31 July 2009

The blood chilling affinity or songs that change color

There is nothing more painful for an indoctrinated old-style communist than this subject. Indeed, such communist will vastly prefer that you stick a fork in his/her eye...

It is a long post, so for the impatient here comes a clip that will give you a brief overview of the subject: the unthinkable (for some folks, mentioned above) affinity between Nazi and Soviet songs of the 1920-1940 period. The clip voice-over is German, but it is not necessary to listen to the words - it is mandatory, however, to listen to the melodies and watch... enjoy.



Vladimir Frumkin, who appears in the clip speaking Russian, is a musicologist and radio journalist, ex-Soviet citizen who touched a raw nerve in two countries by his research into common roots of several Soviet and Nazi songs, most popular during the period and, it should be mentioned, way beyond the period. Unfortunately, his groundbreaking work wasn't translated into English - at least not to the best of my knowledge. So, excerpts* from the linked article, translated (poorly) by me and Google, follow. But even if you don't read Russian, it will be worth your while to browse through the illustrations in the original article that show the same affinity of Nazi and Soviet visual art.



(British cartoon from 1939)

Somewhere in the beginning of 1970-s, year or two before departure from the USSR, I've heard about a sad destiny of one master thesis written in Kiev after the war [WW II] and devoted to music of the Third Reich. The dissertation wasn't approved and its theme have been tabooed. The author, however, has recovered from impact, has changed the theme, made the degree and has served as the senior scientific researcher of the Leningrad's research institute of theater, music and cinematography.

I didn't wish to chafe an old wound of the venerable colleague, but the temptation was great: this theme interested me too strongly, and there was almost no material. Having heard my question: whether anything was left from the old work — the plan, theses, the bibliography? — Abram Gozenpud's eyes have somehow grown dull, he looked away: it's an old business, I don't remember anything, nothing was left. And he had quickly changed the topic.

Business was certainly, old, but the fright looked very much fresh.


I have recollected this dialogue and this fright when, leaving USSR, I passed in March 1974 the border control at the Leningrad airport. Puny, of a semi-intelligent kind, sergeant Zhenya, weeding through my card file, has pulled out from it almost everything related to the culture of fascism — German and Italian. Sergeant reacted to my protests and bewilderment with a reproaching smirk: do not play naive, we understand perfectly — the possible unhealthy associations and other tricks...

I didn't suffer the loss of the cards for too long. In the West everything was recovered quickly enough, and even some new material was found, giving food not only for these "unhealthy associations". Having delved deeper into the theme, I have found out that in the music of Hitlerite Germany and Stalinist Russia, besides similar tendencies (total nationalization of "musical property", rigid decrees on "popularity", "folk lore" and "realism", animosity to higher spirituality and to search for new ways, attacks on jazz, transformation of march into a dominating rhythm of a mass culture), there was also direct borrowing.


The linking element was -
German communists! The borrowing followed mainly [but not solely] one direction: from the East to the West. Quickly growing ideological toddler — national socialism — required force feeding. It was necessary to create urgently a new liturgy — party psalms, chorals and hymns carrying the new faith to the masses. It shouldn't be surprising that some dishes, cooked by chefs of the previous generation, that of Leninist socialism, were used as well.

"We were Marxists before..."

If Lenin, before leaving this world, had visited Germany, he would hear how recently created SA (Sturm Abteilung — assault troops) sing his favorite "
Bravely, comrades, in step". This song sounded livelier in the SA performance than in Russia or by German communists — "Im Flotten Marschenrhythmus". But the melody is recognized easily. As Lenin was delighted in the summer of 1898 when Friedrich Lengnik, who just arrived to the place of his exile, nearly at the threshold of the Lenin's house, presented a surprise — a new song, so long-awaited. It was the first Russian (original, not translated) song with a fighting hymn, sonorous, major, without a shadow of dithering and despondency of "Narodnaya Volya" repertoire. The song came out this way not instinctively, not of pure inspiration: its author, Leonid Radin (1860 — 1900) — a scientist (chemist), a poet, an essayist and a revolutionary — knew very well what songs are needed by the ripening Russian revolution: "It is necessary, that the song's courage roared, / In heart awoke the saving anger". Soon after these verses Radin wrote the song — in the solitary confinement.

