BALLAD OF HEROES
Dear Geoff Lawes,
I understand from the IBMT that you are collecting songs about the Spanish Civil War.
The attached was not a popular song, but it was performed at the concert to mark the return of the last British Briagders from Spain in 1939.
The premiere of Ballad of Heroes was part of the 1939 'Festival of Music and the People'. It was organised by a team comprising the poet Randall Swingler, the composer Alan Rawsthorne, John Allen, Parry Jones, Margaret Leona and representatives of the London Labour Choral Union, Labour Stage and the London Co-operative Societies' Joint Education Committee. Alan Bush was the chairman, Edward Clark (secretary of the ISCM) the organising secretary and Will Sahnow the treasurer. The Festival was attended by over 10,000 people ; more than 1,000 people took part.
The Festival consisted of three concerts. The first was a performance, on Saturday 1 April at the Royal Albert Hall, of Music and the People, a historical pageant written by Swingler and set to music by twelve composers - Vaughan Williams, Arnold Cooke, Elizabeth Lutyens, Victor Yates, Edmund Rubbra, Erik Chisholm, Christian Darnton, Frederic Austin, Norman Demuth, Alan Bush, Elizabeth Maconchy and Alan Rawsthorne. Paul Robeson and Parry Jones were the principal singers, but there were five hundred other voices too - from twenty-three London Co-operative choirs (the Rhondda Unity Male Voice Choir also sang). There were a hundred dancers. Arnold Goldsborough was on the Albert Hall organ, while Alan Bush himself conducted the People's Festival Wind Band. The decor was by Michael Ross and Barbara Allen, and the Pageant was directed by John Allen.
The second concert was on 3 April at the Conway Hall, where the Fleet Street Choir conducted by TB Lawrence, sang works by Vaughan Williams, Percy Grainger, Zoltan Kodaly, Hans Eisler and Schonberg. 'Medvedeff and his Balalaika Orchestra' performed popular Soviet songs.
The third concert was on Wednesday 5 April, at the Queen's Hall. The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Constant Lambert, (leader George Stratton) were joined by 300 voices from twelve Co-operative and Labour choirs. The concert was the occasion for the first public performance in Britain of Bush's Piano Concerto (Swingler's text sung by Dennis Noble, with Bush at the piano) and the premiere of Benjamin Britten's Ballad of Heroes. Written to mark the return of the last British volunteers from Spain, and to honour the men of the British Battalion who did not return, the libretto was by Auden and Swingler. Ballad of Heroes opens with Swingler's stately 'Funeral March' :
You who stand at doors, wiping hands on aprons,
You who lean at the corner saying : 'We have done our best,'
You who shrug your shoulders and you who smile
To conceal your life's despair and its evil taste,
To you we speak, you numberless Englishmen,
To remind you of the greatness still among you
Created by these men who go from our towns
To fight for peace, for liberty, and for you.
They were men who hated death and loved life,
Who were afraid, and fought against their fear !
Men who wished to create and not to destroy,
But knew the time must come to destroy the destroyer.
For they have restored your power and pride,
Your life is yours, for which they died.
This was followed by part of Auden's 'It's Farewell to the Drawing-room's Civilised Cry,' the beguiling, handsome voice of the Devil who has 'broken parole' - the voice of Fascism and War. The third movement combined texts by both Swingler and Auden. The chorus sang verses by Auden from On the Frontier ('They die to make men just/ And worthy of the earth') as the lowered flags of the British Battalion were carried into the hall and Walter Widdop's tenor voice sang Swingler's lovely
Still tho' the scene of possible Summer recedes,
And the guns can be heard across the hills
Like waves at night : though crawling suburbs fill
Their valleys with the stench of idleness like rotting weeds,
And desire unacted breeds its pestilence.
Yet still below the soot the roots are sure
And beyond the guns there is another murmur,
Like pigeons flying unnotic'd over continents
With secret messages of peace : and at the centre
Of the wheeling conflict the heart is calmer,
The promise nearer than ever it came before.
The above information was kindly supplied to me by Andy Croft and here is a sound sample Ballad of Heroes Another sample of Ballad of Heroes can be heard as an added soundtrack to the following Youtube video "Original film of the return of the International Brigade British Battalion 07.12.1938" HERE Ballad of Heroes