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Last updated:06 May 2015

Songs from abroad

The Working Class Movement Library holds songs from other countries which are printed in own languages in some cases and in English or combinations of both. There are songs from Russia, Netherlands, France, Poland, Greece, Italy, China, Canada and others.

Soviet composers, both old and young were animated by one common feeling of love towards their socialist country, the people and their chosen leaders. They were often accused of politics in music in the European press.  Mikhail Glinka defended such statement as this by saying, "It is the peoples who create, we, composers, but arrange."

A Hawthorn Blossoms by Isaak Dunayevsky

One of the most prominent East European writers is Isaak Dunayevsky, born in Lokhvitsi in USSR in 1900. It was obvious from a very young age that he was a musical prodigy, starting piano lessons at the age of four and violin by eight years. At the age of ten he was composing and accepted into the Kharkov College which was to become the Kharkov Conservatory of Music. Although he came to be known to millions of Soviet people as writing popular songs for the masses, he was also very accomplished in classical composition for strings and piano. In 1919 he started to compose for the theatre where he had the ability to compose not only tragic pieces but also for dance.

In a book of twelve Russian folk songs Dunayevsky's song The road is bright was written for a musical film. The Tartar Sons is a folk song from the Koza Region. The Tartars in Russia are descendants of the old Mongol conquerors in the middle ages, who now mostly live in Crimea and around Kazan. Their songs still show their Asiatic origin. Once they were the fiercest and most brutal fighters in the world. Now the songs report that they are loyal, peaceful and industrious. But their fine fighting record in this war shows they have lost none of their old bravery. The last line reiterates, "So shall we a bulwark stand by our great leader Stalin's side".

There are a few folk songs from West Bellorussia and the Grey Goose is from the Polossky region. Songs like this lively dance were great favourites with the girls and women of the collective farms, who sang them and clapped in time to the melody to encourage the dancers. May Day Morning, always a time for festivals and celebrations, became a political song as well as the advent of Spring after the Russian Revolution. This song describes the scene of farm workers parading with bands and banners.

One of the most famous Russian songs is The Birch Tree from Great Russia. Many great composers have used it including Tchaikovsky who included it in one of his most dramatic symphonies.

Text of A Partisan Song

A partisan song

The Partisan Song is one of the most famous songs in the world. It began as the song of the partisan fighters in Siberia, during the bitter civil war of 1918-1920. Since then it has been used as a political song all over Europe and America and in China.  The Yugoslav partisans of Marshal Tito adopted it as their own unofficial anthem. A folk song from Khabarovak region of East Siberia is the Far Eastern Song of the Khor people, a nomadic race of Mongolian origin. It is often called the most beautiful of all oriental folk songs.

Another war song is the Young Partisans' March. Many of the partisan bands who were fighting the Germans in the forests of Russia during World War Two included boys and girls of ten years old and younger. Some of the children won high military awards for their bravery. This march was composed in the first few weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany in June 1941 and it became a popular success immediately.

Cover of Twelve Russian Folksongs for Children, published by the Workers' Music AssociationThe British-Soviet was one of the most durable Friendly Societies that emerged during or after World War Two and was a product of the union of Russia Today Society and the National Committee for British-Soviet Unity. The Library holds a selection of songs to come out of this Friendship, of which there are three Polish songs arranged by Matyas Seiber. A Hawthorn Blossoms written in 1954 is from the film Kubon Cossack and is promoted by the British-Soviet Friendly Society. Matyas Seiber has also written Twelve Russian Folk Songs for Children. There are also five songs in a programme to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the Soviet Union. The music was played by the London Pipe Band and Tikhon Khrennikov, a true Muscovite and one of the most gifted composers of the younger generation in USSR, gave a recital of his own compositions. The conductor was Alan Bush who wrote and arranged numerous working class movements' songs; his wife, Nancy was responsible for English arrangements of songs. Alan Bush, a member of the Labour Party, became involved in 1925 with the London Labour Choral Union and was the musical advisor for eleven years until it collapsed in 1940. He helped to found the Workers' Music Association in 1936 and was its first Chairman until he was called up into the British Army in 1941. He therefore was made the Association's first President, a position he held until he died in 1995. Bush also became the founder and conductor of the London String Orchestra in 1938.