He also picked the melody — from a student's song on I.S.Nikitin's words (" time slowly moves"), converting a slow old waltz into a strong-willed and bouncing march. In his cell in Butirky prison, before being exiled, he has shared the new song with his party comrades. And the song spread and has taken a place in the first ranks of Russian Marxist hymns. Its optimism, its unwavering belief in a victory won the day. Ilyich "never got tired to revel in its invigorating sounds". Joseph Dzhugashvili, Lenin's pupil, was enamored with Radin's march too.
...

Then there appeared a German version of the song. It was composed by a prominent conductor Hermann Scherchen. WW I has found him in Riga, he has been interned by Russian authorities and became first an involuntary, and then a sympathizing witness of February and October revolutions. Inspired hymns of revolution were for him, probably, one of the main arguments in its favor. Two songs — "You fallen as victims..." and the Radin's march were brought by the conductor home for the German proletariat and have been included in the repertoire of two choruses organized by him in Berlin. The first march has been renamed by Scherchen "The Immortal Victim", and Radin's march — "Brothers, to the sun, to freedom".

...

In the beginning of 1920-s the Russian communist hymn has been picked up by the Nazi "sturmers". The boys in brown shirts sung the Rot Front song with abandon. They liked its rhetoric, woven from attractive high-level ambiguities, its coarse and simple black-and-white imagery: the Dark Past — the Bright Future, Slavery — Freedom, the Earth — the Sky, Thirst for Battle — Contempt for Death. It was pleasant to call each other "brothers" and "comrades" and to feel self a part of the closely knit mass of the millions rallying for the last resolute fight.
The new fourth stanza that was added soon by the Nazis, was using the same phraseology recipes:
Overthrow the yoke of tyrants,
Torturing you forever.
Raise a banner with a swastika
Above the country of the working people.
Despite the occurrence of an alien detail — a black swastika on a banner (whose color, however, remained red), these new lines are even closer to the Radin's verse, than rather approximate translation by Scherchen: they (intentionally or coincidentally?) almost literally reproduce the last stanza of the Russian original:
Let's overthrow by mighty hand
The fatal oppression forever
And erect above the Earth
The red banner of work.
A Nazi composer Hans Bayer tells how songs migrated from one ideological camp to another (this process continued until 1933) :
"Skirmish in a pub or fight in the street between SА and Mаrxists, who frequently enjoyed numeric superiority, quite often was followed the next day by sturmfuhrer visited by beaten Marxists requesting acceptance by SA. At first they were drawn by respect for people who were braver and were able to fight better. However the ideas of national socialism soon began to inspire them in the same way as they inspired other comrades from Sturm. Horst Wessel was masterful in attracting the best guys from Marxist groups to his command, to spite their former party comrades. Clearly, these people brought with them the songs created in the red camp. After several amendments to the text they were sung in SА. A song 'Brothers, to the sun, to freedom!' has taken roots in СА without any text changes."
... ... to better stress the separation from the "Reds", in a finishing stanza of one of the Nazi variants of the song, the Brownshirts — with a magnificent spontaneity — bellow:
Earlier we were Marxists,
Rot Front and social democrats.
Today — national socialists,
NSDAP fighters!
...
March, march forward...

Introducing in Radin's march the characteristic phraseology — "Great Germany", "German blood", "banners red as blood and black as death", "the Jewish thrones", "dupes of Moscow and Jewry", "SА in the brown uniform", "the red shame", etc., Nazis, nevertheless, kept inviolable the rhetoric and style of the speech developed by communists. And it is significant that all Nazi interpretations keep intact something that operates beyond words, appealing to the subconsciousness of the singers and the listeners. The emotional strong-willed sense radiated by the intonation, by the tone of a song, by its melody which is uniform in all variants...

