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Drawing Digital Connections: Alan Lomax’s Spanish Journey

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Alan Lomax’s field notes mentioning Manuel García Matos among his contacts. Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, 1952-53.

The following is a guest post by Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita, who is based at Universidad Internacional de La Rioja and currently in residence at The John W. Kluge Center as the Alan Lomax Fellow in Folklife Studies.

The Alan Lomax Collection at the Library of Congress includes, among other materials, recordings, photographs, diaries, notebooks and letters documenting Alan Lomax’s trip across Spain between June 1952 and January 1953. The main purpose of my project as a Lomax Postdoctoral Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center is to analyze these materials documenting Alan Lomax’s journey in order to establish connections between the songs recorded by Lomax in Spain and a collection of traditional music at Institució Milà i Fontanals of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona. Their collection includes more than 20,000 traditional songs copied on paper and collected throughout Spain between 1944 and 1960, most of them through “folkloric missions” and competitions commissioned by the Folklore Section of the former Instituto Español de Musicología. Since the materials at the Library of Congress and those in Barcelona were collected around the same time, often in the same villages and even using the same informants (singers and performers), it is clear that the collections complement one other, but the extent to which they do is as of yet unknown.

I am incorporating the information provided by the Lomax collection into an open access database (, cataloguing information on all the recordings—including links to audio files published by The Association for Cultural Equity—details of the people who sang or played for Lomax and photographs of Spanish places and people taken by him, among other details. This database also includes almost all the information of the collection preserved in Barcelona, so it is possible to identify concordances as regards locations, informants, genres and songs. As a result, it will be possible to study Lomax’s collection of Spanish music in a rich context (allowing for comparative studies) and, at the same time, Lomax’s contribution to Spanish traditional music will be better known and appreciated in Spain.

Letter from Alan Lomax to Dolores Fernández. Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, 1952-53.

An example of the concordances between the collections at the Library of Congress and at the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona is the case of the informant Dolores Fernández Geijo from the village of Val de San Lorenzo in the province of León. The Spanish ethnomusicologist Manuel García Matos, as part of his fieldwork for the Instituto Español de Musicología, transcribed dozens of songs performed by this informant and filled in formularies with her main details (such as age, job, birth place and ways in which she had learned her songs) in August 1951. A year later, in November 1952, Alan Lomax recorded twenty songs performed by the same woman in the same place, and some of them coincide with those transcribed by García Matos, such as the plough song “El pajarito, el pajarero.”

Lomax and García Matos met in Palma (Mallorca) in June 1952. The former even recorded some dance tunes played by the latter on the flute and drum, such as “Quita y pon.” Lomax refers to this encounter in his field notes. Did Lomax receive guidance from García Matos about informants and places to visit, taking into consideration his previous fieldwork? Did García Matos or other researchers who worked for the collection of the Instituto Español de Musicología follow Lomax’s advice? I hope that further analysis of the relationship between Lomax and Spanish folklorists such as Eduardo Martínez Torner, Arcadio de Larrea or Manuel García Matos through the analysis of Lomax’s letters, notebooks and diaries using digital tools will shed further light on these questions.

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