ANALYSIS OF AN EPOCA by Joaquín Juanals

From the year 1940, and especially in the years 1952 to 1962, they constitute a basic decade in the expansion and diffusion of the harmonica. There are several factors that contribute to this. In this hurried chronicle I would highlight the following, although perhaps it was not the most important thing:

– Movie “Siempre esta en mi corazón”.
– Performance of the Borrah Minevich group in Barcelona.
– The Akord’s win the Winthertur World Championships 1955, Luxembourg 1957 and Pavia (Italy) 1960.
– Dionisio Chiappo (representative of Hohner) promotes the dissemination of the brand and the instrument.
– Creation of the Barcelona club harmonica, presided by Don Francisco Latorre.
– First National Harmonica Championships
– Publication of the Latorre method.

Surely a more exhaustive analysis would find a greater number of references or more significant than those exposed, even though these are already enough starting points to set an era in which the youth tries to channel their personal and musical concerns through an instrument of relatively low purchasing power that enjoys great popularity. This rapid dissemination and sense of ease in the instrumental domain, has been one of the great handicaps that has weighed its projection as a musical instrument of greater scope. Note that no encyclopedia the appointment is its section of musical instruments, and if it does instead with castanets or triangle to name just two examples. Curiously, few also mention the accordion.

The image of the hiker or the Boy Scout playing the harmonica, will condemn this great instrument to the condition of simple toy at the mercy of the brief musical expansion around the fire of the youth camp. The cinema, a great fashion diffuser, has not succeeded in capturing a better reality of the above by reiterating the clichés to use without solution of continuity.

Our country is receptive to the great impact produced by the film “Always in my heart” and from that moment, a great number of “vocations” are awakened that take place in adolescent schools, where the next day of kings are heard in the patio of the recess several harmonicas (usually diatonic) that have been part of the magical-juvenile “harvest” of the date. This is the breeding ground of a whole generation that has found and used the harmonica as a form of expression of an era marked by many shortcomings because of a postwar barely overcome.

The harmonica Barcelona club with its errant wander through several different venues, tries to group and cohere all this incipient movement, although in the end dies drowned by the circumstances and the different tendencies within the organization itself.

Francisco Latorre, its president and person to whom time and distance enlarge his figure, was undoubtedly an enthusiastic broadcaster who did his praiseworthy work in his double version: founding and presiding over the first harmonic club of Spain and creating the first harmonica method with encrypted system. Almost all of the aforementioned generation learned the rudiments of the instrument through the method and scores “Latorre”.

The Akkord’s are the first group from Spain to win a harmonica world championship in the year 1,955. He wins it in Winterthur, a place that very few even know how to place it on the map. They return as winners and with the aureole of someone who has achieved a heroic feat unparalleled. This single fact alone is capable of making vocations flourish everywhere. The Akkord’s come out in the NO-DO, they act in the radio and TV, Federico Gallo presenter of the star program MARTES PHILIPS hires the Akkord’s next to the Greco and artists of the first magnitude. They make tours of different cities in Spain and become cult figures, imitated by a whole generation that sees in them the mirror where they reflect their illusions. The Akkord’s create a school, they found a magazine, they create the Liceo de la harmonica, they give concerts, they are interviewed in the most popular newspapers, etc.

Dionisio Chiappo (representative of Hohner) moves the strings with great skill using all this current favorable to the diffusion and sale of harmonicas, without saving means. His enormous entrepreneurial spirit makes him see that by supporting any initiative of the incipient figures of the instrument, he will achieve in the medium term a broad sedimentation of the demand.

The phenomenon Akkord’s is accused and marks so much a tendency, that appear all over groups and groups in his image and likeness. Akkord’s create a style and also a repertoire that will be “adapted” ad nauseam by all the ensembles of the time with few exceptions. Although the main focus is Catalonia and Barcelona, good sets emerge in Valencia and Madrid. There are some outstanding soloists: José Belart, Jorge Odena, Ramón Boté, Ángel Mª García, etc.

Coming from the ancient Bascópulos (De Riu, Nart and Cuesta) the Mundarmonik’s are born. This group immediately becomes the antithesis of the Akkord’s. In fact, an alternative emerges that marks deep differences with the dominant style (Akkord’s). Mundarmonik’s (Antonin García and Clemente who would later be replaced by Juanals) play modern music with arrangements (De Riu) of Jazz and offer a comic number that complements their musical performance.

The competition has arisen, Mundarmonik’s are more attraction than Akkord’s, their numbers are more commercial and even those who do not like the harmonica are liked.

Obviously, postures become radicalized and hatreds fester. Akkord’s are beginning their decline -In fact, they never succeeded in evolving- and Mundarmonik’s offered a carefree image in accordance with the new musical trends. A factor of great importance will contribute significantly to increase its projection as an artistic attraction. Television is born, Mundarmonik’s comedy fits perfectly with this powerful means of dissemination. In fact, the last performance of this trio was in the star program ‘Friends of Mondays’ presented by Franz Joham from Barcelona.

In spite of all this, the harmonica as an instrument and as a concept was beginning to be superseded by other fashions and other tastes. The university ensembles had arisen, and with them the electric guitars and the songs. The golden age of the harmonica was coming to an end. The Italian melodists and the Anglo-Saxon music invaded the radio stations and the star programs of the television. The VOICES displaced the instrumentalists and the emerging figures of the song from Modugno of Italy and Paul Anka in America, imposed their new aesthetics on a society hungry for new idols. and a new way of ‘feeling’ music in a more direct way. Rock and electronic music is born. What could the harmonica do with so many open fronts? Practically nothing.

Fall asleep in a nostalgic corner evoking splendid past with the hope of resurging that-somehow-is starting again with other different formations: the blues and electrified small diatonic harmonicas are heard again by the hand of the Pop groups. Beatles, Steve Wonder and many others have seen in this instrument a new way of expression that contributes a rich timbre within the current orchestrations. Has the harmonica been born again! Will it be able to establish itself as another instrument? or will continue on the contrary relegated to the simple melodic repetition between two stanzas of a Pop song.

By not having, the harmonica does not even have any social relevance. Someone plays the guitar, the piano or the clarinet and immediately acquires relevance within their environment. If instead of the guitar, the harmonica plays, that same environment will ignore it with disdain, while expressing its strangeness, in these circumstances it is normal that young people prefer to cultivate other forms of musical expression of more recognition and much less effort. Because you know one thing, dear reader? the harmonica is an instrument of enormous mechanical difficulty and a lack of timings that require a very special technique to obtain pleasant harmonic modulations. You have to play “lung”, practice many hours, transport shades and practice daily. Is there someone who is willing to so much, for such little recognition and so doubtful professional output ?.

Used with the consent of the author. Copyright: Joaquin Fuster

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