Hidden Belgium: The Modest Home of a Communist Composer

Hidden Belgium: The Modest Home of a Communist Composer

You can easily miss it. A modest house in a Ghent alley is decorated with a strange mural. It reveals that the Belgian musician Pierre de Geyter was born in this house, at Kanunnikstraat 8, in the heart of the student quarter.

De Geyter was living in Lille when he was asked by the French communist party to compose a work based on a poem by Eugène Pottier. First sung in a Lille café in 1888, the song was called L’internationale.

De Geyter’s composition was eventually adopted as the official hymn of the international working class. The Belgian musician was invited to Moscow by Stalin in 1927 to take part in celebrations to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution.

Look more closely at the house in Ghent and you can read De Geyter’s story on the outside wall. He was born in this poor quarter of Ghent in 1848, it says, at a time when Marx was writing the Communist Manifesto.

You can also follow the first few bars of the song, and the opening words, in French. Debout, les damnés de la terre, it begins. Arise, ye workers from your slumbers.

And they did.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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