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Mark your calendars: Two Talks by K. Meira Goldberg

K. Meira Goldberg

In line with the Foundation for Iberian Music’s developing Fandango Project, in concordance with the expanding Digital Humanities at the Graduate Center and beyond, Dr. K. Meira Goldberg, Scholar in Residence, will be an invited speaker at two upcoming online public online events focusing on transatlantic circulations of representations of race. On November 6 she will present “Tilting Across the Racial Divide: Jacinto Padilla ‘El Negro Meri’” at the symposium Race and Blackness in the Atlantic World, at the University of Texas, Austin. On December 11 she will participate in a  Public lecture/conversation on Race and Peninsular/Transatlantic Studies at El Taller@KJCC (NYU), a working group dedicated to Peninsular Studies that is organized from NYU but with active participation from faculty and students across the graduate Consortium and beyond to include area scholars and students.

The Global Reach of the Fandango in Music, Song and Dance – Editors: K. Meira Goldberg, Antoni Pizà

When Barcelona was “absolument moderne”:  The Schoenberg / Gerhard Correspondence Shows the Impact of Musical Modernism in Catalonia and Elsewhere

Schoenberg’s home in Barcelona

Like Paris and Berlin, interwar Barcelona (c.1920-1936) was a cauldron of international modernist creativity:  Schoenberg composed Moses und Aron, Webern conducted the Pau Casals Workers’ Orchestra, and Alban Berg premiered his Violin Concerto.  This powerful momentum shaped a generation of composers (Robert Gerhard, especially, but also Joaquim Homs, and, later on, Benet Casablancas, who was awarded the 2012 Foundation for Iberian Music’s Composer’s Commission, among others) and inspired the work of a generation of visual artists and literary minds (Antoni Tàpies, Joan Brossa, and J.E. Cirlot, among others). In Barcelona in the thirties, as Rimbaud asserted in a different context:  “Il faut être absolument moderne.”

In 2006, the Foundation for Iberian Music dedicated a series to “Schoenberg in Barcelona.”  The composer’s daughter, Nuria Schoenberg-Nono, unable to attend, send us a kind note that read:

As you can well imagine, Barcelona has a special significance for me. During my father’s stay there, he not only gave birth to the second act of his opera Moses und Aron, but my mother gave birth to their first child, a girl to whom my father wanted to give the most popular name in Barcelona: Nuria. I think the fact that he wanted that name for me shows how much he felt at home in that beautiful city. My father’s contract with the Akademie der Künste in Berlin allowed him a six-months’ composing leave, which he spent in warmer cities, since he suffered from asthma and could not endure the cold German winter. Invited by pupil and friend Roberto Gerhard to spend the winter months in Catalonia, my parents prolonged their sojourn until the beginning of June, when my father had to return to Berlin to take up his duties again as Professor of the masterclass in composition. He did not wish to return to Berlin and had asked friends to try and find a music patron who could assure him a salary so he could stay in Barcelona, but to no avail. And it was not only the warm weather which had attracted him, I am sure it was also the warm welcome he had received there by his old and new friends. In the ’80s my daughter and I were invited to attend the premiere of Moses und Aron in Barcelona. I will never forget the superb hospitality shown us and the great impression that the city and its people made on me. I am really sorry that I cannot be with you all to take part in your event. I hope to be able to collaborate with the Foundation in the near future.  I think I got carried away thinking about Barcelona. All the best, Nuria

 The history of the friendship between Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and Robert Garhard (1896-1970) dates back to 1923, when the Catalan composer wrote to Schoenberg requesting the possibility of taking composition lessons with him.  In his request letter, he included the score of two recent works, Dos apunts (Two Sketches for Piano) and Set Haikus (Seven Haikus for chamber ensemble and voice).  After an interview, Schoenberg accepted him as a student; shortly after, Gerhard became his assistant.  While in Vienna, Gerhard met his future wife Leopoldina (“Poldi”) Feichtegger and became friends with Berg and Webern.  In 1925, Schoenberg took over Busoni’s class at the Preussische Akademie der Künste and Gerhard followed him there as his student and assistant until 1928. Also in 1925 and after an invitation by Gerhard, Schoenberg visited Barcelona to conduct his Pierrot Lunaire.

