Catalan instrument makers

Discover the evolution of musical instrument makers, from guilds to workshops.

By Museum of Music of Barcelona

Music Museum of Barcelona

Spinet design (2011) by Joan MartíMuseum of Music of Barcelona

A country of luthiers and musicians

This is how Catalonia could be described when we review the long history of those who create musical instruments of very different types.

In this exhibition you will find a look at various sectors of luthiers within the historical continuity, to end with an approach to some of the workshops currently active.

This is a discovery of a high quality artisan, artistic and technological profession that fascinates us and fills us with pride.

Hall of keyboards, with organs by Boscà, Molero and Pujol (2015)Museum of Music of Barcelona

The organ builders

The first reference to an organ built in Catalonia dates from 1164, when "Lucas magnus organist" of Tarragona Cathedral died.

Organ (1701) by Josep BoscàMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The Boscà family is one of the most important in the history of the organ in Catalonia.

It began at the end of the 17th century with Josep Boscà, organ master at Barcelona Cathedral.

Three of his sons continued with the paternal profession, we have documented the repair of the organ of Tàrrega by Josep Boscà son in 1787.

Antoni Boscà, Josep's son, is probably the most prolific in the family with more than forty organs built throughout Catalonia.

Detail of organ psaltery keyboard (ca. 1773) by Josep PujolMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Josep Pujol, born in Manresa, was a clockmaker and organ builder.

He worked on the organs in Montserrat (1781-1785), Mataró (1781), the monastery of Santa Maria de Pedralbes (1782), Palamós (1786), and Barcelona Cathedral, where in 1789 he replaced Josep Boscà i Serinyana as organ master.

It is known above all for the psalter organ, made around 1768: an organ with the appearance of a cabinet, three registers and a keyboard formed by wooden rods arranged horizontally like a psalter.

TurnerMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The guilds

Guilds were a core pillar for the organisation of Middle Ages cities and came to have great economic and political power.

Guild tileOriginal Source: Ateneu de Maó

In Barcelona, in 16th and 17th centuries, being a turner, rope maker or violin maker was closely related to musical instrument making.

The advent of Industrial Revolution and the liberalisation of professions made possible to carry out any work without being a member of a guild: symbol of the Ancien Régime, guilds officially disappeared in 1836.

Oboe (18th Century) by Salvador XuriachMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The trade of turner was a specialty of the carpenter's trade. The turners made all the wooden objects they needed on a lathe, especially chairs, and wind instrument makers were part of the same guild.

In Barcelona, the construction and sale of instruments stood out from the middle of the 18th century, when it ceased to be associated with cappers. Families like Xuriach, Pedrosa, Vinyoles, Boisselot, Oms and Bernareggi dominated the sector.

Wooden traverso (1781-1860) by OmsMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Families such as Xuriach, Pedrosa, Vinyoles, Boisselot, Oms and Bernareggi dominated the sector and were the protagonists of the changes and new dynamics of the incipient industrial capitalism.

Flabiol (fipple flute) (MDMB 1712) (19th Century)Museum of Music of Barcelona

The flute and drum ensemble has been known in Europe since the 13th century and we could say that it is the first orchestra-man in Western music.

It has kept the model of solitary flabiolaire to make fashionable dances and accompaniment of dances, giants, figures and songs.

Many cobla instrument makers have made flabiols. Pere Llantà and Enric Soldevila 'Catroi' from Figueres, the Reig from Torelló or Joan Fabra from Girona are the historical ones and, more recently, the Pardo from la Bisbal or Pau Orriols from Vilanova i la Geltrú.

Gut string setMuseum of Music of Barcelona

A viola roper is an artisan that makes strings from animal guts, especially from ram (the male sheep).

They acquired the guts in the slaughterhouses and cleaned them in the common workshops, near the watering places, where the workers were.

Since 1324 there has been a regulation of the quality of the strings, and they achieved a great level in the Renaissance, to the point that some experts agree in interpreting the "catlines" strings of the lutes as "Catalan strings".

