Sample Registrar, mirar, recórrer

24.01.2023 to 18.06.2023

How do you capture something that is disappearing?

Between 1922 and 1936, a major project was carried out within civil society to preserve the memory of an essential heritage at risk of being lost. The aim of L’Obra del Cançoner Popular de Catalunya was to prepare, organise and publish an exhaustive musical corpus gathered from oral sources in all the areas where Catalan was spoken, involving the accurate transcription and description of thousands of songs and the traditions associated with them.

The project was entrusted to L’Orfeó Català, directed by Francesc Pujol, with Felip Pedrell as Honorary President, and with the patronage of Rafael Patxot. Although it was interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War, it is undoubtedly one of the most significant contributions to 20th century ethnography in Catalonia. It involved almost seventy research missions: rigorous field studies carried out by pairs of professionals from the fields of ethnology, music and linguistics, including Joan Amades, Higini Anglès, Joan Tomàs, Palmira Jaquetti and Baltasar Samper, who travelled far and wide, in a hurried effort to “collect a popular treasure that was already almost dying in many places”, searching particularly ‎“‎in farmhouses and isolated mountain villages‎”‎, aiming to “go to the sources where the water was purest”.

The reproductions made possible by cameras and phonographs (cutting edge technology at the time and spreading exponentially) addressed ways of life that were on the point of disappearing, producing a record that was as fleeting as the moments and the faces it captured. Thousands of ephemeral images bear witness to the hardness of life, the passage of time, direct contact with the land, a way of life that even then was coming to an end: hamlets, farmhouses, workshops, rainfed land, fields of stubble, and nursing homes and almshouses.

After 1936 the original material collected for L’Obra del Cançoner remained dispersed until 1991, when it was deposited in the Abbey at Montserrat. There it was studied, catalogued and published in various volumes of memoirs and selected items by Father Josep Massot i Muntaner until his death in April 2022.

Marking the centenary of the foundation of L’Obra del Cançoner, the exhibition ‘Registrar, mirar, recórrer’, is based on the photographic record of the major ethnographic project. The use of documentary photography was not central to its initial objectives; nevertheless, it produced a unique record consisting of thousands of photographs, mostly unpublished, a selection of which are on display in the exhibition.

At a time when traditional ways of life are being irrevocably changed because of industrialisation in an increasingly urban world, it is a matter of urgency to capture what, from an idealised, nostalgic viewpoint, can be seen as unchanging. By recording, studying and compiling these echoes of a supposedly natural culture, a project for a collective identity can be developed.

Paula Artés and Jordi Alomar
Participants i col·laboradors
A Museu de la Música de Barcelona – Centre Robert Gerhard production

Exhibition design: clara sola-morales studio

Supported by: Montserrat Abbey, Catalan Ministry of Culture’s Directorate-General for Popular Culture and Cultural Associations Documentation Centre, Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat and L’Orfeó Català Documentation Centre.


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