Autograph ms., Klawierstueke, op. 33b, composed in Barcelona

Because Berlin’s anti-Semitic atmosphere, during the period 1931-32, Schoenberg and his wife moved to Barcelona as the guests of the Gerhards.  There, enjoying its moderate winter weather, Schoenberg composed most of Moses und Aron.  That season, Gerhard arranged for Schoenberg and Webern to conduct the Casals Orchestra.  In 1936 the 16th ISCM festival was held in Barcelona and Gerhard, organized the premiere of Berg’s Violin Concerto.  As a tribute to Barcelona and to Gerhard’s hospitality, the Schoenbergs named their daughter Nuria (a typical Catalan name).  She was born in Barcelona in 1932 and married the Italian composer Luigi Nono.

A friend and collaborator of Miró, the architect Josep Lluís Sert, and Dalí, Gerhard’s music “displayed an increasingly radical exploratory outlook and until his death contributed energetically to the development of serial and electronic composition, and to timbral and textural innovation” (New Grove).  To be sure, Gerhard learned from Schoenberg “clarity and concision of form, intricate contrapuntal working, textural variety and a unified harmonic idiom” (New Grove).

Here are some useful, albeit random, dates to understand Schoenberg’s relationship with Barcelona:

1913        Casals performs Schoenberg’s arrangement of the Concerto for Cello by Georg Matthias Monn (1717-50)

1923        Robert Gerhard sends Two Sketches for piano to Schoenberg and becomes his student in Vienna and, later, Berlin

1925        Festival Arnold Schoenberg in Barcelona and other Catalan towns; Pierrot Lunaire, Kammersymphonie, a selection of songs and other compositions are performed

1931        Schoenberg arrives in Barcelona in October.  Settles in a modernista sunny house

1932        Writes Moses und Aron and Klavierstück Op. 33b.  Nuria Schoenberg (later Nono) is born in Barcelona and is baptized by musicologist and priest Higini Anglès.  Anton Webern conducts Verklärtenacht and Acht Lieder Op. 6, among other compositions

1933        Casals and Schoenberg plan future concerts in Barcelona, including an arrangement for cello and orchestra of the Monn keyboard concerto

1936        Alban Berg premieres his Violin Concerto in Barcelona; Erwartung is also performed

1956        Tàpies, Brossa, Cirlot and other members of Dau al Set place a plaque at the Schoenberg’s former residence in Barcelona

1985        The Gran Teatre del Liceu’s premières Moses und Aron

To complete the picture of that special moment in music history, just recently, professor Paloma Ortiz-de-Urbina Sobrino has just published an extremely valuable book.  Her work—actually several multilingual volumes—contains the complete correspondence between Schoenberg and his student Robert Gerhard (including that of their wives).  There are a total of eighty-two letters, postcards, telegrams, and other similar items.  Most of them are in German and some in English; but one item is in French and another in Catalan.  Professor Ortiz-de-Urbina has transcribed, edited, and translated all the items for one volume into English and for a second volume into Catalan all published by the Biblioteca Nacional de Catalunya.  There is also a different edition in German put out by Peter Lang.  (In total there are three books.)  

 Professor Ortiz-de-Urbina is a Gerhard specialist, a musicologist, and a polyglot who, without her absolute mastery of all these languages as well as her profound knowledge of the pertinent musicological literature, would not have been able to produce these singularly important volumes.  These letters are not only relevant for musicologists interested in Schoenberg and Gerhard’s studies, but also for the general, educated reader who wants to understand—and even enjoy learning about—that special moment when those two creative minds met and spoke frankly in the intimate mode of the missive, closer to the personal diary than to the theoretical treatise.  It is clear, additionally, that Schoenberg had a powerful impact on later Catalan artists such as idiosyncratic, multidisciplinary Joan Brosa, painter Antoni Tàpies, and the poet J.E Cirlot, who wrote apropos of Schoenberg’s stay in Barcelona these beautiful lines:

Two fragments by J.E. Cirlot


Era un hombre


Su triste matemática juntaba

Ceniza y pensamientos.

