The first symphonic recordings of Berliner Gramophone in Barcelona: the Banda de la Casa Provincial de Caritat
The Museu de la Música de Barcelona has digitized some of the first records that the Berliner Gramophone company recorded in Barcelona. The combination of protagonists and unusual repertoire make it doubly interesting to look at: an amateur music band made up of inexperienced teenagers and young people embarks on the adventure of recording unknown sardanas for an international label.
Certainly there are many questions behind these enigmatic audio tracks and even today we have to answer some of them based on intuition, without proven scientific sources that can support the claims. Thus, this field is fertile ground for research for the following decades. However, I write these lines with the ambition of trying to shed some light.
The civil band as a result of historical evolution. From the hospice to the Casa
The Casa Provincial de Caritat is founded as an hospice by the Real Decreto por el rey Carlos IV in October 8, 1802, “[...] la creación de un establecimiento benéfico, destinado a la reclusión y recogimiento de los holgazanes, vagabundos e hijos de mal inclinados, y al albergue y socorro de impedidos, locos, fátuos, decrépitos y mendigos”. As the legal text says, we are in front of a hygienist vision of good government, which dictates the need to hide an increasingly evident reality in large cities, thus guaranteeing social peace in an increasingly conflictive context and growing inequality.
But, ¿what is this context? The Barcelona of the 19th century is a prosperous city in terms of large macroeconomic figures but irregular in the microeconomic impact: the industrial revolution favors the concentration of the peninsular textile industry in the surroundings of the Catalan capital and, as a consequence, the rural exodus in the search for a job in the Catalan factories sponsors a disorderly population growth in the city. Although these people were fleeing the lack of security in the field, the situation often did not improve once they arrived in Barcelona. As the geographer Rafael Alcaide points out in his articles on migration and social change, in the 19th century “las coyunturas económicas adversas afectaban a las empresas, y con ellas al mercado de trabajo, produciéndose de este modo nefastas fluctuaciones que dejaban en la calle, en el paro y en la miseria consecuente a un gran número de personas que, sumidas de pronto en la más absoluta indigencia, no tenían otro remedio que pasar a engrosar [...] contingentes de población que se situaban en los límites de la pobreza y la marginalidad”. Finally, it should be remembered that the Spanish State will almost reach economic failure at the end of the century, largely due to the expenses derived from the defense of the colonies, which at the same time inflicted severe defeats on the Bourbon troops and, little by little, became independent and decreased the income section.
Allusions to musical activities associated with the hospice before the absorption of the entity by the Diputació Barcelona in 1853 are reduced to newspaper announcements about the burial of the maestro Hipólito Casanovas in August 1887.: “[…] fue el primero en introducir la enseñanza de música en los establecimientos de Beneficiencia españoles. Cuando acababa de cumplir el plazo de cincuenta años que se dedicaba a la enseñanza musical de los asilados en la Casa Provincial de Caridad […]”. Thus, we know that there are pioneering classes in musical language and singing from at least the second third of the century. In no case, however, was it anything more than basic musical instruction to serve as a quarry for the small bands of the military regiments and, furthermore, to form a choir that could participate in the liturgical services of the Casa itself. However, as explained in the magazine La Ilustración Musical in its issue dedicated to the band, in 1883 the Casa Provincial de Caritat received a donation from Domènec Sert, a textile businessman and conservative deputy, later president of the Diputació, with the precise aim of creating a music school within the Casa. Josep Rodoreda, who combined the direction of the Societat Coral Euterpe with teaching piano at the Conservatori del Liceu, was appointed director of the school. A three-year period later, he became the first director of the Banda Municipal de Barcelona. After Rodoreda's departure, this school became an academy with a modest orchestra when the teachers Climent Cuspinera and Francesc Laporta, both linked to the choral world and to the composition of sacred themes, took over by competitive examination.
