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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Yes, Alan Lomax Was Also In Spain - But Who's the Dutchie?

I am reading the biography of Alan Lomax, the American folk-song collector, scholar, ethnomusicologist, radio-man, singer, social activist and what-not. Fascinating literature. He died only ten years ago - and in his early years he was among the first to record blues in the south, Leadbelly being "his" best-known discovery. Speaking of a lengthy life.

Lomax spent several years after the second world war in Europe. He stayed in England for quite some time, doing fieldwork recordings in Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy and Spain. His biography mentions he also undertook several trips to the Netherlands and Belgium, looking for musicologists who could help him in compiling recordings of Dutch and Belgian folklore for a series of records he was producing.

His travel to Spain is an interesting episode (his recordings lead eventually to Miles Davis' "Sketches from Spain"-record). Going just after WWII to Franco-led Spain was hard, specifically if you had no money whatsoever, but eventually Alan Lomax díd go - as the driver of the Romanian ethnomusicologist Constantine Brailoiu who had to speak at a conference in Palma de Mallorca. Along with Lomax and Brailoiu went "a young Dutchman who specialized in Javanese gamelan music". I instantly thought: "That must have been Jaap Kunst", but then realised that Kunst (the inventor of the term "ethnomusicology", one of the founding fathers of my discipline, and someone sadly neglected in the Netherlands, this to the astonishment of the rest of the world) was not a "young Dutchman" any more, being born in 1891.

But who was this young Dutchman, if not Kunst? In the biography the Dutchman takes the stage only one more time, in a lengthy quote of Lomax about his visit to the congress in Palma de Mallorca where Brailoiu had to speak. "At that time", Lomax writes, "I did not know that my Dutch travelling companion was the son of the man who had headed the underground in Holland during the German occupation; but he was recognized at once by the professor who ran the conference. This man [Marius Schneider EBB] was a refugee Nazi, who had taken over the Berlin folk song archive after Hitler had removed its Jewish chief and who, after the war, had fled to Spain and was there placed in charge of folk music research at the Institute for Higher Studies in Madrid. When I told him about my project, he let me know that he personally would see to it that no Spanish musicologist would help me. He also suggested that I leave Spain."

What a hell of a tableau this makes: Lomax, Brailoiu, Schneider, their work overshadowed by the threatening shadows of Hitler and Franco (and the FBI at the same time following Lomax because he was suspected to be a communist - McCarthy was coming), in a time when folk song collecting was of great social importance.

And in the midst of all this this mysterious "Young Dutchman", specializing in gamelan as a young Dutchman ought to do and visiting a conference. Who is he? Who?

John Szwed. The Man Who Recorded the World. A Biography of Alan Lomax. London: Heinemann, 2010.

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