J.E. Cirlot, In memoriam


En tus doce sonidos se levanta

Un candelabro nuevo, zodiacal,

Vencido el candelabro planetario.


Permuta lo que ora, lo que canta,

Inspiración del centro cenital,

Música del sistema necesario.

J.E. Cirlot,  Homenaje a Schönberg  

And just to finish, the following valuable sources, Gerhard’s testimony and an early review, might help us understand Schoenberg’s experience in Barcelona as well as the early reception of his music:

 Robert Gerhard in a BBC radio interview

He [Schoenberg] loved his window….  He had his table right against the window. And he lifted his eyes up from the score Moses and Aron, which, as you know, he finished the second act in Barcelona in that room—this signed at the end “Barcelona, 10th of March, 1932.” When he lifted his eyes from the score, what he saw was that fantastic panorama. It was a smallish room. It had a small upright piano, a table perhaps, a sofa, and a few armchairs and that was all. And Mrs. Schoenberg and my wife sat at the back of the room chatting lustily, you know, with quite without the slightest regard for that man composing there on the window because Schoenberg insisted. He wanted them to talk loud. He hated to hear somebody whispering. I’m sure he listened with a kind of a… with a quarter of his ear, and when something came up that was gossipy, you know, he joined the ladies. He jumped up and joined the ladies and mixed in the conversation. When he had enough, he went back to his table, sat down, and was concentrated the next instant, deeply concentrated, completely oblivious, deaf to the latest conversation.

A 1925 Catalan concert review

No fue menor la expectación motivada por el anuncio de la sesión que en 29 de abril de 1929 se dedicó a Arnold Schönberg, compositor vienés, de procedimientos atonales ultramodernos, en abierta rebelión contra todo lo establecido, de una originalidad rayana en la extravagancia y cuya música (…) suena en los oídos de los no iniciados como una caótica confusión de ritmos y disonancias, provocando en todos los públicos, sin excluir el de Barcelona, apasionadas discusiones, no siempre mantenidas dentro de los límites de la corrección y el mutuo respeto.

In memoriam Assunta “Sunny” Carballeira (August 23, 1925 – January 20, 2019) music’s grande dame of “old” New York

There’s so much talk right now whether NY has lost its bite and how much better it was that “old” NY of times past.  And, yes, COVID has changed our city and our cultural habits, but perhaps a better debate would be how long this apparent debacle will last; how long without the Met and the MET, Broadway and off-Broadway, and even off-off-Broadway.  Barely a week ago, it would have been the birthday of Assunta “Sunny” Carballeira, pianist, singer, and above all Spanish music’s grande dame of “old” NY.  She would have turned 95.

Dr. Manuel Carballeira, Alicia de Larrocha, and Sunny Carballeira. Photo by Alicia Torra

Born in Queens, NY, the daughter of Italian parents, she married Manuel Carballeira, a prominent doctor of Galician extraction and for fifteen years the Metropolitan Opera’s physician.  From an early age she performed in the pioneer and bizarre “all girls” Phil Spitalny Orchestra, and later in the smoky, sultry rooms at the Café Pierre and the Hotel New Yorker.  Radio and TV were also part of her artistic outlets and she co-hosted several programs for CBS.

Most importantly for many of us, later in life, in addition to her family, she was the port of entry, so to speak, of all Spanish—and especially Catalan—musicians.  She hosted in NY essentially all musicians who were engaged to perform or were developing careers here:  Andrés Segovia, Carlos Surinach, Montserrat Caballé, Victoria de los Ángeles, José (Josep) Carreras; Juan (Joan) Pons; Plácido Domingo; Jesús López Cobos; Frederic Mompou, Carmen Bravo, Xavier Moltsalvatge, and especially her close friend Alicia de Larrocha.  Her home in Queens, NY, her summer place on Long Island, but especially the old Spanish Institute, in Manhattan’s posh Upper East Side, were the sites of numerous receptions, lectures, concerts, and cocktail parties honoring those composers and performers even before they were known to American audiences at large.

