Historia de la música en España e Hispanoamérica. Volume five: La música en España en el siglo XIX

The newly published Historia de la Música en España e Hispano América is the most ambitious project on Spanish music history to be undertaken by Spanish and Latin American scholars currently working in Spain. The work comprises eight volumes, all of which have been published between 2009 and 2018 (not in chronological order). They are: Volume one (from Antiquity to the late 1400s); Volume two (the sixteenth century in Spain and its empire in the Americas, the so-called “Golden Age” of Spanish art—and music); Volume three (the seventeenth century); Volume four (the eighteenth century); Volume five (music in Spain in the nineteenth century); Volume six (music in Latin America in the nineteenth century); Volume seven (music in Spain in the twentieth century); and Volume eight (music in Latin America in the twentieth century).

With the publication of the fifth volume, which covers the “long nineteenth century” (that is, from around the time of the French Revolution to the onset of World War II), the collection is now complete. Juan José Carreras, a brilliant musicologist of impressive erudition, is the editor of the volume and author or co-author of five of the six chapters (the others are Celsa Alonso, Cristina Bordas, Teresa Cascudo and José Máximo Leza). Carreras has recently been appointed corresponding member of the American Musicological Society, a circumstance that will surely strengthen his relations with his American colleagues in the near future.

The first two chapters, El siglo musical (“The Musical Century”) and La invención de la música española (“The Invention of Spanish Music”) read as an introduction to the rest. Their purpose is to give a general assessment of the history and culture of a particularly turbulent period of Spanish history and its effect on the production and reception of music. They also provide a meticulous and inclusive analysis of the economic, political, and cultural contexts. The remaining four chapters discuss musical issues in a more conventional way—that is, in chronological order: La transición a un nuevo siglo, 1790–1830 (“The Transition towards a New Century, 1790–1830”); Modernización musical y cultura nacional, 1830–60 (“Musical Modernization and National Culture, 1830–60”); La consolidación de una cultura musical, 1860–90 (“The Consolidation of a Musical Culture, 1860–90”); and Perspectivas modernistas del fin de siglo (“Fin-de-siècle Modernistic Perspectives”). To the advantage of the reader, each chapter includes a comprehensive annotated bibliography.

Written from the perspective of the twenty-first century, this book has benefited from the impact of technology, especially the availability of digitized sources (the most important nineteenth-century Spanish newspapers and journals, which include indispensable reviews of performances, have been digitized). Its authors have applied methodological approaches hitherto overlooked in Spanish musical historiography, particularly the systematic interpretation of texts using a hermeneutical approach, thereby putting aside dogmatic attitudes and certain prejudices that have plagued past studies. For example, the volume dispels doubts about the supposedly limited presence of instrumental music in Spain, questions the reputation of the zarzuela as the quintessential voice of Spanish dramatic music, and defends the active role of women (on the stage and in the home) in the production and dissemination of music. It also manages to reclaim the presence and position of Spanish music in Europe, and of European music in Spain.

Carreras’s opening statement, “The nineteenth century invented Spanish music,” is as dramatic as it is accurate. It is the concept of Spanish music, Carreras explains, that emerged then: the set of assumptions that composers, performers, and listeners outside Spain identified as unequivocally and authentically Spanish. This was the result of Romantic aesthetics developed within the European bourgeoisie, who found the essence of the Spanish sound embodied in the most universally recognizable form of folk music, Andalusian flamenco, Spain’s most successful musical export. European composers, particularly French and Russian, “borrowed” elements of Spanish popular music—descending Phrygian scales, triplets, augmented seconds, lively rhythms in triple meter, to name just a few—and defined them as uniquely Spanish for their listeners. Meanwhile, in Spain, composers and music critics like Francisco Asenjo Barbieri, Hilarión Eslava, Felip Pedrell, Antonio Peña y Goñi, and Mariano Soriano Fuertes kept making desperate, unsuccessful efforts to find the “authentic soul” (as opposed to the one imposed by non-Spaniards) of the nation’s music. That soul remained elusive: the disappointing attempt to create a Spanish national opera is an eloquent example of the composers’ failure. Only late in the century would a group of them (Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and Manuel de Falla) manage to make an impact beyond the country’s borders, thanks to their deliberate effort to merge European modernist innovations with Spanish folk traditions.

Carreras and his collaborators have understood that Spanish historiography needs to catch up with current international scholarship. To that end, they seem to have acknowledged the methodological and interpretative lines of authoritative American scholars currently working on Spanish nineteenth-century music, such as Walter Clark, Carol A. Hess, and James Parakilas, to name just a few. In fact, one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the book is its systematic questioning of stereotypes and the emphasis it places on approaching issues from different angles.

This is hardly a book for the classroom. It does not discuss composers’ lives and works, contain any scores or analyses, or include charts or more than a few occasional illustrations. The reader must find elsewhere biographical profiles of some of the lesser-known composers and performers, and it is assumed that the reader should be acquainted with the basic facts (or not so basic) of nineteenth-century Spanish history and culture. Compared to some similar books on nineteenth-century music written in recent years by American and British scholars, this Historia de la música is perhaps closest to The Cambridge History of American Music (1998), edited by David Nicholls, and The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Music (2002), edited by Jim Samson, in structure, form, and approach. Conversely, it is least similar to books like Richard Taruskin’s Music in the Nineteenth Century (2005), from his five-volume Oxford History of Western Music or Walter Frisch’s Music in the Nineteenth Century (2013), both of which are perfectly suitable for the classroom.

There is an apparent absence of homogeneity in the writing styles of the editor and the other authors. Carreras’ style is erudite, all-encompassing, and prone to the profuse development of ideas and statements. The chapters written by the other authors have a more direct style (didactic, one might say) that is more appealing, perhaps, to the general reader.

Some readers may find it disappointing that folk traditions—flamenco particularly—of Spain are for the most part neglected: a scholarly book on nineteenth-century American music that omitted forms and genres of popular and folk music like the blues or ragtime would probably be regarded as somehow incomplete.

The size of the volume (let alone the whole collection) will probably prevent it from being translated into English any time soon, if ever. It is regrettable, for any English-speaking scholar (or reader) interested in the subject would benefit from being able to read this book. As a scholar who has done some research on music reception in both Spain and the United States, this book will be a great tool to help me establish comparisons and make connections between the two nations—and Volume six will facilitate connections between Latin America and the United States. To my convenience, its methodological approach and choice of topics is up to date and noticeably modelled after current American and British scholarship, including an emphasis on the sociological aspects of music production and reception. My American colleagues, many of whom are interested in the topic and hungry for new and intelligent views on penned by Spanish musicologists, will benefit equally from this book.

In addition, one hopes libraries in American universities and colleges will consider the possibility of acquiring the collection, as some of them did a few years ago with the monumental, ten-volume Diccionario de la música española e hispanoamericana (1999–2002), edited by Emilio Casares, the best reference book about Spanish and Latin American music (including popular and folk music) available on the market.


Acerca del autor:
F. Javier Albo
American Music