Songs We Remember

A number of weeks ago on a day trip to Sonora, California, we found Songs We Remember, an album of two 78 rpm discs sponsored by the Veterans of the Lincoln Brigade (United States volunteers who fought alongside Spanish Republican forces against Franco in the Spanish Civil War). Songs was released by the Disc Company of America in 1947. The album contains four examples of Spanish traditional music from four different regions:

  1. Santa Espina (Catalonia)
  2. Road to Aviles (Asturia)
  3. Quelli Quelli Quer (Galicia)
  4. Cruz de Maya (Seville)

Listen here (best using Chrome or Safari):[audio http://www.fileden.com/files/2012/6/30/3322021/1.%20Santa%20Espina.m4a,http://www.fileden.com/files/2012/6/30/3322021/2.%20Road%20to%20Aviles.m4a,http://www.fileden.com/files/2012/6/30/3322021/3.%20Quelli%20Quelli%20Quer.m4a,http://www.fileden.com/files/2012/6/30/3322021/4.%20Cruz%20de%20Maya.m4a|titles=Santa Espina (Catalonia),Road to Aviles (Asturia),Quelli Quelli Quer (Galicia),Cruz de Maya (Seville)]

About the only thing I can find on these pieces, aside for Lincoln Brigader Milton Robinson’s lefty-romantic album liner notes (see pdf below), involves the first tune. “Santa Espina” or “La Santa Espina” is a sardana, that is, a traditional circle dance music. Because of its status as a kind of Catalonian anthem, public performance of the tune was banned by the dictatorships of both Primo de Rivera and Francisco Franco.

“Santa Espina” and the other pieces on this album are presented by the Veterans of the Lincoln Brigade as examples of the indefatigable spirit of the People of Spain in the face of fascist oppression. In his album notes, Milton Robinson proclaims, “soon these songs will rise strong over the land of Spain, and we will know as the music sounds out, that the songs have come home and freedom is over the land of Spain.” Reviewing the album in the May 13, 1947 issue of The New MassesSidney Finkelstein (who in the mid-20th century did some interesting work on sociopolitical meaning in music, most notably in How Music Expresses Ideas) wrote similarly that “Probably no people have gone through more agony in the last century and a half than the Spanish, and the story can almost be heard in the searing, unsentimental quality of this folk music.”

Whatever the case, we like the music.

It should be noted that Disc Company of America was one of Moses Asch‘s ill-fated pre-Folkways record labels. Amanda Petrusich neatly outlines the label’s brief history in her bookIt Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music:

In January 1946, […] Asch founded a new company, known as Disc Company of America. In the February 25, 1946, issue of Time magazine, Asch was described as “the number one recorder of out-of-the-way jazz, cowboy music, and such exotic items as Paris street noises during the liberation, and little-heard Russian operas.”

Unfortunately, Asch got into some financial trouble in 1947 and was forced to shut the Disc label down. In a 1978 interview with the Folk Scene writer Jim Capaldi, Asch sorted out the details: “[The bankruptcy] happened because I issued Jazz at the Philharmonic with [the bandleader] Norman Granz. Nat King Cole [who performed on the record] cost me $15,000. It was so expensive. I couldn’t commercialize it, so I couldn’t keep up with it.

The Disc Company went bankrupt and then I started Folkways in 1947.”

Disc also released recordings by Woody Guthrie, John Jacob Niles, and John Cage, to name a few.

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