“I was just on the phone with Victoria [de los Ángeles],” she would mention in passing when speaking with this chronicler.  And then, “what are we going to do with José [Carreras].  We need to bring him back to Carnegie!,” she would conclude emphatically.  And it’s true, she was highly selective with her friends, but had never forgotten her Italian immigrant roots and those of her kind Galician husband.  She attended the exclusive Finch College, a small higher education institution in, again, Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side— Nixon’s daughter and Isabella Rosellini, being among the many NY’s luminaries, socialites, and philanthropists who attended the now-defunct school.  And also, in the Upper East Side, at our own CUNY Hunter College, she co-organized an eccentric fundraising for the International Piano Library in which, among many other performances, eight pianists (including Arrau, de Larrocha, Borge, and Guiomar Novaes) played simultaneously (“almost in unison,” said tongue-in cheek the prominent critic Harold C. Schonberg) Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise.  In the last twenty years or so, the Foundation for Iberian Music benefited enormously from Sunny’s rolodex (have we all forgotten that useful, old contraption?) in organizing events honoring the music of Halffter, Montsalvatge, Surinach, Nin-Culmell, Granados, Larrocha, and others, and for that we’re extremely grateful.     

For Better or Worse (better, mostly), We Are All Immersed in the Digital Humanities

For better or worse, we are all now immersed in the Digital Humanities.  Forget the Parisian cafés and the endless conversations, legs crossed, cigarette-holding, cuddling a glass of Pernod with melting ice cubes, current intellectual debates take place in front of screens of all sizes, devices of all makes, smartphones, computers, tablets, and through platforms of immense interactive capabilities.

First, there was a budding idea and perhaps a question (what can new technologies do for the traditional arts and humanities?) from which, in the last decade, there has been many responses.  It is worth mentioning here, the pioneer role of Barry S. Brook, the founder of the doctoral programs in music at the CUNY Graduate Center.  In the 1960s, he saw the enormous possibilities of the application of computers to musical scholarship.  Many of his initiatives (see his biography) involved the creation of massive data banks and its availability on digital formats from everywhere in the world.  This spirit of making information available to sans frontiers scholars continues to this day to be the lightning rod of the Brook Center and its constituents, including the Foundation for Iberian Music.  Think of RILM Abstracts , Ridim, RCMI, Music in Gotham, and the Eighteenth-Century Symphony Archive, just to mention a few of the digital initiatives based at the Brook Center.  They all employ the talent, knowledge, and endless energy of CUNY students, researchers, and faculty.

The Graduate Center still continues to be at the avantgarde of the digital world, with a program specifically created for the digital humanities.  The CUNY Center for the Humanities offers free online access to a diversity of conversations with preeminent thought leaders, and The Dominican Studies Institute at The City College of New York has several wonderful online and freely accessible archives.

Just recently, The Graduate Center received a $375,000 NEH for a project headed by professor Matthew K. Gold called “Manifold in the Classroom: Digital Publishing for Open Pedagogy.”  One of its results it will be an open-access publishing platform created by CUNY’s GC Digital Lab called Manifold.

In the last decades, digital Iberian musical scholarship has given great strides.  A few years ago, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas created a Fondo de Música Tradicional (Traditional Music Holding) an enormous data base.  The project is directed by Dr. Emilio Ros-Fábregas, a CUNY alumnus and former faculty member, as well as an early researcher at the Brook Center.  In addition, Dr. Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita, one of the main researchers working on the project, was recently also a scholar in residence at the Foundation for Iberian Music.

