Early Recording Cultures in Spain, 1880-1905: Towards a Transnational History

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Culture & Creative Arts

Abstract

The current project seeks to produce the first critical account of the early history of phonography in Spain, from1880 to 1905; in doing so, it aims to set the foundations of a transnational, context-sensitive understanding of the early history of musical recordings, fully integrating both local specificities and issues of national identity, memory, affection, mobility, modernity and others. The project addresses the research questions: How was the reception of early recording technologies in Spain informed by local practices and cultural specificities? What can we learn from the study of such practices and specificities to build the foundations of a transnational history of phonography which integrates context-specific developments with broader trends?
Even though the last decade has seen a surge of interest in early recordings as both documents of performance and cultural artefacts, the present project is relevant and necessary because most such studies have focused on industrially and technologically advanced countries fully integrated into the trade networks which made it possible for artefacts and discourses to circulate (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany). Similarly, central to many such studies are repertoires regarded as central in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century musical canon (e.g. the Austro-Germanic symphony; Lieder; opera, etc.). This geographical and cultural focus tends to be implicit rather than explicitly acknowledged; what the current study aims to do is to bring to the forefront local practices, repertoires and attitudes to technologies in order to fully explain the early impact of recording technologies on listening and cultural practices at a global level and set the foundations for a transnational history of recorded music.
The research questions will be answered through interrogation of a number of audio-visual and textual primary sources: original recordings; their boxes, labels and other packaging; newspaper and magazine articles focusing on specific events or artefacts, or on the phenomenon of phonography more generally; photographs of phonographs or of events having to do with recorded music; advertisements, catalogues and commercial documents (commercial correspondence, etc.) of recording studios; passages from memoirs and private letters on the subject of recorded music; books from the period 1880-1905 about the contemporaneous developments in recorded music and on science, technology and understandings of modernity.
The results of the research will reach academic and non-academic beneficiaries through the following channels:
-A monograph and two articles in highly rated-journals, as well as at least two conference presentations.
-A symposium bringing together for the first time scholars of early recording in individual countries as well as archivists/librarians working with early recordings. Follow-up activities include a special issue of a journal.
-A Digital Humanities project, Stories of Early Phonography, presenting the results from the project under the form of an interactive map and fostering reflection among researchers, archivists/librarians, expert users and the general public about how narratives of early recorded music have been and are constructed, and the role of cultural specificities in both.
-A public engagement event at the Spanish Song and Zarzuela Festival in London consisting of a roundtable academic experts on Spanish music and representatives for institutions focusing on the promotion of Spanish music and culture abroad. The roundtable will discuss the challenges of promoting Spanish culture abroad and develop innovative ideas to do so will be brought up, with a view to developing at least some of them in future editions of the festival.

Planned Impact

The project's impact strands fall under three main themes:
-Cultural awareness is central to the topic itself and the collaborative and dissemination activities: the project's main aim is to open up avenues for transnational perspectives to field of study which has thus far focused on a limited number of countries; and it is a project about Spain to be carried out at a British university and disseminated mostly in English-language venues to participants from outside the UK. It therefore constitutes a unique opportunity to encourage historical reflection on cultural awareness, its past and present relevance, and the role of academic research and collaboration in driving it forward.
-Curating historical sounds has gained in significance within the Digital Humanities in the last few years. The expert use I and other participants in the project will make of already available resources, alongside other sources, will inform conversations about how to improve access to early recordings as rich, context-sensitive artefacts, as well as problematize the boundaries between curation of resources and the formulation of research questions based on said resources (Dix et al., 2014).
-The main primary sources of the projects are documents of musical performance. Such documents have an obvious impact outside academia as resources for the performer or performance teacher; the project aims to increase such impact through appropriate contextualization and digital visualization of data pertaining to repertoires which are little-known outside Spain.
The main beneficiaries are as follows:
-Institutions dedicated to disseminating Spanish language and culture abroad, such as Instituto Cervantes and ILAMS (Iberian and Latin American Music Society), with which I have collaborated since 2014 as a member of the organizing committee of the Spanish Song and Zarzuela Festival.
-Public and private libraries and archives hosting collections of early recordings, both in Spain and elsewhere.
-Singers and students of singing, especially those interested in Spanish repertoires.
-The general public, particularly individuals interested in Spanish culture from a transcultural point of view (e.g. learners of Spanish, expatriates).
The following milestones will been put in place to ensure a) that impact activities are informed by previous research work, as well as having the potential to inform future research work; b) that relationships with beneficiaries are built progressively and followed up on:

Month 5:
The Early Recording Technologies in Context symposium will allow reflection from both archivists/librarians and researchers on the topic of Curating historical sounds. Seminar-style sessions on the relationship between curation and research of historical recordings will result in a list of guidelines and recommendations for future practice.

Month 11:
Stories of Early Phonography will be launched online and promoted among existing contacts (Instituto Cervantes, ILAMS, libraries and archives in Spain, the UK and beyond, performers, conservatoires, the general public).

