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History of the collection

1. History of the collection

Sound recordings include both musical and non-musical recordings. The latter make up the Spoken Word Archive.

The collection is a good record of the history of Spanish music publishing, starting with the first recording media, such as Ariston discs, wax cylinders and player piano rolls, up to the most modern devices.

The collection of historical documents acquired by purchase or donation consists of perforated Ariston (31), Ariosa (12) and Herophon (38) discs; wax cylinders (480); pianola rolls (5,800) and shellac discs (21,000).

The introduction of the legal deposit act of 1938 (Decree of 13 October) saw the influx of collections of phonograph recordings on shellac discs, continuing with vinyl discs which number in the region of 300,000, around 150,000 cassettes and 130,000 CDs, etc.

The collection in the Audio Recordings Department currently exceeds 600,000 documents acquired through purchasing, donations and legal deposit.

1. The audio recordings collection
The collection can trace its origins back to the Legal Deposit Act and Intellectual Property of Phonographic Works orders and decrees of 1938 and 1942, which establish "the obligation to deposit the disc in the Biblioteca Nacional" as an essential prerequisite for recognising intellectual property.

Audio recordings have always been very popular products and part of a prosperous trade. They are therefore are of great testimonial value and provide insight into the socio-cultural reality of each era, its folklore and music trends and tastes, the voices of its literary figures, politicians, scientists, comedians, etc. Phonograph companies and their various labels reproduce what society demands, and therefore the historical collections of recordings are an invaluable research tool for sociologists and musicologists.

In recent years the BNE collection has undergone spectacular changes due to the technological advances that ushered in digital formats, and also with the emergence of the Internet and the major transformation this has brought about in the recording and audiovisual industries.

2. Spoken Word Archive Section
Spoken Word Archive
The spoken word occupies a prominent place within the Biblioteca Nacional's audio recordings collection. The first holdings came from the Spoken Word Archive of the Centre for Historical Studies, since closed; since then the collection has grown and has been split into two distinct collections:

1. Commercial publications, comprising items acquired by purchase, donation and Legal Deposit on various media, from wax cylinders, shellac and vinyl discs to the current CD formats. The voices of notable figures from all fields are gathered here in speeches, lectures, etc. : Alfonso XIII, Unamuno, Cela…

2. The Spoken Word Archive of the Biblioteca Nacional includes the cultural events held in the Salón de Actos of the Biblioteca since 1973 and recorded on reel-to-reel tape, cassette or DAT. These recordings have since been digitised and are grouped into series linked to the different conference cycles. Since June 2006, the chosen medium has been DVD, and the records can be accessed through the Boletín de Novedades (News Bulletin).

2. Holdings

1. Wax cylinders
In 1877, Thomas A. Edison built and patented the first effective method of recording sound and playing it at will. He called his invention the "phonograph" and it used wax cylinders which provided a certain degree of quality and stability in recording voices and sounds, which meant it was suitable for industrial production.

The current collection of wax cylinders in the Biblioteca Nacional is fully catalogued and can be consulted through the database. The collection comprises 457 pieces, which have been placed in individual storage boxes to ensure optimum preservation of the original content and packaging. They contain original, and in some cases one-of-a-kind recordings of Spanish performers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The majority of these cylinders were produced by Spanish phonograph publishers: Sociedad Anónima Fonográfica (Madrid), Sociedad Fonográfica Española de Hugens y Acosta (Madrid), Viuda de Aramburu (Madrid), etc., and contain performances by Spanish bands, orchestras, soloists and singers as well as excerpts from foreign works: the jota from “La Dolores”, the Tannhäuser March, the street parade from “Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente”, the pasodoble “Frascuelo” by the Banda de Ingenieros, “Terceto de Marina” by the tenor Mr. Bezares, the mirror song from “La Viejecita” by Blanca del Carmen, Aragonese jotas recorded between 1898 and 1899 by Balbino Orensanz, sung by the finest jota singers of the era, etc. The last addition to the collection was the first Spanish for English speakers correspondence course entitled “Spanish Gold Moulded Record” (1905) which was published in 25 cylinders by the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

In order to play its collection of cylinders, the Biblioteca Nacional has a “Gramophone” phonograph from 1895 and also an “Edison Home Phonograph”, although the majority of the collection has been digitised and can also be listened to on CD.

Wax Cylinder Collection
The Biblioteca Nacional de España has acquired a collection of 224 wax cylinders, the majority manufactured in Spain, relating to Spanish music and Spanish performers. These documents have major historical value, being the first voice and audio recordings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This collection of cylinders has a rich and varied content, and its acquisition significantly increased the Audio Recordings Department's historical collection, as they are considered to be the equivalent of the Print Collection's incunabula.

Next is an audio recording from one of the cylinders acquired by the Biblioteca Nacional, containing “Carceleras”, the best-known piece from the zarzuela (Spanish light opera) "Las hijas del Zebedeo" by Ruperto Chapí. This recording was made some time around the year 1900 and is performed by Miss Nieves.