Guitarró (small guitar) (1700-1750) by Josep MassaguerMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The viola players even had a street in the Born district of Barcelona, and they had an absolute monopoly.

For practical reasons, it was located next to the street of the butcher's shops and very close to the county irrigation. They formed a brotherhood with ordinances - rules of good governance - from 1649.

Psaltery (1762) by Salvador BofillMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The Music Museum of Barcelona has the best collection of European psalteries from the 18th century.

Cello (2019) by Joan GuillamíMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The names of Rafael Guillamí, Josep Massaguer, Llorenç Artigues, Miquel Bofill, Miquel Escaler, Sebastià Vergés and Pere Alier appear in the 17th century carpenters' guild. Later, Joan Guillamí and Josep Massaguer (son) joined the guild.

Violin (1752) by Nicolas DuclosMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Outstanding French lutiers worked in Barcelona, as was the case with Nicolas Duclos during the 18th century, until 1765, when he went to Madrid.

Étienne Maire Breton, trained in Mirecourt - the French Cremona -, arrived in Barcelona in 1850 to work as a workshop manager in the workshops of Agustí Altimira, until 1874, when he opened his own workshop in Conde del Asalto street, now Nou de la Rambla.

Agustí Altimira worked in Barcelona between 1837 and 1880. In fact, violins made before 1854 are considered works by Maire and not by Altimira.

Étienne Maire Clarà followed in his father's footsteps and built instruments used by the best performers, such as the violinist Joan Manén.

Typical store, factory or warehouse label of musicMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Musical instruments stores

In the 19th century, industrial and economic growth in Barcelona led to a proliferation of musical instrument stores. Over the years they diversified their business: they were luthiers' workshops, shops for buying and selling instruments and scores, publishing houses or even concert halls. Despite the emergence of the guitar as both a popular and concert instrument, the undisputed star of the instruments was the piano.

Chassaigne upright piano with Ròmul Maristany's label (1929) by Chassaigne FrèresMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The Ròmul Maristany House begins the activity in 1870 and takes special importance with the sale of pianos and harmoniums, obtaining great prestige. Until 1906 it was located in Fontanella Street and later in Catalunya Square.

The pianos came from six different factories in Barcelona and were given the Maristany label. They sold all kinds of musical products: piano rolls, scores and books, as well as renting and repairing instruments. It was active until 1931.

Valve trombone (1870-1926) by Joan AynéMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The Joan Ayné house also began around 1870 and has workshops and branches in both Tarragona and Barcelona (Carrer Ferran VII and Carrer del Call). He was noted for the manufacture and sale of pianos, harmoniums and other instruments. They also offered music lessons and a score editing and selling service.

Valve cornet (19th Century) by Francesc EspanyaMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Francesc Pere España (1793-1877) settled in Barcelona in 1820 from Les Preses. He built guitars, violins and some aerophones, although we do not know if the wind instruments were built in the workshop or only marketed under the label España.

Saxophone (20th Century) by MontserratMuseum of Music of Barcelona

The Montserrat lineage began its activity as a music store and distributor in 1870, and around 1900 it was taken over by the widow of the founder Francesc Montserrat, as indicated by the labels on the instruments.

In 1932 they registered a patent to manufacture an improved variant of the saxophone, and thus became the first Spanish factory to produce this instrument. Even then, the factory was headed by a woman: Francesca Montserrat i Virgili (1881-1969).

Upright piano (ca. 1900) by Ortiz y CussóMuseum of Music of Barcelona

In Barcelona, piano builders became independent from the carpenters' guild in 1820 and began to establish workshops that also functioned as distributors, shops and publishers.

Some of these workshops, such as Chassaigne Frères, would end up being large industries with an annual production of thousands of instruments, and also in concert halls where the best pianists, orchestras and chamber groups performed: Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Arthur Rubinstein or Béla Bartók passed through the Mozart Hall or the Aeolian Hall.

Team of luthiers, masters and apprentices in Parramon's workshopMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Master makers and apprentices

With the Industrial Revolution, guilds disappeared as they were understood from the Middle Ages. Only in trades that maintain the artisanal character, such as luthier workshops, do they maintain the figure of the master and the apprentice.

