Basque ethnography at a glance

Painting by José Arrue. Source: Labayru Foundation photo archive.

Professor José Manuel Pedrosa from Alcalá University wrote a short article on Hilarión Bengoa the drummer; the article, published by Labayru Fundazioa, was based on news items in the Memorial literario instructivo y curioso de la Corte de Madrid (Madrid Court Circular) for 1875. Coincidentally, Juan Ignacio Iztueta refers to a drummer named Hilario in his Gipuzkoako dantza gogoangarrien kondaira edo historia (Euskal Editoreen Elkartea, Klasikoak. Donostia, 1990. Edition by María José Olaziregi. The quote I have used appears on pages 110-111). Iztueta considered Hilario to be the very model of the conceited drummers who – despite being talented whistle players, were greatly responsible for the loss and falling out of fashion of the old dances of Gipuzkoa, as the result of the drummers’ indifference and disdain for the traditional melodies. He discusses that in a section entitled Gipuzkoako dantzari prestuak beren sorterriko dantza oniritzietan ibilteari zergatik utzi izan dioten (Why the noble dancers of Gipuzkoa have stopped performing the beloved dances of their land). And he blamed the drummers for those dances falling out of fashion.

Here is the translation of the extracts from Iztueta where he refers to Hilario:

I must tell you what happened between a sprightly dancer and an arrogant drummer in the square of *Ibarra on St. Bartholomew’s Day around thirty-four years ago. It is a good example of the damage being done by those cultivating modern music.

As Don Mateo Gurutzeta was the mayor of that town, the mayor of Belauntza, asked Don Martín Mendizabal, an excellent dancer to perform on that festive evening, as was the custom each year.

As Mendizabal, a very good dancer and an authority on the old melodies, asked Hilario, a talented cowbell ringer, to play the old and pleasant tune known as San Sebastián.

The arrogant drummer answered that he was not just some bumpkin performing pastoral sonatas, but he played new tunes that he had composed and that had not previously been heard, and that the dancer would just have to dance to what he played.

The gentleman in question was so offended that he refused to dance.

The Mayor of Ibarra called the drummer and ordered him to play the traditional and popular melody that the dancer wanted; but the drummer did not want to obey. He answered, with great disdain, that he preferred to go to prison or to the dungeon than ever play one of those rough and ready melodies, and that if God granted him twenty more years of life, he would stamp out all those old tunes.

As the Mayor of Ibarra was a noble and sensible person, he answered: “as we are celebrating the joyous day of our patron saint, I do not want to do with you what I should; but leave our square immediately, with your whistle, your drum and your new melodies”.

No sooner said than done, after sending the arrogant drummer packing, he brought the drummer Juan Ignacio from Tolosa, whose popular and lively tunes were enjoyed by all.

That famous drummer Hilario also tried something of the ilk, in Tolosa in the morning of St. John’s Day.

On the landmark day of its Patron Saint, that noble town usually organised as a highlight the Pordon dance, which has and will always honour the people of Gipuzkoa. It was in memory of the exploits in 1321, when, after the Viscount of Anai, Governor of Navarre, had marched into our province with his army in order to raze Gipuzkoa, our fellow countryman Gil López de Oñez, along with his brother, set off from Beotibar; they overcame and split the attacking force, and then sent them running.

Even though this memorable Pordon dance had had its own sweet and well-known melodies right from when it was first performed, Hilario-the-drummer wanted the dancers to perform to new tunes that he had composed. The situation between the drummer and the dancers was worth seeing: he did not want to play old melodies and they refused dance to the new ones. Finally, the dancers were forced to call the mayor; as the wise and noble man of Gipuzkoa he was, he wanted to uphold the hallowed and esteemed customs of their ancestors and ordered the drummer to perform in a timely fashion the lively melodies of the Pordon dance that he had known all those years. The mayor also reprimanded the drummer harshly, and warned him never to perform any other melody for the Gipuzkoa dances than their own.

This new information points to both drummers being the same person. It was normal for a person baptised Hilarión to be known as Hilario all those centuries ago; the attitude, geographical locations and timeframe all fully coincide. I believe that this identity of Hilario/Hilarión is further proof of the reliability of the information that Iztueta provides in his treatise; it also links with the professional conscience of those drummers that also appear in Madrid: José Javier Echevarría and Vicente Ibarguren, regarding which I have recently published Pepe Antón, el que puso el txistu en solfa (Txistulari aldizkaria, Euskal Herriko Txistulari Elkartea. Errenteria, 2023, N. 266, p. 17.).

José Ignazio Ansorena

Comments ( 0 )

    Leave A Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~