A Child Went Forth: Hanns Eisler, American Progressives, and Folk Song

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Hans Eisler's engagement with music for film has been widely discussed, as has his engagement with (and eventual expulsion from) American culture and politics in the 1930s and 1940s. These activities come together suggestively in the film A Child Went Forth, a documentary made by Joseph Losey for the Rockefeller Film Project in 1941, for which Eisler wrote the score. The film promotes play-centered education of the sort advocated by John Dewey and other American progressives, and Eisler's score is based upon three nursery songs: Strawberry Fair, originally from Somerset, England; Sourwood Mountain, an Appalachian song with British antecedents; and Little Ah Sid, an American commercial product from the 1880s that entered oral tradition.

Eisler's selection of these pieces was probably influenced by the literary and social milieu in which he traveled. The songs were collected and disseminated in collections by Carl Sandburg and John and Alan Lomax—both closely affiliated with American progressivism—and engagement with folk materials was a near necessity for American composers at this time. But the actual history of the pieces—especially Little Ah Sid—provides ironic counterpoint to Eisler's proclaimed intentions and the progressive agenda and raises suggestive questions about authenticity, highbrow/lowbrow interactions, and European perceptions of American culture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCrosscurrents
Subtitle of host publicationAmerican and European Music in Interaction, 1900–2000
EditorsFelix Meyer, Carol J. Oja, Wolfgang Rathert, Anne C. Shreffler
Place of PublicationWoodbridge, UK
PublisherBoydell & Brewer
ISBN (Print)9781843839002
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014

Bibliographical note

A publication of the Paul Sacher Foundation.


  • Eisler America music film folksong Losey Seeger

Cite this