VARIOUS ARTISTS: Songs of the Spanish Civil War

Various: Songs of the Spanish Civil War


Songs of the Civil War

The Spanish Civil War, often referred to as the “dress rehearsal” for World War II, was waged between 1936 and 1939 and ended in victory for fascism in the person of General Francisco Franco – who ruled Spain with an iron fist until his death in 1975. This reissue project revives the justifiably revered songbook of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, roughly about 2700 left-leaning American volunteers who fought Franco and his fellow Italian and German Nazis in defense of the popularly elected Spanish Republic. Singers include Pete Seeger, Butch and Bess Hawes, Tom Glazer, Woody Guthrie, Ernst Busch and Bart van der Schelling with the Earl Robinson-directed Exile’s Chorus performing material culled from five different sources – ranging from a 1940 Keynote LP titled Six Songs For Democracy, recorded during a 1938 air raid on Barcelona, to a group of five songs (led off by Woody Guthrie singing “Jarama”) privately pressed as a souvenir for members of the Brigade attending the War’s 25th Anniversary get-together in Berlin – and originally issued on a pair of early ’60s Folkways albums. Highlights encompass a couple of songs that lament the quality of food available to the soldiers (“Cookhouse” and “Quartermaster Song”) and the rousing “Viva La Quince Brigada (Long Live The 15th Brigade”), one of most recognizable songs of the War, along with the military-condemning “Los Cuatro Generales (The Four Generals),” the celebratory “Hans Beimler” (a tribute to the life and death of one of the War’s first heroes) and the dramatic “Das Lied Von Der Einheitsfront (Song Of The United Front),” with lyrics by German playwright Bertolt Brecht. Along with Guthrie’s “Jarama,” second album favorites include another tune memorializing Beimler (“Hans Beimler, Comrade”), a May Day stomper called “Sevillanos” (performed by people from Seville with flamenco guitar accompaniment), a World War I-era song reworked by the Italian anti-fascist volunteers in Spain titled “La Guardia Rossa (The Red Guard)” and the optimistic “Au Devant De La Vie (Toward The New Life)”, based on a popular Russian melody by Dmitri Shostakovitch. As Tom Glazer’s son, Peter, conjectures at the close of his well-researched notes: “Still sung at annual gathering in San Francisco and New York, these timeless songs bring this activist history forward at a time when the causes are no less urgent and the enemies of freedom no less dangerous.”

Gary von Tersch

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