In 1877, Thomas A. Edison invented phonograph cylinders, the first method for recording and playing audio. The first cylinders were made of tinfoil, followed by waxed board, and from 1890 onwards, solid wax. The phonograph was the first device to record and play audio. It consisted of a needle attached to a membrane which received the vibrations produced by the music, voice or any other sound and recorded these by engraving grooves into the surface of a cylinder. The impact of this invention prompted partnerships between engineers, scientists, artists, dealers, etc. who managed to perfect the mechanism in subsequent disc gramophones, invented by Emilio Berliner, which were only used to play pre-recorded audio.

Until the end of 1890, cylinders varied greatly in size, giving rise to incompatibility issues. In order to avoid such problems, Edison Records, Columbia Phonograph and other publishers decided to create a standard size for wax cylinders. The agreed measurements were 10 cm in length and 5.7 cm in diameter, with one or two minutes of recording capacity. In 1906, hard plastic came to replace wax and celluloid and amberol cylinders appeared on the market, the latter two lasting 4 minutes. These would continue to be sold until 1929, competing with shellac discs, less fragile and easier to store.

The collection acquired consists of 204 standard-size cylinders: 57 cylinders of zarzuela, 44 of opera, 20 of flamenco, 22 of popular music, 33 of instrumental music, 15 of stories, 10 of regional music, 3 of the spoken word, and 20 larger-size cylinders with various themes.

Zarzuela is represented by very well-known compositions, 15 were recorded in Spain by “The Anglo-Italian Commerce Co.” and manufactured in Italy: El juramento (Gaztambide), La Revoltosa (Chapí), El Barberillo de Lavapies, La boda de Luis Alonso (G. Jiménez), El puñao de rosas (Chapí), etc. The cylinders are in near perfect condition and the sound quality is among the best preserved to date. The rest were made in Spain. They include such well-known compositions as La alegría de la Huerta (Chueca), Agua azucarillos y aguardiente, (Chueca), La verbena de la Paloma (Bretón) and Gigantes y cabezudos (Caballero). These are cylinders of Spanish singers of the time, recordings of very well-known and other forgotten passages, which are sometimes more important than the well-known ones. In any case, the recordings, well-known or otherwise, are the first zarzuelas recorded and, in some cases, the only recording that remains.

Opera is another genre that forms part of the collection. Six are of the great Basque tenor Constantino on the foreign labels Pathé and Edison. The remainder are Spanish, with the most famous passages and arias of the era. The four cylinders of the opera “Marina” by Arrieta can be considered the first and perhaps only ones in existence.

The twenty flamenco cylinders were manufactured in Spain. The most important are those of “Mochuelo”, that managed to record almost all the different styles of flamenco. Among these, we can highlight the Jaberas, a forgotten variety of flamenco of which this may be the only copy in existence.
Among the Spanish phonograph publishers most represented we can highlight: Ureña, Aramburo, Hugens y Acosta, Fonográfica Madrileña, Sociedad Fonográfica Española, Moreno Cases, Puerto y Novella, Fono Reyna, José Navarro, etc. Among the foreign labels, we must mention Pathé, The Anglo Italian Commerce Co., Edison Amberol and Lioret, among others.

Listen to "Carceleras" (BDH)

2. Pianola rolls
The first musical paper rolls appeared around 1880. These could be listened to using a mechanical keyboard instrument known as a “pianola”, that works by means of a pneumatic system activated by the pedal of the “pianolist”. The different music notes are played as the paper is unrolled, and this holes in the paper encode the position of the keyboard notes.

The collection of pianola rolls amounts to over 5000 documents and was begun in 1990 with the purchase of 550 rolls and a 1918 Sterling pianola .

The player piano was very popular in Spain during the first three decades of the 20th century, and roll manufacturing was big business. The rolls held by the Biblioteca Nacional were produced by various Spanish and foreign publishers: Victoria (the best-known brand), Best, Minerva, Diana, Princesa, Edición Mott, España Musical, Melodía, Poch, Clave, etc. The collection includes a wide range of music: from the popular ditties of the time to excerpts from zarzuelas, operas, etc., and also more vanguard piano works. The classic repertoire exists side-by-side with the era's most popular variety songs and dance numbers such as fox-trots, one-steps, tangos, etc. which were also produced in great number by the sheet music publishers of the time.

3. Perforated discs
The first 19th century audio discs were played on devices (the most primitive form of "record players") based on pneumatic mechanisms similar to those used in barrel organs (such as the Ariston, Ariosa or Herophon models) or in music boxes (such as the Symphonion). When the discs were spun on the turntable, operated by a crank handle, the perforations activated the audio playing mechanisms. The duration of each piece was always very short and only lasted the amount of time it took for the disc to make one full rotation; from this point on, the music was repeated.

The current collection of cardboard or metal perforated discs held by the Biblioteca Nacional runs to around one hundred pieces, all of which were manufactured between 1880 and 1900 and can be played on their respective players in the Museum.

The repertoire recorded using this process consists of, above all, very popular passages from zarzuelas (for example, La Gran Vía, by F. Chueca), waltzes, national anthems, short piano pieces, etc.