Of course, many music publications have in recent years moved to online platforms.  With the Instituto Cervantes Observatorio at Harvard University we published the proceedings of our 2019 Joaquín Rodigo conference.   We also published the proceedings of several conferences in Música Oral del Sur, and its editor in chief, Reynaldo Fernández-Manzano has lectured here at the Foundation in several occasions.  Another eminent colleague, Walter A. Clack has visited us in many occasions as a lecturer and conference presenter.  He is the founder of the e-journal Diagonal an incredible platform for digital publishing based at the Center for Iberian and Latin American Music.

Catching up with the new reality of online work, many scholarly societies such as the Renaissance Society of America and the American Society for Theatre Research have modified membership fees, especially for contingent faculty, independent scholars, and graduate students, to a “pay what you can.” And many performing arts organizations, such as Danspace Project offer a blend of performance and community dialogue online. Finally, online digital resources such as the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica from the Biblioteca Nacional de España, Gallica from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Oxford Cantigas de Santa María Database , and of course the New York Public Library are more important than ever to scholars whose travel to archives is limited due to COVID.

We at the Foundation for Iberian Music, having created the Fandango Project, a series of conferences and publications that started out in New York but has since branched out to Los Angeles and Veracruz, México, and in 2022 to Africa, are in the initial planning stages of a Digital Fandango Project, an online resource that will connect scholars to scholarship and to each other. Stand by for more news!

It is the beginning of a new semester, and we are all struggling with online teaching, COVID19 has propelled us to relearn it effectively.  As scholars, we are also impelled to embrace the digital humanities in our own research and its dissemination.  The challenges, needless to say, are enormous, but the possibilities are also immense.  As humanists, we’re wise to keep a dab of skepticism around all this newness—critical thinking is what we teach our undergraduates, in the end.  We, however, would be absolute fools if did not take advantage of this opportunity to partake in the transformation of the humanities in this new digital era.  And, as far as of Paris and our longed-for Pernods, as they say, we will always have Paris.

A quiet pond no longer, music scholarship generates controversies

A quiet pond no longer, music scholarship generates controversies

Heinrich Schenker by Hermann Clemens Kosel –, Public Domain,

For many decades, perhaps centuries, what we now call musicology and its sibling disciplines (ethnomusicology, theory and analysis, performance studies, and so forth) were a quiet pond, its waters never stirred, its fish swimming in silence.  Then, in the eighties and nineties of the last century, came so-called “new musicology,” cultural studies, performance studies and its many offshoots.  All of a sudden, one could discuss race, gender, sexuality, class, and any socially-relevant issues.  Some academics were frankly setback by the changes in the discipline; others, needless to say, celebrated the transformations.  Traditional historical musicology was charged with focusing excessively on archival transcriptions of European “masters.”  Music theory was accused of de-contextualizing musical works:  “parallel fifths,” disembodied of its sound, it was pointed out, were the same “error” according to music theory textbooks, whether they were sung by castrati or sounded on a Moog synthesizer.

Fast-forward a few decades and music scholars are now focusing on a broad range of issues, many of them causing controversy.  A few weeks ago, we posted on the legacy of Iberian music in light of the BLM movement.  Months earlier we discussed the beginnings of slavery in 1619 and its connections with the musical practices of Iberian Peninsula.  Last year, Meira Goldberg published her Sonidos negros  tackling music and dance and the politics of race.  Just a week ago, the celebrated Misteri d’Elx / Misterio de Elche (Elx / Elche, Spain) was cancelled because of the COVID19 pandemic.  As the oldest drama in Europe, it had been uninterruptedly performed for six hundred years up to last week.  And just last week, Antoni Pizà wrote another op-ed piece calling for educating contemporary audiences on the anti-Judaism aspect of parts of the text.  Of course, this aspect has been discussed previously by many other scholars such as Greenblatt , Nirenberg , and Pizà, elsewhere.

Much more controversial has been a presentation at the Society for Music Theory by our colleague at the CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College, professor Philip Ewell, in which he directly denounces racism in the field of music theory—who would ever know that parallel fifths could stir the still waters of our quiet pond?  Some of his argument involves the study of white supremacist Heinrich Schenker’s methods of musical analysis, but it goes beyond that.  His talk and its ensuing controversy have sparked an incredible media coverage (NPR, Fox, etc.) that shows that musical scholarship is no longer a quiet pond.

