October 27, 2015
In his biographical papers published in the last decade of the twentieth century, Xavier Montsalvatge has a chapter called “Barcelona, en els feliços (per a alguns) anys vint” or “Barcelona, in the happy (for some) 1920s.” In it, he lists many of the world’s leading musicians who appeared in Barcelona as a matter of course before the ravages of the Spanish Civil War and the isolation of the Franco dictatorship. He remembers Ysaye, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Kreisler, Heifetz, and the famous conjunction of Thibaud, Cortot, and Casals, who performed both as soloists and in their equally renowned trio.
He also singles out the “deeply moving beauty of the sublime Marian Anderson” who introduced Catalans to Negro Spirituals, sung in concert. Here is a Victor recording of “Nobody Knows de Troubles I See” from that very period:
Montsalvatge adds that, after so thrilling an introduction, those same spirituals had been debased by a “desmesurada i irregular diffusió” by the 1990s. Their very popularity had caused them to circulate in ways untrue to their original meaning. I can testify that this continues in Sitges where, in the beauty of our iconic parish church, the tune of the sorrowful “Nobody Knows de Troubles I See” is sometimes sung at the end of Communion to the words, “Vos sou, Senyor, la llum del meu cor” (You are, Lord, the light of my heart), of course completely overthrowing the meaning of the lament! I’m sure that we Americans have likewise inappropriately appropriated the artistic treasures of other cultures very often, but it’s very difficult for me to hear that mournful melody of a persecuted race as a thanksgiving after Communion!