Wife Of The Soldier


Jon says, “This is such a lovely song. I keep meaning to learn some more Brecht stuff, so this is a start anyway.”

I must confess that Brecht is another I know little about. Mainly Norfolk has Jon’s source for this, Martin Carthy’s notes, which refer to a Brecht play called The Good Soldier Schwejk. I couldn’t find that listed amongst his plays as listed here on Wiki, although that title actually belongs to a book by Jaroslav Hašek. It follows the fortunes of the titular soldier through WW1 as a recruit in the Austro-Hungarian army. It seems Kurt Weill turned Brecht’s text into a song and if you scroll down towards the bottom of this Wiki page you’ll see it listed with a date of 1942. I don’t know whether the arrangement Martin heard is closely based on Weill’s version, but either way he recorded this twice, once solo and once when he rejoined Steeleye Span. There’s also a very good version of this by PJ Harvey and you’ll find a simple but effective video for that on YouTube easily enough, if you fancy it. It seems to have pretty much the same tune and Marianne Faithful has also recorded it as The Ballad Of The Soldier’s Wife and that’s rather splendid too. I think this version works well unaccompanied too.


37 Responses to “Wife Of The Soldier”

  1. Neil says:

    Come on then, who was expecting this to be ‘Billy Don’t You Weep’? 😉

  2. the_otter says:

    Interesting choice. Nice to have a change from Kipling, if it’s okay to say so!

    Here’s the mudcat link:

    I’m not a good judge, but I think the translation is true to the source; the simplicity of the song probably helps.

  3. SRD says:

    This doesn’t work for me, I think Jon has much too ‘nice’ a voice to carry Brecht/Weill well. I think it needs something much more edgy and harsh.

  4. Tobysails says:

    I think that a “nice” voice works really well with harsh material. How about “the Black Ship” from Mahoganny?

  5. John Goddard says:

    The play is Swejk In The Second World War

  6. SarahM says:

    What a sad little song. 🙁 Nicely sung though, and as I’m not very well educated on folk music, save just loving the music, I can’t judge on nice or harsh voices for this tune.

  7. Shelley says:

    Beautiful song, recently recorded by my friends Chris and Siobhan Nelson on their CD “Early Birds” (I’m not on commission by the way!)

  8. Siobhan says:

    ‘Tis a great song. This version (i.e. the Carthy one) is set to a tune written by Johnny Scott, rather than Weill. The PJ Harvey version is the Kurt Weill tune. Great song (our version is also the Carthy one, accompanied just on pizzicato fiddle).

  9. Jane Ramsden says:

    The song doesn’t do much for me, although I studied Brecht when a student and enjoyed his plays immensely. I also saw a wonderful production of ‘The Good Soldier Schweik’ at a small theatre in the Tottenham Court Road in the seventies. I remember it as a far sadder depiction of the lowly, hapless soldier than the way Hasek’s character is generally portrayed. I suppose the positive side is that he survives.

    Anyway, Schweik in the Second World War (Schweyk im Zweiten Weltkrieg) was written by Brecht in 1943 while in exile in California, and is a sequel to the 1923 novel ‘The Good Soldier Švejk’ by Jaroslav Hašek. I believe Brecht had also worked on a collaborative theatrical production of this original novel.

    Brecht’s play is set in Prague and on the Russian Front during World War II. It is the satirical tale of a common man, Schweyk, who is forced into war and manages to survive. He overcomes dangerous situations in Gestapo Headquarters, a military prison, and a Voluntary Labour Service. The ending finds Schweyk lost in a snowstorm near Stalingrad. He meets an equally lost and bewildered Hitler, whose path is blocked by snow, frozen corpses, the Soviet Army, and the German people. Finally, Hitler does a grotesque dance and disappears into the snow!

  10. Maggie says:

    Apologies if this is too tangental. I would recommend the book The Good Soldier Svejk. I’ve read it twice over the years and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also have fond memories of a restaurant in Stockholm with the same name where the menus were the shape of his knapsack. I have no idea if it is still there. I enjoyed the song by the way!

  11. phil hargreaves says:

    i’d add paranthetically that the sleeve notes to Robyn Archer’s version of this said that Weill insisted it be renamed as ‘the ballad of the nazi soldier’s wife’, because Communist soldiers wouldn’t loot.

    If you can lay hands on those Robyn Archer recordings (with the London Sinfonietta), they’re great (though not that folky, i guess). Incidentally, Brecht was a Kipling fan too, despite his politics.

  12. SRD says:

    @Tobysails; Interesting point, for me the Black Ship is ruined in the ‘nice’ versions, I’ve heard it done reasonably well in a wistful fashion but it’s always best as a rant. Dare I bring up Bobby Darin and his version of ‘Mack the Knife’ to support my argument?

  13. Phil says:

    I think the Schweik link is a red herring; all the sources I can see describe “Was bekam der Soldaten Weib?” as a stand-alone song, whose progress follows the progress of the German army – Czechoslovakia, Belgium, France, North Africa and finally Russia.

  14. Diana says:

    Again such a different song and such a haunting refrain. Darin was the definitive singer of “Mack the Knife” but there was Louis Armstrong’s version which did well, also many others attempted this.