“Just thinking”—Itamar, a publication from Valencia, thrives on its in-betweenness

“Just thinking”Itamar, a publication from Valencia, thrives on its in-betweenness

For those who still don’t know it, Itamar:  Revista de Investigación Musical / Territorios para el Arte is a publication based at the Universitat de València.  Under its coeditors, Jesús Alcolea Banegas, Rosa Iniesta Masmano, and Rosa Mª Rodríguez Hernández, the publication honors its title and subtitles because it provides a space—a freethinking “palm tree island”—for broadminded thought, a territory where no discipline or methodology dominates; a place that fosters “la pensée complexe,” as one of its honorary founders, the eminent Edgar Morin, could have said.  To be sure, Itamar celebrates its “in-betweenness,” as Homi K. Bhabha critical theorist would say, a space between spaces in an imaginary landscape of academic work.  You may see it for yourselves in the table of contents of the current issue.

Itamar’s latest issue has just come out and, among many other articles, Antoni Pizà publishes a think piece on the possible consolation of music and the arts.  Why do some people tend to rely on the arts to find balance in their emotional lives?  Pizà has published several other essays in Itamar.  In 2009 he wrote about fragments and unfinished artworks and specifically Schubert’s Reliquie, Piano Sonata in C major,  D. 840.  He also published in 2010 an essay on Chopin’s sexual life, a widely downloaded essay, if only for its title.

We are all grateful that Itamar exists and provides a needed editorial space for open-minded scholarship and writerly creativity. We’re all Robinson Crusoe now, sitting on an imaginary Itamar, a deserted palm-tree island, scratching our heads and thinking—just thinking.

Baltasar Samper and Early Jazz in Barcelona

In the early 2000’s, pianist and scholar Joan Moll gave Antoni Pizà a clump of yellowish loose old quartos in a modest supermarket plastic bag containing some autograph manuscripts by composer and scholar Baltasar Samper (Palma de Mallorca 1888 – Mexico, DF 1966).  The collection included three lectures on jazz presented in Barcelona in 1935.  There was also the text of a pre-concert lecture from the 1920’s on Ravel, some notes in French pertaining to his ethnographic fieldwork, and some handwritten copies of Shakespeare sonnets translated into Catalan by Magí Morera i Galícia in 1912.  Moll, a Samper pioneer performer and scholar, hoped Pizà would edit and publish these materials.  Quite a few years passed and in 2019 Pizà and musicologist Francesc Vicens finally prepared these papers for publication.

Modeling his talks on the ideas of French critic Hugues Panassié, in his lectures, Samper discusses the jazz canon up to 1935.  His track selection might or might not surprise you.  Armstrong, of course, has a prominent role, but Valaida Snow is without a doubt undeservedly underappreciated nowadays and she might surprise some present-day jazz aficionados.  You might want to check out the book’s soundtrack on this YouTube playlist and judge for yourself.

This volume, published by Lleonard Muntaner, has received an enormous amount of attention and it has been reviewed in many publications both in print and online and both for the general reader as well as for a scholarly readership on both sides of the Atlantic. The reviews include:  Serra d’Or, FelanitxLa LectoraCent per cent, Sonograma, Doce Notas, Diagonal, Codalario, Ultima Hora, Bellver / Diario de Mallorca, and a couple of radio programs in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca.

With beautiful cover art by famous photographer, guitarist, and true early-jazz insider Charles Peterson, and permission kindly granted by his son, eminent jazz critic and writer Don Peterson, the latest addition to this list of reviews is by Benjamin R. Fraser,  Professor of Iberian and Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Arizona, a Tete Montoliu’s scholar, and author of many books on Iberian culture.  He writes in Catalan Review that “the consequences of this book extend beyond a purely biographical interest” and that the introduction is “a dense essay of clear transnational and transatlantic applicability.”