The 19th century was crucial for the development of civilian brass bands. Workers' associations and the interest in the cultural education of the workers led to the rise of choral and band movements, which were seen as more elitist, bourgeois and, above all, more inaccessible financially than the traditional orchestra. At the same time, Adolphe Sax's patents for the construction of the saxophone and saxhorn family, the inventions of the euphonium, the flugelhorn and the other bugles, the invention of the sarrusophone, the improvements of the key systems for woodwind instruments and the appearance of new systems such as the Boëhm for flutes, or the valve systems for brass instruments, notably improved the tuning, the quality of the instruments and the access of large groups of the population to them by lowering the price and using less noble materials such as brass. For this reason, the band ceased to be the grouping of protocol and the military act and became a tool at the service of civil society, another tool for making art with specific characteristics, but above all an attempt to democratise symphonic music in the sense that from then on, everyone could play music and everyone could listen to it. Symphonic music leaves the theatres and halls and moves to the street.
For this reason, it does not seem strange that the foundation of a band was planned from the new section of the Academia de Música. One of the first references to it can be found in the newspaper La Vanguardia of 12 July 1886: “El maestro de música de la Casa provincial de Caridad […] está introduciendo importantes reformas […] reorganizando la orquesta y aumentándola con el personal necesario, que pueda servir a la vez para orquesta y banda”. In the same newspaper, but around 1889, we read that the Banda dels Salesians was invited to parade and encourage the students studying at the Casa to form a band. From 1890 onwards, mentions began to be made of events in which the band took part, although there were still no regulations governing it. The person chosen to take charge was the hired brass teacher, Josep Torres.
A group of under-age musicians with savings
In the first stage, the formation consolidates 33 places for musicians, although with the aspiration of increasing the number in the future to cover all the instruments. The level of each of them is classified with the labels "first, second and third class", so that this facilitates the distribution of attributions. Entrance examinations are established and a reserve of applicants is formed with pupils who do not yet have sufficient knowledge to gain access to it.
The aforementioned issue 63 of the magazine La Ilustración Musical gives details of the conditions for joining the band: “Mediante un compromiso que suscriben sus padres o encargados, están obligados a permanecer en la Casa hasta la edad de dieciocho años y, faltando a esta condición, pierden la cantidad que tienen en depósito”. The deposit is the money they have earned with the band, which I will talk about later. So, the musicians of the band in their first period are adolescents who cannot be cared for at home, either because they are orphans or because they belong to a needy family or a family in need of any kind. At the Casa, they are cared for, they are given care, treatment and basic training and, once there, it is discovered that they have the ability to play an instrument, so they are directed towards this aspect.
In 1894, the Reglamento de la Academia de Música was drawn up, an exceptional document for understanding how the Casa related to the Band's students and how the money was distributed. The second chapter is dedicated to the obligations of teachers and students. It highlights the preference for orphans (they must stay until they reach the age of majority, which was then set at 25), the obligation to attend daily two-hour instrument classes and the commitment to study only one instrument.
As for the fifth chapter, the financial distribution is detailed. It is determined that the director receives 10% of what is obtained. 40% is kept by the Casa as the Band's contribution to the common project. Another 40% is kept for the musicians as a "deposit", as I mentioned before. Each time they take part in an event, an individual account book is kept which shows how much money each musician has on deposit. The remaining 10% is a reserve fund. A reserve fund that is used to buy material, renew instruments and for general expenses typical of the usual cash flow.
Miscellany of scores and spaces. The endless tour
From the point of view of activity, the Casa Provincial de Caritat Band has the status of an "all-terrain" group. It performs at all kinds of events: formal or festive, seated, standing or walking, alone or accompanied by choirs, orchestras or other bands. They rehearse in the Casa itself, located in the building now occupied by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona on Carrer Montalegre, and have signed dates in numerous places in Barcelona, in other Catalan cities and towns, and there are even reports of their participation with the Cors Clavé in events in the cities of Bilbao and Madrid. There is one main reason for such an intense agenda, and that is that the project subsists without much financial support, that is to say, the band survives on what it gets from the contracts signed at each performance.
