Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Red Flag

credit: Oleksandr Rozhkov; Fotolalia
This is an off-topic blog entry.
Many Brits are familiar with these lyrics:

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its ev'ry fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high
Within its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

I must admit I hadn't been familiar with the song until a few days ago I heard, for the first time in my life, 'The Red Flag', and I was most astonished because the melody sounded ever so familiar to me - it's the German Christmas carol 'O Tannenbaum'. The mind-boggling question is: How are they related?


  1. Wikipedia ("O Tannenbaum") relates that the text is from 1824, the melody an old folk tune known since the 16th century. The same page lists numerous other renderings of the carol in various languages and situations, and numerous other uses of the melody. There are also various Swedish drinking songs to the same melody, by the way. It seems none of the German songs were religious, and the Tannenbaum was a symbol of fidelity in love, becoming a religious christmas carol later, after suitable changes to the wording (rather like Amazing Grace that became a hymn after changing a few words and adding an extra verse to clarify some of the ambiguities of the original). There's also a page on the Red Flag, written in Ireland, and the melody referred to as Lauriger Horatius.

  2. Goodness gracious me! I didn't know all this. Thanks, Sidney, for enlightening me.

    1. I can't vouch for Wikipedia, of course, but the message was that most songs set to the melody were secular. The Red Flag was written in 1889, about the same time O Tannenbaum was moved from a love song to a Christmas carol, so it was hardly known as such. Lauriger Horatius was possibly better known among Irish intellectuals. There are military songs sung to the same tune, but the words wouldn't get past the blogspot censors, even as asterisks.

  3. Lauriger Horatius:
    Note the line with, perhaps, a new meaning today: "Fugit Euro citius"! :)