Although Samper lived the peripatetic, difficult existence of many exiles, finally settling in Mexico, where he died, his artistic reputation and intellectual standing seems to grow nonstop from the foundational, pioneer studies by Josep Massot i Muntaner, the early recordings of Joan Moll, to this pertinent contribution on jazz, as well as the initiatives and studies by younger scholars such as Amadeu Corbera.  We’re grateful Samper is getting all this attention.  He deserves it.


Brook Center’s 18th-Century Symphony Archive is now freely available online

The 18th-Century Symphony Archive is a collection of microfilms and photocopies of over 3000 original sources (scores and parts) documenting the history of the genre through its formative years. It is likely the largest archive of 18th-century symphonies in the United States. The print collection resides at the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. Ruth Halle Rowen’s Symphonic and Chamber Music Score and Parts Bank Thematic Catalogue of the Barry S. Brook Facsimile Archive (Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon, 1996) has served as a print catalogue to the collection.

The complete catalogue is now available online. Further, more than half of the scores (those without copyright restrictions) have been digitized and made available online via links from the catalogue. The catalogue is organized by composers’ last names. Collections of works by several composers are listed at the beginning of the catalogue alphabetically by the first composer’s last name.  Instrumentation is included using standard abbreviations. Publishers, libraries, and additional information appear as found on the materials. Scholars, students, musicians, publishers, and others now have immediate access to many hundreds of early symphonic works.

The project has been led by Michele Smith, who compiled the catalogue with the help of Murray Citron, and who oversaw the digitizing, uploading, and linking of the scores.

Reading Iberian Music through the Lens of #BlackLivesMatter

By Meira Goldberg & Antoni Pizà

Recent events in the USA, including the deaths of Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and a devastating number of others, sparking waves of peaceful protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and many initiatives to remove monuments celebrating the controversial (to say the least) leaders of the Confederacy prompt us to reconsider how these looming issues affect our own work in music and dance studies.

The Foundation for Iberian Music aspires to be a place for reflection on the past and present of the music and dance of the Iberian world, and on the Latin American, Caribbean, Native, and African cultures that have contributed to these art forms.  In a previous post we reflected on how not only the fundamental structures of racism which evolved in Spain and Portugal, but also the cultures of enslaved African people and their descendants were retained across many centuries, and how music and dance materialize the processes of transmission and syncretization of these performance cultures.

In recent months, even before the rising movement to push icons of the Confederacy off their pedestals, some of the most emblematic performances of Spanish identity have been interrogated in terms of their racist content and colonial past.  For instance, Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt recently published an essay in the New York Review of Books calling for a reconsideration of the Misteri d’Elx (Misterio de Elche).  Considered to be the oldest mystery play in the world and recognized by UNESCO as “a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity,” it has been uninterruptedly performed for six hundred years (due to COVID19 this summer it will not be presented).  This ritual performance celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary each August 14 and 15 and the conversion of Jews to Christianity in the presence of this event. According to Greenblatt, the “Judiada” (the Jewish episode in the play) is a vicious recapitulation of demeaning Jewish stereotypes.

Another respected American scholar, David Nirenberg, author of a well-documented monograph Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (2013), in an online essay, has argued that Facebook, if it is to be consistent with its own policies on hate speech, should probably ban the Misteri page. Antoni Pizà’s essay in L’Avenç, covering some of the same issues, calls for the need for audience education and contextualization.  The essay has been widely reprinted and abridged.

The celebrated Cantigas de Santa María, about four hundred songs praising the Virgin Mary, which are a staple of Iberian medieval music, poetry, and visual art, contain at least one excerpt referencing a well-known and often-repeated storyline:  a Jew attempting to desecrate a Holy Host (though never achieving his evil intentions).  Similarly, the romancero and the cancionero, repositories of lyrics and songs that have come to form Iberian identity, reflect the Iberian side of Christian anti-Judaism.  Some Holy Week street parades still torment an effigy or ragdoll (monigote), which in one instance is called “Peropalo,” representing Judas as standing in for all Jews.  Also, during the famed procesiones de Semana Santa, in many towns the executioners (sayones) who escort Jesus along the Via Crucis to his death are represented as repugnant Jewish figures.  In Catalonia, until the 1950s on Holy Friday children in villages celebrated “to go to kill Jews,” a noise-making performance using a contraption called carraus (or in Spanish carrasquetas).

