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Pablo Sarasate

Many of the early commercial recordings by Basque artists were made abroad and mainly by performers who had already been successful worldwide. Owing to this, most of the commercial editions which we can find in the early years of the twentieth century were recorded by musicians of universal stature, such as Pablo Sarasate who recorded for The Gramophone and Typewriter label in Paris or Victor Talking Machine in Camden (New Jersey), or such as the ones made by the Basque origin baritone from New York, Emilio de Gogorza, who recorded several songs for this American label as well.

It is worthy of mention that the famous tenor Florencio Constantino recorded a great deal of phonograph pieces for several labels such as the French label Pathé, the German Favorite, the American Victor Talking Machine, Columbia Graphophone Company or the Columbia Phonograph Company Genl. among others in these early years. In the same way, the baritone from Bilbao Inocencio Navarro1 recorded a huge amount of records, which were published under labels such as Zonophone and Homophon in October of 1908, and afterwards he did it for the Compañía del Gramófono in Barcelona as well. The bass singer from Alava, José Mardones, made recordings for the Victor Talking Machine, the Columbia Graphophone Company, Columbia Phonograph Company Genl. or Regal Graphophone Company. At the same time, the soprano from Bilbao, Antonia Arrieta, made them for The Gramophone Co. Ltd.

In spite of the fact that the recorded music for these companies was mainly limited to arias from popular operas and hit songs at that moment, there was a little gap for the traditional music too.
The first recordings made in the Basque Country are those that the technician of the Gramophone Company
Charles Scheuplein made in San Sebastian during his journey to Lisboa in 1905. They are 30 recordings of Basque folk music with matrices ranging from no. 8562 to 8591. The first seven matrices (8562 to 8568) are popular Basque dances (fandangos, contradanza, arin-arin, iriyarena, aurresku, the Hiru damatxo and a valtz by Oñate) performed by the famous txistu player from Zumarraga, Martin Elola2 . The following eleven records (matrices no. 8569 a 8579) were made by the Municipal Band from San Sebastian with the following titles: San Sebastián, Iriyarena, Gernikako Arbola, Marcha de San Ignacio, Iru Damacho, Adios Euskal Herria, Aritzara, Jota Navarra by Rodoreda, Rigodones by Torre Muzquiz and Ariñ-ariñ. The collection is completed with the recordings made by the following soloists from the Orfeón Donostiarra: the tenor Federico Carasa, who made the most of them, and the baritone Ignacio Erquicia (matrices no. 8580 to 8591). We can find such popular songs as Nere senarra, Laurak bat, Kaiku, Iru damacho, and so on among them.

Between December 1908 and the early 1909 the Asturian bass Francisco Meana recorded several Basque songs for Gramophone: Uso zuria, Adio Euskal Herriari and Kalian dabiltz. The baritone from Errenteria, Ignacio Tabuyo, did it for the same label in Madrid in November 1911 the following titles: Egun batian Loyolan, Gernikako arbola , Nere amak baleki, Nere Andrea, Laurak-bat by Larregla and the famous zortziko La del pañuelo rojo.
Lorenzo Martin
3 stands out among the Basque performers who recorded for the Compañía francesa del Gramófono. In marathon sessions between February 14th and 16th of 1914 in Madrid, he impressed twenty-three matrices (no. 18668 to 18690) with Basque songs, most of them in Basque language. Eresbil has three of these records in its collection with the following titles: Juana Vishenta Olave, Boga boga, Haurtxo txikia, Ezkongaietan, Gernikako arbola and Pello Joshepe.

In the same way, foreign performers recorded Basque music. In 1906 the Portuguese soprano Regina Pacini recorded the popular zortzico No te olvido by Villar-Jimenez for the Fonotipia label. Within the context of Basque traditional music, some Basque dances were also impressed for the Era label in Buenos Aires by Manuel Dopazo and Segundo Cofredes, a bagpipe and flageolet duet from Argentina.


José Luis de la Rica
(Novedades, 1915)


In early 1915, José Luis de la Rica, a tenor born in Bilbao as well, impressed in Madrid several records with Basque songs for the International Talking Machine in Berlin. Around 1920 the Municipal Band of San Sebastian recorded some pasodobles and habaneras for the same company.

But not all of the performers launched into recording process. Orchestral recordings were very annoying, due to tha fact that the singers had to stay in front of the horn, next to the orchestra and too close to the instruments, so their hearing suffered enormously. The laboratory recordings used to be divided into morning and afternoon sessions. When popular music was recorded, many more impressions used to be made than when classical music was performed. In the first case, even twenty records could be made daily, whereas in the second one, no more than three per session.

Already in the twenties Jules Wolff recorded for the Compagnie Française du Gramophone (HMV) several works of Basque songs in 1925: Gernikako arbola by Iparraguirre, Nere etxea by Etxepare and Lurraren pian, harmonized by Laurent Bossières, in addition to other harmonizations by E. Bonnal. In 1927, and for the same label, the Hasparren native Basque tenor Guillaume Cazenave recorded pieces as Uruten ari nuzu (Uso txuria errazu), Txori berriketaria, etc.

Jesús Guridi together with The Choral Society of Bilbao in the Royal Theatre in Madrid on 16th May 1923

The year 1925 had resulted in a major breakthrough: the electrical recording. And due to this the Basque discography increased in this decade. Between 12th and 14th December 1928, Jose Luis de la Rica recorded a dozen pieces, this time for the Compañía del Gramófono: excerpts of Mendi Mendiyan and El Caserío, Itxarkundia, Oñazez, Aritzari and other zortzikos. In March of the following year the Choral Society of Bilbao, under the leadership of Jesus Guridi recorded in Barcelona twelve folk songs in Basque language published in 6-record album, and that same month The Orfeón Donostiarra with his principal Secundino Esnaola  did so for the same label as well.

Secundino Esnaola

On the other hand, and regarding the edition in the Basque Country, we should have to wait until the creation of the Pathé Font factory in Pasajes in 1916 to mark its beginning.

Jesús Gaviria

However, his catalogue will not accommodate to Basque music. Pathe in Pasajes dealt only with manufacturing and matrices were foreign. The repertoire consisted mainly of excerpts from operas, songs or couplets that were popular  at that time, and flamenco too. Among performers of the house, mostly foreigners, we can point Florencio Constantino, famous tenor from Bilbao, and Jesus Gaviria4, a tenor from San Sebastian.

1 Inocencio Navarro, baritone from Bilbao, soloist in The Choral Society of Bilbao. He belonged to Orfeó Catalá. In: Dentici, Nino. Diccionario biográfico de Cantantes vascos de ópera y zarzuela. Bilbao: Bizkaiko Foru Aldundia, 2002. p. 228

2 Martín Elola (d. 1935). Txistu performer from Tolosa, settled in Zumárraga. He held the txistu performer post in Bilbao since 1913. In: Txistulari 120 (1984), p. 9

3 Tenor from Bilbao, soloist in The Choral Society. In: Dentici, Nino. Diccionario biográfico de cantantes vascos de ópera y zarzuela. Bilbao, 2002

4 His real name is Jesús Aguirregaviria (1892-1975)


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