As for the repertoire, there is variety, but the common denominator is the short duration, probably related to the alleviation of technical difficulty. In another sense, short and famous pieces of the time dominate the repertoire. For example, fragments of zarzuelas, habaneras, pasodobles, polkas, mazurkas, marches, waltzes and sardanas. Also of note are the works composed by the various conductors and assistants of the Band and the Academia. Lastly, there are the scores for choir and band by masters such as Clavé, Goula and Rodoreda, and music by classical composers of greater technical difficulty.
Very special records
The recordings digitised by the Museu de la Música are the first recorded by Berliner Gramophone on the Iberian Peninsula with a symphonic ensemble. The records are seven inches in diameter and can store sound lasting not much more than two minutes. The series begins with the digit 6 indicating that the origin of the recording is the Iberian Peninsula. Pressed in Hannover, the Typewriter marks the numbers 60000, 60004 and 60005 for the three sardanas. This means that we are talking about the first catalogue numbers in Spain and Portugal. At least it is recorded that more than ten pieces were engraved. Two fundamental aspects are striking: on the one hand, a non-professional band was selected, with young and inexperienced musicians; on the other hand, three totally unknown sardanas were recorded, such as La platja de Riells, Mercedes and Maria Cristina, as well as a work by Clavé which, outside Catalonia, is not so well known. Fortunately, there are answers to the questions posed.
As Antoni Torrent, of the Associació FonoVilassar, points out in his articles "Una recerca interessant 1a i 2a parts" published in issues 8 and 9 of Girant a 78 rpm: butlletí gratuït de l'Associació per a la Salvaguarda del Patrimoni Enregistrat, Berliner's technicians sought to promote and make known to Catalan and Spanish society the gramophone and its possibilities as a domestic listening tool to replace Edison's cylinder phonograph. Thus, it is likely that, if it was an experimental recording, neither the Banda Municipal nor the orchestras of the time were interested in participating. Nor would the company want to invest too much money if all they wanted to do was record a band of a few members at no great expense. After all, according to the chronicles, the Casa Provincial de Caritat Band was a humble group, but very much loved by the people of Barcelona, with a large and loyal audience. The satirical newspaper also comments on this issue L’Esquella de la Torratxa, May 29, 1896, dedicated almost exclusively to the Casa Provincial de Caritat: “y en un’ altra secció s’hi troban agrupats los músichs de aquella banda, que mes de quatre vegades haurán vist desfilar per nostres carrers, tocant ayres marcials ab un brillo qu’ enamora”.
A very accurate finding by Torrent shows that the band did not reject even the possibility of obtaining extraordinary income from the recording of a dozen records. The Casa's accounts show that, while the band's income in 1902 was just over 8,000 pesetas, in 1901 there was an extraordinary income classified as "alms" that only amounted to 5,000 pesetas. It is clear that this is conjecture, but it seems reasonable to suggest that this irregular inflow of money is unusual because it represents more than half of the annual profits. There are indications, therefore, that the pecuniary consideration from the German-American stamp would have been too substantial to be passed up by a small formation like the Banda de la Casa Provincial de Caritat.
As for the chosen genres, we must mention the name of the musician, composer and conductor Eusebi Guiteras, who from 1898 onwards led the band in place of Josep Torres and became a key player in the 1901 recordings. Guiteras came from the choral world, associated with the Centre Empordanès in Barcelona, and had been conductor of the Orfeó Ampurdanés. At the same time as he became conductor of the Banda de la Casa, he won a clarinet position in the Banda Municipal de Barcelona. La Platja de Riells, with a clear Empordà theme, Maria Cristina and Mercedes are sardanas written by himself. It was customary at the time for conductors and some musicians to contribute arrangements of famous scores or original compositions to the repertoire of their own bands. This tradition is still alive today. On the other hand, “El Rigodon bèlic” from Els néts dels Almogàvers can be found in many of the programmes between 1899 and 1903 presented by the group wherever they were invited, so it must be assumed that they had mastered it, which would have made the recording session easier.