Month 13:
Two events at the Spanish Art Song and Zarzuela Festival will address the themes of Cultural awareness and Documents of musical performance/Curating historical sound, respectively. The first event will bring together in a roundtable academic experts on Spanish music and representatives for institutions focusing on the promotion of Spanish music and culture abroad. The challenges of promoting Spanish culture abroad will be discussed and innovative ideas to do so will be brought up, with a view to developing at least some of them in future editions of the festival.
The second event will be a lecture-recital in which Stories of Early Phonography will be presented. The event will draw on the festival's ties with the Guildhall School of Music in London, and an effort will be made to promote it among singers and conservatoire students, and the general public
 
Title Zarzuela lecture-recital 
Description A zarzuela lecture-recital was offered by students from the Guildhall tutored by pianist Ricardo Gosalbo. These performances illustrated my talk on early recordings in Spain. Attendance was ca. 20 people. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The event brought to London audiences repertoires that are rarely heard in the UK, and allowed them to critically considered issues of live versus recorded music in a historical context. 
 
Description The research has resulted in the first critical account, in any language, of the early history of recorded sound in Spain - from the first notices about Edison's phonograph in 1877 to the arrival of multinational companies in 1905. The study maps commercial and technological developments, as well as developments in the discourses around recording technologies and how they fitted within broader discourses of science, technology, modernity and national identity. A book manuscript on the topic has been completed and will be published with Oxford University Press.
Exploitation Route Given that monograph-length studies of this early era of recorded music focusing on a given country are rare (studies covering the period 1900-1925 are, on the other hand, more abundant), the study can be used as a reference case study for scholars interested in undertaking similar studies of other countries. This will become more apparent when the monograph resulting from this research is published, but some findings have already been discussed at one symposium and one conference funded by this fellowship (in Glasgow and Edinburgh) involving scholars of early recording technologies in other countries. Similarly, I am editing a book (under contract with Routledge) including some of the contributions presented at the symposium as well as others; my own research will inform some of the chapters as well as the general outlook of the book.
The study will also be of interest to scholars of Spanish music in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century: recording technologies indeed introduced major changes in the production and consumption of music that have never been studied in detail with reference to Spain. The outcomes resulting from this research project have been vital in informing my next project, on zarzuela performance practice (involving recordings but also other sources); this second project has already resulted in a British Academy Small Grant, an AHRC research network grant, as well as a second monograph currently under consideration with Cambridge University Press. I expect that, once the monograph resulting from my AHRC fellowship is published in spring 2021, it will inform further research not necessarily focused on recordings and the recording industry, but on performance practice, the music profession in Spain, etc.
Outside academia, the information contained in the book about specific recordings, performers and labels can be of help to librarians, archivists, curators and record collectors, as it can help illuminate their understanding of their own collection. Discussion of musical recordings can also be of interest to specialists in historical performance practice wishing to use recordings from this era to study and imitate their performance style.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Findings from the project have been used as follows: -By librarians and archivists. Two sound archivists from leading British institutions spoke at the academic symposium I organized in June 2018 in Glasgow as part of my fellowship activities. Further events that I was able to organize thanks to the leadership and academic skills acquired during the fellowship (i.e. two conferences held online in 2020 and 2021) also had librarians and archivists in attendance, and they resulted in these and other archivists and librarians contacting me for expert advice on their holdings (e.g. Biblioteca de Catalunya, New York Public Library, Czech National Library and Museum). -By sound collectors: the events described above were also attended by private sound collectors (who frequently own rare and unique early recordings that are not held by public libraries, which makes them key in the preservation and curation of early recorded sound). Several of these have also contacted me for expert advice on early recordings, including collectors from the US, UK, France and Spain. An application to the AHRC follow-on fund to cultivate and increase engagement with record collectors is under development. -By music performers: findings from the research have been presented to a general audience through a lecture-recital in which I will collaborate with musicians from the Guildhall School of Music in June 2019, included in the ongoing series of concerts Hispanic Music Series; my research also informed the performance practices illustrated at the event.
Sector Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description AHRC Research Network Grant AH/V008331/1: Rethinking Early Recordings as Sources of Music and Performance History
Amount £41,459 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/V008331/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 03/2023
 
Description British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Grants
Amount £7,547 (GBP)
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 06/2020
 
Description Hispanic Music Series 
Organisation Guildhall School of Music & Drama
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I discussed my research findings with the other participants in order to produce a musical performance informed by findings from my research; I prepared and delivered a lecture to the general public followed by the performance.
Collaborator Contribution The partners provided a musical performance, including time for rehearsal and the venue of the event.
Impact Lecture-recital.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Hispanic Music Series 
Organisation Instituto Cervantes of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I discussed my research findings with the other participants in order to produce a musical performance informed by findings from my research; I prepared and delivered a lecture to the general public followed by the performance.
Collaborator Contribution The partners provided a musical performance, including time for rehearsal and the venue of the event.
Impact Lecture-recital.
Start Year 2019
 
Description General articles published at History Today and The Public Domain Review 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I published two non-academic articles about my research in the above-mentioned publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description Radio interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Media interviews about my research for 3 Spanish radios, including Radio Clásica - Radio Nacional (Spanish national radio).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
 
Description Symposium with participation of general public 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An academic symposium on early recording technologies open to the general public; ca. 20 out of 50 attendants were from the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018