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The phonograph was introduced in the Basque Country in the late XIX century, and as the rest of the places where it was exhibited, it aroused a great curiosity, like other new shows at that age. As far as some people were concerned it dealed with a scientist exhibition; others, on the other hand, believed that it was only a funfair show. In any case, the invention caused such admiration that the audition rooms which were set up in several cities became very successful, although after a while the invention was overcome by the film projector's arrival.

The gadget arrived in San Sebastian in the summer of 18931 under Enrique A. Hugens' leadership, and one year later in Bilbao by Francisco Pertierra, both from Madrid. Hugens, who had recently arrived with the invention from the United States, opened the "Edison room"2 in Miramar Street and encouraged the local artist to record cylinders with arias and basque songs with their voices.

Mr. Hugens was one of the most important phonogram businessmen in the state. In 1896, Pedro Armando Hugens opened his laboratory in the capital, at 3rd Barquillo Street exactly. He inaugurated a commercial establishment two years later in the same place with the name of "Sociedad Fonográfica Española, Sres. Hugens y Acosta"3, where cylinders which were later exported abroad were made. In 1900 some sound recordings by Ignacio Tabuyo4 were advertised in the catalogue of the brand. In addition to arias, he recorded a lot of zortzicos like the ones that appear in his catalogue: Charmangarria, Nere Andrea, Nere Amac balequi, Egun batian Loyolan, Ume eder bat, Adios de Iparraguirre and Guernikako Arbola.


Ignacio Tabuyo

The other main character who played an important role in the introduction of the phonograph in the Basque Country was Francisco Pertierra5. He was a bussinessman which set up his device, imported from Chicago, at the 10th of Montera Street in Madrid. In summer he used to close his shop in Madrid and moved with his audition show to the provinces. Some of the musical pieces from the collection which stood out in the papers at that time were the songs recorded by the soprano Regina Pinkert6 and the baritone Massimo Scaramella, as well as the extracts of Spanish zarzuelas, some of them recorded by Loreto Prado or the Engineers Band7, and finally, the jotas sung by Royo del Rabal8 from Saragossa or the cuples by Frégoli9. It is assumed, therefore, that these same recordings would be the ones shown off in Bilbao.


On the other hand, it didn't take the businessmen in the city very long to get used to the changing times. Enrique García10, a shopkeeper from Bilbao who dealt with piano sales mainly, set up in Berastegi Street a phonograph audition room with devices of rubber headphones in 1897. A little later, he opened a phonographs' shop in Ledesma Street. Very near from there, at the 8-10 and 12th Gran Via in Bilbao, in the shop called "Centro Fonográfico Universal, Almacén de pianos Enrique García" he recorded cylinders with Basque music in euskera performed by Mr. Arriaga. Some of these titles are Beti maite, Euskalduna, Goizeko izarra and Ume eder bat.

Florencio Constantino

At this time, also in Bilbao, the tenor Florencio Constantino recorded several cylinders accompanied on piano by Serrant in his own house in Las Arenas at the request of some important families from Bilbao. This tenor, considered one of the best singers of his time, recorded a large amount of phonograms for Pathé, with arias from the most popular operas (Aida, La Bohême, Rigoletto, etc.), as well as three zorzicos which were recorded in 1903: No te olvido by Villar Jiménez, Adios by Iparraguirre and La del pañuelo rojo by Aguirre-Tabuyo. These phonograms were transfered to shellacs in 1905 by means of the pantograph11.


Enrique García was not the only shopkeeper to trade with wax cylinders. Near his store, in Hurtado de Amezaga Street, the business house of Viuda de Ablanedo e Hijo12 recorded cylinders with basque music as well. This house sold cylinders recorded with zortzicos and basque songs performed by the tenor Domingo Maguregui, like Agur nere bihotzeko, Ai hori begi, Hiru damatxo, Ezazu nitaz kupira... or Kuku by Bordes. The baritone from Eibar Eulogio Villabella, father of the popular tenor Miguel Villabella, recorded Boga Boga; and the tenor from Bilbao Gervasio Ercilla Nere etorrera. Recordings of the baritone from Bilbao Incencio Navarro13 (1888-1918) also were published by this phonograph laboratory, although they were mainly excerpts of Spanish zarzuela. 

There are very few cylinder collections in the state. In the Basque Country only one collection of wax cylinders has been preserved, the legacy of Ibarra Family from Bilbao. No wonder that this device was only available to the wealthiest people. Very few families could afford to pay the 20, 25 or even 50 pesetas, which was what they were worth at that time. 

Despite the fact that the market was soon dominated by the Berliner Gramophon, Edison continued manufacturing cylinders until 192914.


1 The newspaper “El Liberal” (10.03.1899) mentioned 1891 as the date of the introduction of the phonograph in San Sebastian, although it may be a mistake since the local media did not give news of the invention until 1893, when the Universal Exhibition was held in Chicago from where Mr. Hugens brough the device.
2 Unión Vascongada, 09/08/1983
3 El Liberal, 10/03/1899
4 Ignacio Tabuyo (1863-1947), baritono b. in Errenteria. In: Dentici, Nino. Diccionario biográfico de Cantantes vascos de ópera y zarzuela. Bilbao: Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia, 2002. p. 256
5 La Union Catolica. 06/18/1893
6 El Nervión, 07/23/1984
7 El Día (Madrid. 1881). 03/18/1895
8 La Iberia (Madrid. 1854). 01/13/1895
9 El Correo Militar, 04/19/1895
10 Calle Iturrino, Esteban. El primer fonógrafo de Edison en nuestra villa. In: Vida Vasca n. 50 (1973), p. 159-161
11 Goyen Aguado, Julio. Florencio Constantino (1868-1919). Bilbao : Ayuntamiento, 1993. p. 299
12 Ansola, Txomin. El fonógrafo en Bilbao (1894-1900). Una aproximación. In: Bidebarrieta III (1998), p. 275
13 It is thought that Mr. Navarro recorded for Vda. De Aramburo in Madrid the oldest recording of the Gernikano Arbola. In: Ranera Sánchez, Dunia ; Crespo Arcá, Luis. Los cilindros sonoros de la Biblioteca Nacional de España. Boletín de la AEDOM, 2010, p. 58.
14 Gómez Montejano, Mariano. El fonógrafo en España. Madrid: the author, 2005. p. 124


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