Thursday, August 5

The Irrigation Hymn: from its possible origin in the Pyrenees to the discomfort of the anarchists in the Republic

On any June 30, it is perfectly possible that one goes for a walk at the foot of the Pyrenees through the town of Benasque (Huesca) and, suddenly, a series of musical notes assails him that whoever else finds it less family. If one continues walking, it is also possible that one will come across some “dancers who wear a typical costume adorned with a headscarf in which a bouquet of flowers is inserted.” This is how José Antonio González Serena describes in the Aragonese Magazine of Musicology the traditional clothing that is used in that town to dance the traditional Ball Benàs, a musical composition in which, as the latest studies by the historian Antonio Merino Mora point out, the famous Irrigation Hymn, which served as the national anthem in the Liberal Triennium (1820-1823), the First Republic (1873-1874) and the second (1931-1939). However, the professor in Musicology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) Francesc Cortès i Mir prefers to take the issue with tweezers and continue to grant the authorship of the music to José Melchor Gomis.

In conversation with this medium, Cortès i Mir, author, among other books, of Music in times of war (Edicions UAB), assures that “although it is possible that Gomis could have been inspired by some popular songs, it is necessary to take it with caution”.

What is clear is that it was during the Second Republic when the anthem was definitely popularized, although it was never without detractors, variations and the occasional controversy. Víctor Sánchez Martín, historian from the University of Alicante, talks about it in The hymnic polyphony of the Second Republic and the Irrigation Hymn: Hymns, political cultures and national construction. He emphasizes that, although it is true that the Irrigation Hymn “It generated a certain consensus among the republican coalition by representing the historical struggle against the monarchy”, it is also true that “said coalition showed notable differences that would generate a singular hymnic polyphony.” Professor Cortès i Mir cites the clearest examples of the discomfort caused by the hymn. “It is,” he explains, “about the anarchist groups – the FAI, the CNT or the POUM – that did not feel identified with the national popular sentiment that the song transmitted and that for them it was completely alien.”

But what does Sánchez Martín refer to with the “hymnic polyphony” that took place during the second republican period? Specifically because, during the first days of the Republic, “the leading role went to The marsellesa“, a model for the republicans of the different countries.” The socialist press “, for its part,” emphasized its own symbolic elements “, so it tried to impose The International. Sánchez Martín himself also writes that The marsellesa It did not only have a leading role on April 15, when the Republic was constituted, but on April 30, it was published in the Barcelona and Tarragona newspapers that the French anthem was adopted until it was decided which would be the definitive Spanish anthem. It is probable, he concludes, “that this disposition precipitated that on May 5 the Irrigation Hymn be established as an official “.

However, despite being fully legitimized by the Republican authorities, other songs did not stop emerging with the aspiration of becoming national symbols. This is the case, for example, of Rural Song to the Spanish Republic, by Oscar Esplá and with lyrics by Manuel Machado.

Who was General Riego?

The origin of the hymn, beyond that possible connection with the Aragonese Pyrenees, must be found in 1820. The lyrics were written by Evaristo Fernández de San Miguel (1785-1862), a Spanish military and nobleman who joined —Being one of the first to do so— to the insurrection led by the Asturian —and also a noble and liberal military man— Rafael del Riego (1784-1823), who gives the song its name, against the absolutist monarch Fernando VII (1874-1833 ). Riego’s proclamations went in the direction of recovering the Constitution of 1812 (La Pepa) and to establish a constitutional monarchy. Finally, he died trying. However, it was the general’s fight against absolutism that made him an example for many and what made the Irrigation Hymn a consensus value for, first, the First Republic and, later, the second. “The official status of the song”, concludes Cortès i Mir, “ended when Francisco Franco repealed it.” It was then that it was imposed in Spain The Grenadier March or Royal march as the official Spanish anthem.

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