... [Here a passage of further analysis of the song is skipped]

Another soldiers' song from the times of WW I — about the death of a young trumpeter-hussar went along an even more twisted path. Communists have altered it in 1925 after an Ernest Telman's pre-election meeting, when a stray police bullet has struck a kid bugler Fritz Weineck:
Of all our comrades
Nobody was so lovely and so kind,
As our famous small trumpeter,
Our cheerful red soldier …
After the murder (presumably by communists) of sturmfuhrer Horst Wessel in February 1930, a Nazi variant was born:
Of all our comrades
Nobody was so lovely and so kind,
As our sturmfuhrer Horst Wessel,
Our cheerful swastika-carrier…
During the same time, Soviet pioneers have started singing a Russian version (the free translation by M. Svetlov, musical arrangement by A.Davidenko) where the small trumpeter has turned to the small drummer ("We went under a roar of a cannonade, / We faced the death"). For several ears this lyric-heroic march was widely sung in both countries in all three versions. In 1933 the German Communist variant went silent, in May of 1945 — the national socialist one quit.

Another common Nazi-Communist song appeared to be for some time the sacred for Marxists "Internationale". In the beginning of the thirties brownshirts in Berlin often went to the streets singing … "Hitlernationale".
..

One more "migrating bird": a Tyrolean patriotic song of 1844 "
Zu Mantua in Banden". Nazis sang it in the original version, German communists — in a variant ("Dem Morgenrot entgegen"), and the Soviet people — in the same variant translated by A.Bezimensky: "forward toward the dawn, / comrades in struggle" ("Young guards", 1922).

Have other Soviet songs got into the Nazi repertoire?

Upward and upward...

Soon after arrival to America I have been at a viewing of a documentary film "Triumph of will", created by talented favorite of Hitler - Leni Riefenstahl - about a congress of national socialists in Nuremberg, 1934. From the screen spread self-satisfied voices of orators, thunder of the applause, exulted shouts of crowds, solo and collective chanting of verses and oaths, drumming, copper of fanfares … And marches, parade of marches, slow, moderate and fast, with words and without. Among them there was a stupid military treatment of a theme from Wagner's Twilight of the Gods …

But what is that? Is it possible?


"All upward and upward and upward … "
Our Soviet "Aviamarch" accompanying an idyllic picture: morning in a camp of Nazi SA, well-fed "sturmers" exercise, wash, shave — and all this to the painfully familiar melody...

This song has been written in 1920 by Kiev authors: poet Paul Herman and composer Juli Hait. In the middle of twenties the whole country picked up the "Aviamarch". Its first line "We are born, to make a fairy tale come true" became famous, and initial words of the refrain "All upward..." have become a motto … On August seventh, 1933 newspapers have printed order of the Revolutionary Military Council of USSR: "To establish an aviation march of Air Force "All upward".


The Soviet author relaying this information doesn't mention that the official recognition of "Aviamarch" was preceded by several years of furious persecution. A lefty RАPМ (the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians) demanded to forbid the song for its shocking pedigree: its beginning (if it were slowed down!) reminds an old Russian romance, and its refrain — absolutely class-wise alien chansonette.

Meanwhile the suspicious march was sung without any interference in Germany, apparently from 1928, and besides in two versions: Marxist and Nazi.

[A fine mix of the Nazi and Soviet versions of the song could be seen here.]

...

[I've skipped a rather long passage proving that, on the whole, the Soviet songwriters were superior, and the last , rather inconclusive, chapter drawing parallels between "Horst Wessel" and the Soviet anthem.]

(*) Where possible, I have added links to some of the songs mentioned.

Hat tip: M.T.

Cross-posted at Yourish.com

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