Given the curious circumstances, the main thesis to understand why unknown sardanes were performed would be that maestro Guiteras took advantage of the occasion to record his compositions and make them known. For this reason, the first recording of a sardana was not made by a cobla, but by a brass band.
On sardanas encapsulated without cobla and small aural appreciations
One of the significant differences between orchestras and bands is the standardisation of the former in terms of the number of players according to the period and the repertoire. Today, bands still have a variable number of players, which even undergoes considerable changes depending on the tradition of each region. While today the composer writes parts for an extraordinary number of instruments and the conductor puts on the music stand all the instruments he has on his staff, in 1901 the composer-conductor wrote for the instruments he had on his staff. This understanding has not evolved so much among the bulk of the band community, unaccustomed to look beyond their regional navel.
That said, the absence of the typical instruments of the cobla is no longer surprising. Tenora and tible were only fixed instruments in the Banda Municipal de Barcelona, and only from the second reform undertaken by Joan Lamote de Grignon in the 1920s. Therefore, the saxophones and clarinets took over as soloists. The flabiol is also displaced by the piccolo.
Few voices are heard, less than what thirty instruments could provide, so I imagine that perhaps the capacity was reduced for reasons of space and equipment. It is also noticeable how the short duration of the discs conditions the frenetic tempo and the repetitions, shortened to the maximum. Finally, it is noticeable that the band has some strong players, at least with the alto saxophone, clarinet and trumpet, who take the reins when the coordination falters a little. It is known, because it is published in the press, that the instrumentalists who stood out in the band, ended up taking competitive examinations as adults in the Banda Municipal, and many of them obtained a place.
In short, the four records recorded in 1901 by the Banda de la Casa Provincial de Caritat and digitised by the Museu de la Música de Barcelona reveal the importance of the music bands in the sound environment of Barcelona at the beginning of the century, as well as the essential role played by the beginnings of the gramophone as a device that had not yet been consolidated, although it was trying to make its way as an everyday object in the domestic sphere.
Gabriel, P., Enrech Molina, C., Rosell, J., Pantaleón i Gamisans, M., Serrallonga i Urquidi, J. i Gabriel, A., 2015. La Casa de Caritat. Barcelona: Diputació de Barcelona.
Alcaide González, R., 2001. Inmigración y marginación: prostitución y mendicidad en la ciudad de Barcelona a finales del siglo XIX. Una comparación con la actualidad. In: III Coloquio Internacional de Geocrítica. [en línia] Barcelona: Scripta Nova. Revista electrónica de Geografía y Ciencias Sociales. Universitat de Barcelona. Disponible a: http://www.ub.edu/geocrit/sn-94-103.htm [Consultat el 5 de febrer de 2021].
La Ilustración Musical Hispano-Americana, 30 d’agost de 1890. La Academia de Música de la Casa Provincial de Caridad. (63).
L'Esquella de la Torratxa, 9 de maig de 1896. La Casa de Caritat. Impressións. p.338.
Torrent i Marquès, A., novembre 2005. Una recerca interessant (1a part). Girant a 78 rpm. Butlletí gratuït de l'Associació per a la Salvaguarda del Patrimoni Enregistrat, (8), pp.9-13.
Torrent i Marquès, A., març 2006. Una recerca interessant (2a part). Girant a 78 rpm. Butlletí gratuït de l'Associació per a la Salvaguarda del Patrimoni Enregistrat, (9), pp.9-19.
Almacellas i Díez, J., 2006. Del carrer a la sala de concerts. La Banda Municipal 1886-1944. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
La Vanguardia, 1886-1904. Notes diverses sobre actes relacionats amb la Banda de Casa Provincial de Caritat. [en línia] Disponible a: http://hemeroteca.lavanguardia.com/ [Consultat recurrentment des del 15 de gener de 2021].