The Decca Agreement and the Era of Enrique


The company continued to expand, and in April 1942, they submitted a request for the construction of an additional floor in the factory to house a recording room, a project designed by architect Muñoz Baroja. However, the license for this expansion was not granted until March 1944.

The agreement with Decca was formally executed on May 18, 1943, involving Edward Roberts Lewis, the manager of “The Decca Record Company Ltd.,” and Don Juan Inurrieta y Ordozgoiti. It is highly likely that the true architect of this agreement was Enrique Inurrieta, who had long been personally transporting the matrices from London to San Sebastian for the production of records.

Juan Inurrieta was a man of remarkable commercial acumen but lacked musical knowledge and technical expertise. He soon recognized that the corporation would require an individual with extensive training for the future. This realization led him to guide his sole son, Enrique, toward engineering studies, with the intention of grooming him to eventually assume leadership of the company.

Enrique attended the Marianists School and later pursued his education at the University of Deusto. After completing his engineering studies, he furthered his education through practical training at a Swiss factory before relocating to England, where he gained experience during an internship at Decca in London. In 1945, following the conclusion of World War II, Enrique Inurrieta returned to San Sebastian and joined the family company, working alongside his father until Juan Inurrieta’s passing on June 9, 1958. In his role, Enrique assumed particular responsibility for the technical aspects and initiated recording activities.

On January 17, 1947, Juan Inurrieta sought permission from the council to construct a new building situated just opposite the existing factory, on a parcel of land acquired through a public auction from the City Council. Initially, the project encompassed a basement, ground floor, first floor, and part of a second floor. The ground floor was designated for storage and materials packaging, while a section of the first floor housed the company’s offices. The other half, extending two stories in height, was earmarked for the recording room, providing ample space for orchestras and choirs. In 1953, an additional third floor was added for materials storage, and two more floors were constructed to serve as residential flats for the family.

Juan Inurrieta passed away (1) while en route to Plasencia. Separated from his wife, he had been living with his girlfriend, Maria Cruz Goñi, whom he had met while she was employed in the factory. Just prior to his death, Juan had confided in his son Enrique about his intention to draft a new will to pass the company into Enrique’s hands. However, his sudden demise led to his legitimate wife retaining control of the company. Juana Darrosez, his widow, designated Thomas Toral, the husband of their eldest daughter Aurora, as executor and awarded him the majority of the company’s shares. This turn of events deeply affected Enrique, given that he had played a pivotal role alongside his father in establishing Columbia as one of the most esteemed record companies in the country.

When Enrique embarked on recording for Columbia, the sessions occurred in both San Sebastian and Madrid. The San Sebastian studio, situated in the same building as the factory, was primarily dedicated to folk and popular music, as well as recordings of smaller musical groups. Productions that demanded more extensive resources took place at Del Barco Street and later at Libertad Street.

Notably, some of the zarzuelas conducted by Pablo Sorozabal were recorded in the forties at Del Barco Street. However, it was not suitable for large orchestras. The factory also captured a significant portion of the Flamenco genre, featuring recordings by artists such as Juanito Valderrama and Marifé de Triana.

In 1951, after striking an agreement with Ataúlfo Argenta, Enrique began recording a substantial number of zarzuelas at the Monumental, known for its exceptional recording acoustics. The process was not without its challenges, as the recording sessions necessitated the removal and reinstallation of all the theater’s seats. As a result, recordings primarily took place in the morning, except for instances like the recording of the zarzuela “Gigantes y Cabezudos” performed by the Orfeón Donostiarra in the fifties, which had to be expedited, lasting until four o’clock in the morning due to Argenta’s prior commitments. Enrique personally managed the planning of these recording sessions, although the company also had other technicians, including Gerardo Ollero in San Sebastian, Olivé in Barcelona, and Manuel Pascual in Madrid. Additional conductors, such as Daniel Montorio, Benito Lauret, García Navarro, and for more popular music, Nicasio Tejada and Indalecio Cisneros, recorded in this hall.

Enrique Inurrieta was renowned for his extraordinary hearing, which allowed him to detect even the slightest performance imperfections. His wife, the soprano Ana Maria Iriarte, attested to this, stating, “I could not attend concerts with him; he used to drive me crazy. He would comment: that cello is too low, the bassoon is barely audible… listen to the musical phrase played by the violins… no, no, no, the balance is off, the second violins are inaudible… it infuriated me.

Enrique was also responsible for selecting the music to be recorded by the label, which wasn’t always driven by quality criteria alone. His instinct for choosing songs that would later become hits may have been inherited from his father. Consequently, it’s not a coincidence that the first records by artists like Julio Iglesias, Sara Montiel, or Los Bravos were released by Columbia, even achieving success with an album like “La Vaca Lechera.” During the peak of Julio Iglesias’s success, a factory was established in Miami in partnership with Cuban associates, but the venture didn’t prosper. Shortly after, Julio Iglesias terminated his contract with Columbia and joined CBS.

The Columbia firm released records under various labels. Some recordings were issued under the Decca label on wide grooves from the forties onwards. In the 1950s, the company introduced its own label, Alhambra, for 78 rpm records and later for 33 1/3 rpm records. Concurrently, on microgroove records, music was released under the French label Barclay, the Italian Durium, and the British London. In 1964, records at 45 RPM began to be published under the Iberia label, which Juan registered in April 1936 under the number 108118 for “distinguishing phonograph records,” and under the number 25121 for records and other products in Venezuela in 1951.

On May 20, 1957, shortly before Juan Inurrieta’s passing, the head office of the Columbia Records factory relocated to Madrid and was officially registered with the Registry of Commerce on November 12 of the same year. However, the San Sebastian factory continued operations until the early seventies. In March 1963, the corporation “Fábrica de Discos Columbia SA,” which had relocated to 26 Del Barco Street in the capital, announced its plan to move its head office to 24 Libertad Street. This decision was made by the shareholders of the company.

After the San Sebastian factory closed and Columbia moved entirely to Madrid, Enrique entered into an agreement with Philips to manufacture records from the masters he provided. These records were released under the Fonogram label.

For many years, Enrique continued to travel to London, where he witnessed numerous Decca recordings, including those of The Rolling Stones, and maintained close friendships. As late as the seventies, the Columbia Records factory distributed the releases of the British company in the Spanish market.

On January 18, 1972, Enrique Inurrieta founded “Eurosonic” in Madrid, where he served as the Chairman of the Board.

In 1984, RCA absorbed Columbia, S.A. The sale was facilitated by his brother-in-law, Thomas Toral.

(1) Juan Inurrieta passed away on June 9, 1958. In: Ritmo n. 295, June 1958.