Detail of guitar bracin (1913) by Enrique GarcíaMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Enrique García (1866-1922) was born in Madrid, son of guitar builder Juan García.

He worked as an apprentice in the Ramírez workshops with Manuel and José Ramírez between 1883 and 1895, when he decided to go to Barcelona and open his workshop.

His style will influence later generations, such as Francisco Simplicio, Enrique Sanfeliu and Ignacio Fleta, among others.

Francisco Simplicio's guitar labelMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Francisco Simplicio (1874-1932) was born in Barcelona and began working as a cabinetmaker until 1919. Thanks to his friendship with Enrique García at the age of 45, he entered the guitarist's workshop as an apprentice.

When his master died in 1922, Simplicio took over the workshop, using the labels of Enrique García until 1925 and signing as "sucesor y único discípulo de Enrique García".

Although he started at a very late age he is considered one of the most important guitar makers of the time

Tenora (1876-1941) by Enric SoldevilaMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Andreu Toron (1815-1866) presented in 1849 a new instrument inspired by the old popular bagpipes: the tenor oboe. He incorporated to the shawm a mechanism of thirteen keys and a metallic pavilion to extend its playing range towards the bass.

Pep Ventura adopted it and it became fashionable among the coblas with the name of tenora.

Toron's model was copied by builders such as Enric Soldevila 'Catroi' (1861-1943), author of instruments with great sound power and used by outstanding 20th century tenorists such as Albert Martí, Ricard Viladesau or Jaume Vilà.

Ars Musicae ensemble at Biblioteca de Catalunya (1941)Museum of Music of Barcelona

With the recovery of ancient music, musicians and luthiers turned their eyes to the past.

Groups such as Ars Musicae, pioneers of the ‘ancient music’ wave, performed Middle Ages and Renaissance music on ancient instruments or at least facsimiles of ancient ones, built from iconography or from original instruments, by Ignasi Fleta and Josep Maria Lamaña, among others.

We find a magnificent example in the vihuela by Miguel Simplicio, commissioned by Emili Pujol and built from the 16th century instrument preserved in the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris.

Acoustic guitar (1955-1960) by Joan EstruchMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Live lineages

Joan Estruch Rosell built his first instrument in 1880. At that time was created what is considered to be the oldest guitar building workshop in Catalonia still in operation. The first workshop was located in Ample Street in Barcelona. Several generations of the Estruch family have passed through it and it has been a center of learning the trade for guitar makers like Enrique Sanfeliu, among others. This workshop, in the 70s of the 20th century, it was well visited by many singer-songwriters of the group Nova Cançó, such as Quico Pi de la Serra.

Parramon's workshop, BarcelonaMuseum of Music of Barcelona

Ramon Parramon founded in 1897 what is considered the most important house specialized in the sale and restoration of string instruments in the modern history of Barcelona. Ramon dedicated himself to the construction of string instruments and created a new instrument, the viola-tenor.

In 1930 Jacint Pinto, who studied in Mirecourt, joined the Casa Parramon and since then the workshop of the centenary house has been under the direction of Pinto’s family.

Luthier's workshop, Barcelona (2017)Museum of Music of Barcelona

Lutier's trade is still alive today.

Professional lutiers are trained through the master-apprentice system or abroad, as there is no regulated training in Catalonia.

Between craftsmanship and engineering, they build everything from flabiols to cathedral organs for students, amateurs and professionals of all kinds of music.

Craft and unique instruments that look to the past and the future.

Credits: Story

Curation: Collection Department's team

Texts: Jaume Ayats, Manel Barcons, Esther Fernández, Sara Guasteví y Marisa Ruiz

Photographies: Eduard Selva (11, 12, 16, 24) , Jordi Puig (7, 8, 9, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 27), Esther Fernández (10, 14), Marco Antonio Pérez (23), Pere Casulleras (4), Gen-Lock (2), Sara Guasteví (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 15, 25, 29).

Digital production: Sara Guasteví

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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