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1919 May 1 - Internationale

Hungarian title:

Internationale - 1919 Május 1.

Artist: Size:
Biró, Mihály Sheet Music double cover (cca. 44 x 30 cm)
Year: Condition:
1919 Very good, small tears along the border, light creases and abrasion on the surface.
Paper, lithography.

Price: $600


Biró, Mihály: Internationale, May 1st sheet music cover

Sheet music cover by Mihály Biró for Internationale, the international worker’s anthem. The artist is mostly known for his iconic poster ‘Red man with a hammer’ that earned him international recognition and made him the father of political poster art. Besides posters he was active in many fields of graphic design creating for example newspaper illustrations, demonstration banners and cover designs as well. Biro was deeply committed to the labour movement but instead of joining the Hungarian Social Democratic Party (what by the beginning of the 1900 was already a significant political power), he supported them with his suggestive and emotionally charged art where his firm beliefs manifested. Biró was not only a graphic artist and an exceptional poster designer, he was the medium of the social democratic political ethos. No wonder he was commissioned for the artistic management of the decorations for the May Day celebrations in 1919.

1919 was the year when the Hungarian Soviet Republic (Tanácsköztársaság) was declared by Béla Kun, the leader of the Bolsheviks. Béla Kun took over through a coup d’état and the reaction of people varied between extreme enthusiasm and exasperation. Although opinions of the 133 days of the Hungarian Soviet Republic vary, the fact that the era generated an artistic revolution cannot be doubted. The new regime regarded art as of key strategic importance and as the means to drastically transform people’s mindset. To have central control over it, an art directory was formed, while poster designs were handled by the propaganda department. However, all art was considered a channel to strengthen the new political order. A new artistic and at the same time, distinctly political genre of graphic design was born.  

Following Russia, Hungary was the second European state that tried to beat down the capitalist system and realize the socialist endeavour, therefore the Hungarian workers celebrated the 1st of May with great enthusiasm. The 1st of May was declared the international day of workers in 1891 by the Second International (international congress of labourers) to commemorate the so-called Haymarket affair in Chicago where workers demonstrated for the 8-hour workday. In 1919 the Hungarian council planned a colossal event for celebrating the day with gigantic decorations, posters, newspapers – all public platforms were monopolized in order to create a radical and suggestive artistic program of what the art management was executed by Mihály Biró.

The edition of the Interesting News (Érdekes Újság), the journal in which this sheet cover was an insert was also celebrating May Day along with the new form of state. The issue and Internationale’s sheet music have identical cover designs by Biró. Biró’s ars poetica is clearly apparent on this composition. He believed that if an artist wants to create works that catch the attention of the masses, he himself has to be in close touch with the people and make true art by using simple drawings.                

This composition is the visual manifestation of Internationale. The first stanza of the anthem starts with the following lines:

“Stand up all victims of oppression

For the tyrants fear your might

Don't cling so hard to your possessions

For you have nothing if you have no rights…”

Biró depicts robust workers who did stand up and united, hence managed to defeat the oppressors. The strong red and black contrast results in an expressive and suggestive pictorial language. The workers’ faces are stylized and they have similar, muscular bodies. The figures don’t have individual characteristics that implies if all workers join forces, they become an unbeatable unity and that is much stronger than the separate parts. Despite the figures being stylized, simply drawn with strong contours, they have enormous charizma. The endless line of laborers marching victoriously alludes that the long awaited unification has arrived. They are leaning slightly backwards walking uphill suggesting that they have come a hard way to finally reach the top and fly the flags of socialism on the land that belongs to everyone from that time on. The text is bold, the white saying ‘Interesting News’ pops out more than the text on the top in black: ‘Intrenationale for piano and vocals’.

This sheet music is a rare document from a time of enormous political turbulence in Hungary.