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Celebrating the Anti-Fascist Resistance of the Spanish Civil War:

The Song of Songs

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Celebrating the Anti-Fascist Resistance of the Spanish Civil War:
The Song of Songs

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Celebrating the Anti-Fascist Resistance of the Spanish Civil War:

The Song of Songs

E’en as the sweetest note is born of pain,
So shall the song of songs be born in Spain.

T. E. Nicholas

July 17 marked the 75th anniversary of the commencement of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. To mark the occasion and to celebrate the heroes of the Republic and of the International Brigades, a concert of music, film and poetry was held at the historic Bridewell Hall in central London on Saturday, July 16.

Still from film De Madrugada Orchestra
Still image from the film "De Madrugada". The De Madrugada Ensemble.

The music was specially written for the occasion by the Marlene Sidaway Reading Poemsfour composers Michael Chant, Robert Coleridge, Hugh Shrapnel and John White, while two new films had been authored by Stuart Monro. Marlene Sidaway, President of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, read poems by Dave Marshall, who was one of the first Englishmen to go to Spain to fight to defeat fascism and assist in creating a new society. Some of these poems formed the narrative to the film “The Planet Tilts”, a tribute to the International Brigaders. A banner “No Pasarán!” was displayed at the front of the hall, while a painting inspired by the struggle stood at the back.

The greatest culture arises out of ordinary people immersing themselves in the struggle for the progress of society, never conciliating with those forces who want to Introductoryblock and crush this progress, rising to the occasion and so making history by performing extraordinary deeds. This was the essence of the introduction to the concert by Michael Chant, welcoming all the participants. This is the meaning of “The Song of Songs”, the theme of the poem “In Remembrance of a Son of Wales (Who Fell in Spain)” by T. E. Nicholas, “Niclas y Glais”. In this way, the content of the music and the videos paid tribute today to the spirit of those who took a stand against war and fascism, not only from 1936-1939 but also in the defeat of Nazi fascism in the Second World War, by creating something new and vital and pointing to the future, the dawn of a new humanity.

The short film “In the Dawn” set the scene, Filmscombining images of the fallen of the International Brigades with the hills around the Ebro river, set to the song “De Madrugada” sung by Cornelius Cardew accompanied by People’s Liberation Music. The melody of this music arises again in triumph at the end of the concert out of the theme of “Ay Carmela”, the song of the Fifteenth (the International) Brigade, played by the musicians of the De Madrugada Ensemble at the conclusion of the work “The Song of Songs” by Michael Chant, ending the concert on this uplifting note and symbolising what has been given birth to out of the intensity of the struggle in Spain. “Ay Carmela” was sung prior to this final piece in a powerful arrangement for voice and strings by Hugh Shrapnel.

Congratulations Piano works by John White and Robert Coleridge were included in the concert. That by John White reflected the systematic destruction of Guernica, followed by a quiet, sustained, reflection on the devastation. Guernica, in the Basque country, was bombed during the course of the war by warplanes of the German Luftwaffe, one of the first acts of aggression on a defenceless civilian population. The work by Robert Coleridge, performed by the composer, was deeply influenced by the content of poems by John Cornford. Poet and committed communist Cornford died on or around his 21st birthday while fighting with political idealism and revolutionary spirit in Spain.

The concert included two substantial works for the De Madrugada Ensemble by Michael Chant and Hugh Shrapnel. The vivid composition “Tomorrow’s End Of ConcertSeed” by Hugh Shrapnel expresses in music the lines of the poem by Langston Hughes: “The mighty roots of liberty/Push upward in the dark/To burst in flame”. The piece includes a setting of the poem “Tomorrow’s Seed”, beautifully and hauntingly sung by Emily Underwood. The work by Michael Chant, “The Song of Songs”, took its inspiration from the poem by T. E. Nicholas, rendering it into music twice to begin and end the concert, moving from the images of war to the necessity and inevitability of the final victory of the anti-fascist forces.

The overwhelming sentiment of the audience and performers at the end of the concert was one of celebration, of touching on aspects of the human personality which they were not fully aware of possessing. To look in depth at the history and the ideals of the Spanish Civil War and give rise to new cultural works gave everyone a more profound grasp of the well-springs and legacy of this conflict, and was an inspiration to join in unity to prevent such tragedies happening in the future and to build a society consonant with the ideals of those who went to Spain to fight to defend the rights of the people and to defeat fascism once and for all.

No Pasaran Painting
A banner “No Pasarán!” was displayed at the front of the hall,
while a painting inspired by the struggle stood at the back.

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