Christian proselytism has had many ramifications, of course.  As the figure of Christopher Columbus is debated, so are those of Junípero Serra, composer, arranger, and compiler of many religious works, who perfectly understood the uses of music in the Spanish colonial enterprise.  Another, lesser known, Franciscan friar, J. B. Sancho, a very competent composer who introduced “modern” European compositional resources to North America, including that of basso continuo, was also an accidental part in this colonial enterprise.  Needless to say, to debate and contextualize their musical legacy is not to deny it or suppress it.

Offensive music and dance performances are not limited to anti-Semitic instances or colonial musical utterances. Spanish Roma (Gitanos, or so-called “Gypsies”), and Afro-descended Spaniards and Latin Americans have long been demeaned and dehumanized in music, dance, folk poetry, painting, and other forms of representation. In fact, as K. Meira Goldberg has argued in her book Sonidos Negros: On the Blackness of Flamenco, Spain’s transposition of “raza,” religious difference, onto the surface of the skin as “race” constructs far more of our culture than we realize—from turnout in ballet to the sign, branded on people’s faces, for slave, or esclavo, as an “S” and a clavo (nail) in this matter: $.

historical engraving depicting the Spanish slave brand

Bóveda de San Ginés, Calle de los Bordadores, Madrid


Ironically, Spanish representations of Blackness, encompassing Jews and Muslims, Africans and Gitanos—and denoting what Dr. kihana miraya ross in her recent opinion piece in the New York Times, “Call It What It Is: Anti-Blackness,” calls “slaveness”became emblems of identity for the Spanish nation as a whole. From Cervantes’s La Gitanilla (1613) to Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen (1875), to Carmen Amaya’s Original Gypsy Dances (1941) and all the way into the Grammy award-winning album El Mal Querer (2018) by Rosalía Vila Tobella, “Rosalía,” the imagined Gitano (or, more precisely, the imagined Gitana) has been commoditized. Spain’s post-Franco reemergence into Europe and into the neoliberal world order has entailed a metamorphosis of its long-fraught relationship with this unruly image. Yet even on Rosalía’s 2018 album, Spain figures its unadulterated national essence—its Whiteness—in the person of a racially confounded and socially marginal disruptor. Rosalía broke into the global commercial market with her song “Malamente,” in which she postures as an Andalusian Gitana from the projects (poligonera). Indeed, some on both sides of the Atlantic find Rosalía’s synthesis of flamenco and black American hip hop forms like trap jarring. Thus, Spanish Gitana activist Noelia Cortés writes that Rosalía puts on elements of Gitano culture “that have historically been used as resistance” as if they were “false eyelashes.”

Alleged offensive language in music and dance continues to be a battlefield for issues of freedom of speech—and its limits.  In recent times a Catalan-speaking rap artist Valtònyc (Josep Miquel Beltrán) had to leave Spain and lives now in exile in Belgium, because his lyrics were critical of the Spanish monarchy and allegedly incited terrorism, as Antoni Pizà argues in another September 2020 essay in L’Avenç.  All European courts and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have sided with the artist, but in the Spanish democratic system, apparently, freedom of expression does not extend to language deemed offensive by the monarchy. Pablo Hasél, a recording artist accused of the same alleged crimes, has also been condemned for similar offences.  As a matter of fact, since 2015 the Spanish courts have taken issue with more than twenty recording artists and many others in the arts, including the actor Willy Toledo, the visual artist Santiago Sierra, the novel Fariña, and the puppet play Jerk, among many others. 

The Foundation’s mission is neither to promote censorship—nor is it to advocate absolute freedom of speech.  Our goal is not to take sides, but to create channels for debate and to create scholarly environments where all these issues can be discussed and historically contextualized.