The song was originally written during World War II in French and later adopted in its English version by Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez.
Anna Marly (born Anna Betoulinsky in St. Petersburg) was a French singer and performer of Russian origin. She left Paris after the German occupation and wrote LA COMPLAINTE DU PARTISAN on a text by d’Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie, in London in 1943, where she was actively involved in the French resistance. This is the second song she composed and recorded about the resistance, after “La Chanson du Partisan”. Both songs were often broadcasted on the French programme of BBC Radio as means of resistance for the French population. Cohen first recorded THE PARTISAN (translation of LA COMPLAINTE DU PARTISAN) in 1969.
French resistance was composed by cells of men and women of different political, religious and social origin, who fought against German Nazi occupation of France and the collaborationist Vichy regime. Beside military operations, they also organized counterpropaganda, including the diffusion of popular music praising resistance and arise of French population against the Nazis (see Cobb 2010).
The lyrics by d’Astier de la Vigerie, who was not a lyricist but a journalist and politician, are very straightforward. A partisan recalls, in the first person, episodes of his life “in the shadows”, starting from the arrival of the Germans telling him to resign himself to his fate: “résigne-toi”. Each verse narrates a different situation: life on the run, the loss of the family, that of comrades, the killing of an old man who hid partisans, up to the ending, where freedom will come.
Hy Zaret (author of “Unchained Melody”) translated the song into English in the 1940s. The translation is relatively faithful, although “les All’mands” are transformed into a more general “they” and the “vieil homme” is turned into an “old woman”.
Anna Marly performs the song accompanied by a guitar. Each verse is introduced by an instrumental part, where she whistles the melody. In Cohen’s version, a classical guitar and a double bass, with some accordion inserts, are the only instruments. The melody and chord structure is considerably different from the original. Cohen sings the verses in French together with a female singer.
The song was used for counter propaganda in occupied France and some records were parachuted by the resistance into French territory. It became quite successful in the 1950s, thanks to the version of Les Compagnons de la chanson.
Entitled simply “The Partisan”, the song appears in Leonard Cohen’s second album Songs from a Room. Cohen learnt the song in his youth, because it was featured in The People’s Songbook (Waldemar 1948). It is the first song not written by him that he recorded. He sings all but the second verse of the English version, followed by verses two and three of the original French version. It is rare for Cohen to sing straight political songs and this exception is interesting because of at least two reasons: it is partly sung in French, therefore linking Cohen to his country of origin (Canada) and its bilinguism, and it attaches Cohen’s poetics to European recent history, asserting it with a certain level of authenticity.
Vocals: Anna Marly / Leonard Cohen
Lyrics: Anna Marly, Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie
Songwriting : Anna Marly
Producer of Leonard Cohen : Bob Johnston
Recorded : 1943
Length 3 :37
- Leonard Cohen. “The Partisan”, The Partisan, 1969, CBS Disques, 4262, France (7”/Single).
- Leonard Cohen. “The Partisan”, Songs From A Room, 1969, CBS, S 63587, Germany (LP/Album).
- Anna Marly. “Complainte Du Partisan”, Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox – The Songs That Inspired The Man, 2010, Chrome Dreams, CDCD5034, UK (CD/Compilation/Unofficial Release).
- Cobb, Matthew: The Resistance. The French Fight Against the Nazis. New York City: Pocket Books 2010, 320.
- Waldemar, Hille (Ed.): The People’s Songbook. New York: Oak Publications 1948.
- Artists’ homepages: http://anna-marly.narod.ru/ [07.11.2011], http://www.leonardcohen.com/ [07.11.2011].
- Database: http://www.discogs.com/artist/Anna+Marly [07.11.2011], http://www.discogs.com/artist/Leonard+Cohen [07.11.2011].
- Download: http://leonard-cohen.musicload.de/kuenstler/37576 [07.11.2011].
- Music video: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xepwpm_leonard-cohen-the-partisan-1969- hq_music [07.11.2011].
- Lyrics: http://www.leonardcohenfiles.com/partisan.html, http://gouttedeau.blog.lemonde.fr/2010/02/09/la-complainte-du-partisan- poesie- et-resistance/ [07.11.2011].
About the Author
All contributions by Giacomo Bottà
Giacomo Bottà: “La complainte du partisan / The Partisan (Anna Marly /Leonard Cohen) “. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/thepartisan, 02/2010 [revised 10/2013].Print