Two Greek songs, Dark in the Night, a Greek Partisan Song and Dance of Zalonghos are about Zalaonghos, the mountain, where in 1804, while the guerrillas of the little republic of Suli were making their last stand against the Turkish oppressors, their women and children are reported to have danced one of their old round dances. At the end of each verse the woman or child at the end of the line would jump to death over the precipice and the dance continued until all had perished.

Marcha del 26 Julio marks the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks in Cuba by a handful of Marcha del 26 Julio by Agustin Diaz Cartayaguerillas which culminated in the seizure of power nearly five and a half years later. Those who did not die in the Moncada attack were imprisoned but the significance of the attack was the emerging of a movement indicating a road to liberation for the masses crushed by the Batista regime. The Cubans took Fidel Castro to their hearts and at his trial he said "History will absolve me." The sentence of fifteen years was reduced due to a general amnesty, but while in prison Castro developed the organisation to become known as the 26th July Revolutionary Movement. He joined with Pais of the Oriente Region of Mexico and planned the 'Granma landing', on the small ship 'Granma', which failed at the hands of the Batista Army. Only twelve survived to retreat to the Sierra Maestra Mountains, including Che Guevara, where Castro's movement gained popular support ands grew to over 800 men.

At the first congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, Castro explained the importance of the two failed attempts. "The course of history in any country has to face these inevitable and at times tragic alternatives. What is important in certain circumstances in paving the way to the future is the indomitable will to fight and revolutionary action itself. Without Moncada there would have been no freedom, no struggle in the Sierra Maestra and no great victory of January 1 1959" when Batista fled the country.

Canadian Communist Joe S. Wallace, a reporter and columnist for several periodicals including the Daily Clarion, the Worker and the Canadian Tribune, lived from 1890 to 1975. His career as a communist writer began when he started writing poems and articles for the Worker, the national weekly newspaper of the newly formed Workers' Party of Canada which was the public front of the Communist Party of Canada and affiliated to the Labour Party. His first poem in the Worker was Awake on 4 July 1923 and is a rousing call to the Canadian proletariat to seize the heritage its labour has earned.

Now deliverance comes at last,
The world is locked in the struggle vast;
Rise to your Russian comrades' call,
Masters are nothing! Men are all.

His articles in the Worker were quite outspoken and included an exposé of the coal mining industry of Nova Scotia. After much personal tragedy of losing his young daughter and his wife, he eventually was an unpaid activist for the Communist Party, having lost his job in an advertising agency because of his political activities. His poetry took a back seat to polemical pamphlets such as Class Justice and Mass Defense until in 1936 he moved to Toronto to write for the Daily Clarion. In 1940, When Canada was at war with Germany and Italy, the Liberal government of MacKenzie King made the Communist Party illegal and many were arrested and interned. Although most Communist published activity was suppressed, the Clarion continued but under the new name of the Canadian Tribune. However in 1941 Wallace was also arrested and even after Russia became an ally of Canada the internees were not released but kept in a camp in Quebec.

After the war, influenced by, among others, William Morris, a literary magazine, New Frontiers, was created with Wallace on the editorial committee. In the 1950s he became very popular in Russia, visiting there several times until finally taking up residence in a writers' rest home near Moscow. He returned to Vancouver in 1968 to live in a retirement home and continued writing and visiting Russia. The Last Post was written by Wallace in 1970 and was printed among many of his poems to honour his eightieth birthday and his dedication as the people's poet striving to shed the shackles of capitalism.

Wallace believed than man's object in life should be "to find a cause that is greater than yourself and grow great with it." He died at the age of 85 in 1975 from a heart attack in Vancouver, and apart from a few poems in anthologies, his work was out of print by the time of his death.


Resources about these songs in the library collection

Songs by Dunayevsky

  • A hawthorn blossoms (1954) - Shelfmark: AG Songs Box 3
  • Land of freedom (no date) - AG Songs Box 3
  • My Cossack eagle: from the film Kuban Cossack (1951) - Shelfmark: AG Workers' Music Association Box 1
  • Young comrades song (1939) - Shelfmark: AG Workers' Music Association Box 1

Matyas Seiber, Twelve Russian folksongs for children (no date) - Shelfmark: AG Workers' Music Association Box 1

Nancy Bush Alan Bush, Two Greek songs (1945) - AG Workers' Music Association Box 1

Agustin Diaz Cartaya Marcha del 26 Julio (no date) - AG Songs Box 3

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