Taller de Historia de la Cultura: IV. Cultura y devoción de las cofradías 11 November 2014, Sala de Seminarios, Residencia de Investigadores (CSIC), Barcelona

By Tess Knighton

Taller cofradías

Left to right: Luis Robledo, Tess Knighton and Xavier Torres.

The fourth and last of the Cultural History Workshops took place this week and, as with the other three attracted a good attendance of historians of many disciplines and resulted in some lively and very useful discussion. The four presentations on the subject of confraternities spanned a long chronological period, from the Middle Ages, through the 17th and 18th centuries to the present day and a geographical spread from Barcelona, Madrid and Aragon to the New World and across the western Mediterranean to the island of Corsica. We were thus offered four very different perspectives with plenty of scope for comparison and the identification of shared and distinctive elements. As Luis Robledo said in his excellent key-note on confraternities and music in 17th-century Madrid, very little has been done on the field of the musical activities of confraternities in Spain, in striking contrast to the long tradition and wide diffusion of research on the subject in Italy and the Low Countries. The publications of Jennifer Bloxam, Noel O’Regan and Jonathan Glixon have shed much light on how confraternities functioned and contributed to the musical life of the cities of Bruges or Rome or Venice, while very little work, apart from his own articles on confraternities and music in Madrid, and Lorenzo Candelaria’s magnificent study of the Confraternity of the Rosary in Toledo, has been done in Spain.

This is undoubtedly in part because confraternity archives  in Spain have not been preserved in abundance and because those that have do not necessarily offer easy access to the researcher. As Xavier Torres pointed out in his presentation, there is material on confraternities in the Arxiu de la Corona de Aragó, but it is largely uncatalogued, even as regards date – or century! Luis Robledo also made the point that the situation as regards music and confraternities is very different in Italy, where many of the more important confrtaernities employed their own ‘capilla de música’ (including voices and instruments), while in Spain the musical ensemble had to be contracted by the confraternity from another institution (in Madrid quite often it was the Capilla Real that was contracted). This inevitably meant that there may well have been a lack of continuity as regards musical resources and that the musical repertory composed for a particular confraternity tended to be dispersed making it even more difficult for the historian to trace its musical activity. (Please see on this blog the illustrations of the locations and spheres of influence of the Madrid confraternities studied by Luis Robledo.)

Azul: capillas de patronazgo real. Rojo: capillas masculinas. Verde: capillas femeninas. Amarillo: San Cayetano, fines s. XVII.

Azul: capillas de patronazgo real. Rojo: capillas masculinas. Verde: capillas femeninas. Amarillo: San Cayetano, fines s. XVII.


Source material such as membership lists, account books, minutes of committe meetings and relaciones of fiestas all provide useful information, as do the printed libretti of the villancicos and, in Barcelona during the period c.1730-c.1790, of oratorios. Xavier Torres’s fascinating paper showed how the mounting of an extended and complex work such as an oratorio added to the prestige and visibility of the confraternities that had the financial and musical resources to do so. At an earlier period, the account books of the confraternities, as Germán Navarro pointed out in his talk (delivered via YouTube since sadly he was unable to be present) are key sources of information for payments to musicians and so evidence of their presence and collaboration. His research on medieval confraternities in the Corona de Aragón confirms once more the importance of confraternities as social groupings that confirmed identity and status through increased financial posibilities and a sense of bonding, and his census of Aragonese confraternities in the Middle Ages is an enormously useful starting-point for understanding the extent to which they formed a part of urban (and rural) life.

Finally, Jaume Ayats brought us up to date with his very stimulating presentation on the Corsican confraternity of Sant’ Antoni de Calvi. It is imposible to say how closely the Holy Week traditions of this confraternity would relate to what happened in, say, the sixteenth century, but it was particularly interesting to note how these rituals seem to aim at an experience of communal synaesthesia through a combination of musical, visual, olfactory and ritual elements that resulted in intense emotional responses and physical proximity. These elements can be seen as present in the historical part, too, with payments not just to musicians of different kinds but also to those responsable for the candles and torches that had to be lit and extinguished at different moments, and the garlanding of chapels, cloisters and other spaces with herbs, branches of orange blossom and so on. It was also noted in discussion that the spaces used for the occasions on which the confraternities realized their ceremonias were often relatively small, thus intensifying all these sensory aspects and enhancing social cohesion.


Jaume Ayats.

Given the success of these Cultural History workshops, it’s hoped to plan some more for 2016, while in September 2015 the ICREA International Workshop ‘Hearing the City: Musical Experience as Portal to Urban Soundscapes’ will take up most of our time and energy! Possible future topics might include street music, specific urban ceremonias such as beatifications, and domestic spaces. For example, I would like to bring together historians of all relevant disciplines to work through a post-mortem inventory and assess the possessions of an individual citizen from the clothes they wore, the kitchen utensils they used, the furniture that filled their houses, the decorative elements such as tapestries and paintings, the different spaces and structure of the house, and, of course, the musical instruments and/or music books found there. Just a thought… other suggestions welcome.

My heartfelt thanks to Ascensión Mazuela for her invaluable help in organizing these workshops and her participation in them.

TK 13/11/14

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