4. Shellac discs
From the time the gramophone was invented by E. Berliner in 1887 until the mid-1950s, hundreds of thousands of recordings were published in the form of shellac discs (also known as "stone discs"), spanning all genres: classical music, flamenco, zarzuela, military marches, popular music, easy listening, spoken word archive, etc.

The Biblioteca's shellac disc collection comprises over 21,000 units from various Spanish and foreign record labels: Compañía del Gramófono Odeón: Pathé, MGM, Regal, HMV, Columbia, Decca, Philips, etc. Much of the collection has already been digitised.

The oldest shellac discs date from the beginning of the 20th century and only contain small excerpts of very short pieces. We can see how the compositions recorded changed with the passing of time: at first, recordings of classical and stage music (zarzuelas, operas, variety songs, etc.) predominated, while the 1940s onwards, following the lead of other countries, saw the mass production of popular songs more in tune with the tastes of the time and more commercially successful. The repertoire stored by the Biblioteca also contains a significant amount of traditional folklore music, and non-music or spoken word archive recordings with collections as important as those compiled by Tomás Navarro Tomás for the Instituto de Estudios Históricos.

5. Vinyl discs
The first vinyl discs (also known as "microgrooves" or "plastic discs") began to be published in the 1940s. The new medium coexisted with shellac discs for a time, but around 1956 completely replaced the older format as a more suitable medium for selling recorded audio.

The vinyl disc enjoyed huge popularity during the second half of the 20th century, the recording industry's golden era, and created the important phenomenon of public and private records collections.

Vinyl discs come in two basic formats, the “Single”, smaller in size and capacity, and the “Long play” (better known by the initials “LP”). The turntable speeds tend to be either 45 or 78 rpm for smaller discs and 33 1/3 rpm for long players. The playing devices (“record players” or “pickups”) were manufactured in distinct mono and stereo sound modes and in numerous models and sizes, as you would expect for an item of mass consumption that was very popular in all Spanish households for almost 40 years.

Although vinyl discs were displaced by digital technology and audio CDs in the final decade of the 20th century, vinyl discs are still manufactured for professionals and enter the Biblioteca Nacional as a result of the Legal Deposit law. In modern record players the traditional needle is replaced with a laser beam like that used in CD players.

The vinyl disc collection is the largest of all the recorded audio collections held by the Biblioteca Nacional. The collection started in the late 1950s through discs that entered the library in compliance with the Legal Deposit Act. It currently numbers around 300,000 documents, the majority of which are commercial editions from well-known record publishers: Belter, Columbia, Emi-Odeón, Hispavox, Mercury, Polydor, RCA Española, Zafiro, etc., although there is also an important institutional, non-commercial collection, such as the recordings of historical Spanish music sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, composers' associations, Radio Nacional de España, etc.

6. Magnetic tapes
There are different types:

  • Reel-to-reel tape, the medium which was used for the first recordings of the cultural events held in the Biblioteca Nacional in the 1980s, and which have since been transferred to DAT for conservation and consultation.
  • Cartridge, an 8-track format recorded in a single direction that attained very limited commercial distribution. The Biblioteca Nacional collection has 3,134 tapes, the majority of which contain easy listening music from the 1960s and 70s.
  • Cassette, which, alongside vinyl discs, was the most popular audio recording and marketing system, and a significant proportion of commercial cassettes have an identical corresponding vinyl disc. The Biblioteca Nacional collection has around 160,000 tapes covering all musical genres and spoken word archive.
  • Magnetic wire, used in the first half of the 20th century as a means of recording radio broadcasts. The Biblioteca Nacional has a device for playing this type of medium and a small collection of hymns and political speeches (with the voices of Manuel Azaña, Dolores Ibarruri, General Queipo de Llano, Cardinal Segura, etc.), the majority of which were broadcast during the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.
  • DAT. This medium is used mainly as a means of conserving and disseminating recordings originally made using analogue processes. A considerable part of the Biblioteca Nacional's shellac disc collection is also stored on this type of tape (a project that was carried out between 1996 and 2000), as are backup copies of the Biblioteca Nacional's events.
  • COMPACT DISCS. The new digital audio CD format is still in use in the market and completely replaced cassettes and vinyl discs in the 1990s. The collection held in the Biblioteca Nacional, for the most part, comprises CDs that were deposited in accordance with the Legal Deposit law, and at present numbers in excess of 150,000 volumes.

Among the first record publishers to produce compact discs in Spain were BMG Ariola, PDI, Blue Moon Producciones Discográficas, Polygram Ibérica, EMIOdeón, etc.; some of these, such as Fonotrón, specialised in remastering old recordings.

The dominant content of Spanish compact disc publishing by a wide margin is national pop music, which forms the largest part of the collection held in the Biblioteca Nacional. This is followed by other genres such as stage music (zarzuela, musical comedies, film soundtracks, etc.), traditional music or Spanish historical music (with some specialist labels such as Verso, Arsis, Glossa, La Má de Guido, Tritó, Columna, Pneuma, etc.).

Flamenco also has an important presence in Spanish record production, offering collections of historical recordings (some sponsored by bodies such as the Centro Andaluz de Flamenco) alongside more modern trends and mixes.