montage of parts of popular melodies and formulations from other song texts.

The battle songs of the Nazis contain many musical allusions, especially to workers' battle songs or text quotations. People at the gun (also known by the title Do you see the dawn in the east?), which was one of the most frequently sung mass songs of the "Third Reich", was written and composed by the Berlin hobby musician and businessman Arno Pardun in 1931. The second line quotes almost literally the hymn of social democracy Brothers to the sun, to freedom: "Do you see the dawn in the east / A sign to freedom to the sun. "The second stanza evokes the anti-Semitic phantasm of Jewish rule and, as a counter-image, the phantasm of the saving German leader:" Served the people and cheated / Traitors and Jews had gain [...] / Born in the people, a leader emerged / Gave faith and hope to Germany again. "The final stanza uses a central murderous slogan of the Nazis in a slightly softened form:" Germany, awake / Judah the death. "

Thanks in part to his song Es tremble, the rotten bones from 1932, Hans Baumann, born in 1914, became one of the main songwriters of the Nazi regime after 1933. Already after the transfer of power arose Forward! Forward! blare the bright fanfares (other title: Our flag flutters ahead of us), which is also called Flag song of the Hitler Youth referred to as. The text comes from "Reichsjugendführer" Baldur von Schirach, the effective melody from the film composer Hans Otto Borgmann. The song kept in march was the score for the propaganda film Hitler Youth Quexwhich premiered in September 1933.

Today the songs of the labor movement are associated with the sound of the street and gatherings of the 1920s. That is true at least for the big cities. From around 1931/1932, the NSDAP is likely to have increasingly shaped the musical and non-musical sound of the urban soundscape - an imaginary-real, symbolic and yet sensual-practical creeping "seizure of power" even before the official transfer of power on January 30, 1933.

Post-bloom under Nazi rule

In prisons and concentration camps, communists, social democrats, Christians and other opponents of the Nazis found themselves beaten together and often united under the sign of anti-fascism, after they had previously been separated on the streets, in halls and parliaments and mostly marched against each other. Here, including Yiddish songs, a rich and differentiated repertoire of resistance songs emerged, which in the end were still a kind of "battle song".

Even more than the conceptually and textually compressed one United front song donated songs like the less binding When do we walk since ’ Similarities. It came from the youth movement and after 1918 it became popular in various political movements, in bourgeois, covenant, Christian, but especially in the social democratic one. Hermann Claudius (1878-1980) wrote the text in 1914; Michael Englert (1868 - 1955) composed the melody in 1915. The song caused a sensation at the first nationwide workers' youth conference in Weimar in August 1920. In a Catholic arrangement, the last line of the refrain was called "Christ, Lord of the New Age" instead of "With us time moves." The Hitler Youth and the Association of German Girls (BDM) also adopted the song. The SA seized it as early as 1933 - it appeared in their songbooks under the category "own songs" - and sang the text on a setting by Armin Knab.

The text and the catchy melody leave space for all sorts of projections: "When we walk since’ on since ’/ And sing the old songs, / […] We feel it has to succeed: / The new time is moving with us." The working day and everyday life are contrasted with the holiday and the sunny day: "A week of hammering, a week of building blocks / Trembling in our veins; / But nobody dares to quarrel! / The sunny day laughs wonderfully." In 1938, Heinz Hentschke composed a cautiously resistant additional stanza in the Aschendorfermoor prison camp: "A week of cooling / And the rolling of heavy carts / Sounds always in our ears, / But nobody dreams of being lost. / Stay happy, moor soldier!" Seven years later, at least hopes for a restoration of democratic conditions were fulfilled. The similarities that arose under the pressure of the Nazi dictatorship mostly disintegrated after 1945. And hopes for a fundamentally "new era", even for a socialist world revolution, as evoked by many battle songs, had already been finally destroyed in 1933.


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