    I believe it was Brecht who said “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it”. I hope I have recalled it correctly.

  15. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    A stark song…..a soldiers life..the ‘good times’…….the inevitable risk/outcome

  16. Simon says:

    Sorry to the night owls who sat up waiting for this, another little error in the scheduling of posts, which I note happened around this time last year. An attack of March-mange brought on by an excess of Properganda to do methinks!! I haven’t even had time to go back to the 29th, so will try and address that tomorrow.

  17. Simon says:

    Actually regarding the 29th and with thanks to Reinhard, I note that you got on just fine without my intervention and there really isn’t much to add to the story. I do note that Bert Lloyd was typically sharp in suggesting a Brechtian sense of justice, as the robber clearly should have been targeting the wealthy rather than the poor sailor. Aaaah! What a slippery eel morality is.

  18. Linda says:

    Can recommend Bellowheads version of Mack the Knife on Youtube !

  19. Diana says:

    Hi Linda took up your suggestion and went on Sheffield Cathedral site and got tickets for April 13th. It is certainly going to be a different venue than usual.

  20. Diana says:

    @Linda I took up your recommendation for the above song. It looked like a swinging party and Paul did a fine job of singing. I also looked up Reynard’s suggestion of “Hard Cheese of Old England” and enjoyed that video also.

  21. Jane Ramsden says:

    Here’s Bellowhead’s version of Mack the Knife as mentioned by Linda above:


    It’s amazing how many people have covered it, as can be seen on YouTube, but Kurt Weill wrote Mack the Knife for his wife, Lotte Lenya, and here she is singing it in the original German:

  22. Diana says:

    Hit Jane followed your link. I knew that I knew Lotte Lenya – she played Rosa Klebb In “From Russia with Love”. She had blades in the ends of her shoes when she attacked Bond. She was an excellent villainess.

  23. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    @Jane……….amazing.I followed the Kurt Weill link…..”September song ” one of my favourites. and who would have thought “Rosa Klebb” would be such a beaut when she was young (as were we all!)…In Emmerdale..the little old lady(Edna?) with the hat welded to her head was quite a glamour puss when young.

  24. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, I love that song too, Muzza, and never connected it to Kurt Weill – or Lotte Lenya to Rosa Klebb, Diana! Thankee both! Worth a post to the actual ‘September Song’ methinks (lyrics by Maxwell Anderson) What a gem!


    And don’t be fooled by little old ladies, Muzza, esp actresses! They scrub up quite different off set! The mark of the truly professional female actress is that they are not hooked just on looking glamorous, but what the part demands. I’m thinking Bette Davis in ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane’ here (No comment necessary. My mother made them all!) Ms Davis was not impressed that Joan Crawford was too concerned about looking good for a woman being starved/fed parrot by her nutty sister, whereas Bette Davis went full on out for raddled! What a star!

  25. Diana says:

    @Jane didn’t really mean to “hit” you above – completely wrong key!

  26. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: That’ll be the Rosa Klebb effect – lol!

  27. Diana says:

    @ Jane: very Rosa Klebb although I think I would have been more likely to kick you cos I can still see those blades at the tip of her shoes.

  28. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    😳 just practising!

  29. Muzza (N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    And still we have wars……………..I wonder if anybody has written a folksong alluding to the wars in Korea/Iraq/Falklands/afghanistan…I suppose they are covered, generally, by songs such as ‘The history lesson’.
    On a lighter note…….
    here is a link to three cider-sodden wenches ‘avin’ a good old sing! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jd4MzxWXq2A

  30. Diana says:

    Wars seem to be a way of life and death!

  31. Muzza, I’m pretty sure ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’ as sung by Pete Seeger and Dick Gaughan came out of the Korean War.
    ‘The Ghost Army of Korea’ as sung by Hamish Imlach
    Then there’s Maggie Holland’s superb ‘Perfumes of Arabia’ (Gulf War)

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  33. Diana says:

    Not one of my favourites but Jon sings it well.-

  34. mike weber says:

    Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” wasn’t written for Lenya – it was written to introduce Die Dreigroschenoper (“The Threepenny Opera”) sung by a streetsinger.

    The “Threpenny” song specifically written for Lenya was “Seerauber Jennie” (“Pirate Jennie”/”The Black Freighter”.)

    Also, is either of them wanted to call it “The Nazi Soldier’s Wife” because “Communist troops would not loot”, it would have been Brecht, not Weill. Quoting the Wikipedia article about Weill:

    “Weill’s working association with Brecht, although successful, came to an end over politics in 1930. Though Weill associated with socialism, after Brecht tried to push the play even further into a left wing direction, Weill commented, according to his wife Lotte Lenya, that he was unable to ‘set the communist party manifesto to music’.”

    Weill fled Germany because he was a prominent Jew in the arts and was targeted by the Nazis; Brecht fled because he was regarded as a “kultur Bolshevik”, a Communist intellectual.

  35. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    How did that happen then………….the comment immediately above was posted in January 2016….perhaps Mike was browsing the entire years posting and felt bound to comment!

  36. old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Rumour has it that our Janey is in hospital having her back sorted out today.
    Those feral cats will be roaming free for some time while she recuperates!

  37. Linda says:

    Hope your feeling better soon Jane…

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