- Discordant Notes: Marginality and Social Control in Madrid, 1850–1930 by Samuel Llano
Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Spanish music has received no shortage of attention from scholars (mostly in Spain, but increasingly elsewhere), and this should certainly come as no surprise, since this was a period of crucial developments, transformations, and debates, most of which can be connected to ever-perennial questions of music and national (or regional) identity-building, both within and beyond the country's borders, as Spanish composers and musicians tried to find audiences for Spanish music abroad. It would not be accurate to claim that all or even most of this scholarship has operated within the limitations of the traditional 'composers-and-works' model that still dominates much of Spanish musicology: indeed, to cite just one example, the rather active field of zarzuela scholarship has long devoted attention to audiences and reception to account for a complex phenomenon whose ramifications (including in the domain of national-identity building) must be approached from an interdisciplinary perspective. Nevertheless, composers and works, as traditionally understood, as well as rather formalized performance events, are still at the centre of most of this scholarship. By focusing instead on less formalized, fleeting, and often scarcely documented performance events, Samuel Llano's Discordant Voices: Marginality and Social Control in Madrid, 1850–1930 proves that there is still much to be understood about how music and sound contributed to shaping, and were in turn shaped by, competing discourses and debates on national identity that dominated Spain in the convoluted decades from the beginning of the reign of Isabel II (1843) to the Spanish Civil War (1936).
I use the word 'sound' deliberately here, because Llano (pp. 6–9) does not necessarily frame his study exclusively within the discipline of musicology, but rather within the cognate but distinct field of Sound Studies. The introductory theoretical discussion (Sterne, Blijsterveld, Attali, Sterne) is brief, although I did not regard this necessarily as a problem. Indeed, it transpires throughout the book that Llano is concerned less with producing theoretical discussion (which in this field is often geared towards English-speaking contexts anyway), but instead to appraise and analyse how notions of music and noise, and the relationship of these with notions of aural hygiene, marginality, modernity, and social control, took specific forms in Madrid—a city that, like many others at that time, underwent a process of radical expansion, urbanization, and rationalization, but was also the capital of a country (and an empire) in crisis while others flourished. (For example, Llano writes: 'Most constituents of Madrid's soundscape, such as the songs played by organ grinders, the cries of peddlers, the music of the workhouse bands, the songs and din coming out of taverns and cafes, and the traffic of carriages—and later, cars—existed in other geographies. But the relationship between these elements, and the ways in which they helped to negotiate the tensions between marginality and social control were different in each city' (p. 11).) The concerns with Spanish identity—and particularly with viewing it through the prism of who was included and who was excluded in such understandings of Spanishness—resonate, on the other hand, with the field of Spanish [End Page 740] Cultural Studies. This latter field has traditionally been slow to consider music and sound compared to other cultural practices, but there seems to be a recent current of interest into which this study inserts itself: indeed, shortly after the present book was published, a special issue of the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies under the theme Spanish Sound Studies was launched, with Llano himself and Tom Whittaker as editors. The book thus aims to make contributions to at least three distinct fields.
Whereas issues of marginality and music could be approached (and, in fact, there are precedents in doing so) through the study of the representation of marginal characters in music (for example, in g...