Sociability and the phonograph: a word cloud

Library of Ateneo de Madrid, early 20th century

After making the map ‘Collective phonographic sessions in Spain, 1890-1905’, I am left with more questions than I started with! (but that’s just as well: it’s what I expected). One such question, which I’ve been exploring in the last few days, is how early phonography was received into the spaces of sociability that proliferated in 19th-century Spain. These spaces (ateneos, sociedades, clubes, centros, círculos, liceos, casinos, and also cafés and theatres) allowed the emerging bourgeoisie first and the working classes later to socialize, learn, entertain themselves, exchange ideas and develop their class identity in a rapidly changing environment.

 The above word cloud is my attempt at visualizing the presence of phonographs in the different types of spaces of sociability. While some were more geared towards the cultural and educational (ateneos, liceos, some centros for the working classes), others privileged the recreational (café, casino, salón), and others combined both. With the phonograph being both a scientific development and an entertainment machine, it is clear that its appeal for members of these societies was complex and multifarious: making sense of it is my next challenge.

First post!

The early history of recording technologies is often told, in a quasi-epic way, through a few selected names of individuals (Thomas A. Edison, Enrico Caruso) and companies (Pathé, Gramophone). In this blog, intended as a companion to my AHRC-funded research project Early Recording Cultures in Spain, 1880-1905: Towards a Transnational History, I will be offering brief glimpses of the lesser-known entrepreneurs, musicians, inventors and listeners which contributed decisively to shaping Edison’s inventions into the practices and artifacts we know today – focusing mostly in Spain but also beyond.

Some of my research today at the Biblioteca Nacional de Catalunya (BNC) has focused on Catalan soprano Avelina Carrera, perhaps the first Spaniard to record the well-known aria ‘Vissi d’arte’. The BNC holds a copy of the non-commercial recording she made, on wax cylinder support, for the Catalan businessman and phonography aficionado Ruperto Regordosa. Regordosa  (who left some 300 non-commercial recordings mostly of opera and zarzuela, all held at the BNC) did not date his cylinders, but, with Tosca having been first performed in Madrid in December 1900 and in Barcelona in in February 1902, Avelina might have recorded the aria when she was in Barcelona in spring 1902 for a stint at the Liceu – or maybe the year after, when she was in Barcelona again.

Here’s one of Avelina’s commercial recordings – for Fonotipia (Milan) in 1908: