SGAE Archive reading room, Madrid




18 June 2024)

News from the Archive

In a time when the performing arts and its history are under financial threat – not only in Spain, but throughout Europe – the documentation centre and archive (CEDOA) at the Sociedad General de Autores Españoles (SGAE) remains an outstanding resource for performers and researchers. Under its indefatigable director María Luz González Peña [interviewed here] CEDOA/SGAE’s collection of manuscript and published music and libretti, books, posters, art works and other material relating to Spanish music has grown into one of the world’s most important – and best administered – musico-theatrical archives. Dating back to 1899, it incorporates important material from the Spanish music publisher Unión Musical Española, and has been enriched by bequests from over sixty private collections, such as the personal libraries of José Serrano and Pablo Luna.

Maria Luz Gonzalez PenaThe Archive has long been available for personal visitors to its reading rooms in SGAE’s Madrid headquarters, the elegant Palacio de Longoria. It can also provide PDF access to over 15,000 works in public domain. In an important step forward, SGAE has recently made its archive catalogue available for online search, enabling anyone in the world to browse the available resources in a mere handful of mouse clicks. This has taken a monumental effort, perhaps only the first staging post in a journey towards online availability of the organisation’s public domain material.

The online catalogue is hugely welcome. In general its information is well and clearly presented, in Spanish only. This may be perceived to cut against SGAE’s avowed aim to raise Spanish music theatre’s global profile, although as the alternative search engine menus (simple and advanced) are easy to follow in Spanish, the lack of an English-language interface is a minor matter, in my opinion. The technical burden of incorporating an English version from the get-go would have been monumental in itself.

The User Experience

SGAE Archive front page

The catalogue is attractively and clearly implemented, with full information covering dates, creators, and (in neat drop-down panels) first night casts of zarzuelas and operas, as well as detailed physical descriptions of each holding. Everything is as scrupulously accurate as we would expect. The search engine works quickly and seamlessly, with the advanced option offering a selection of criteria to narrow the range of results.

Search results are graphically presented, in a large default size which seems geared to mobile phone use, rather than for desktop computers. Much scrolling can sometimes be needed to work through the results – a minor problem which can be mitigated, by adjusting in-browser zoom levels to reduce the size of the graphics. In addition, some headline information on each specific entry slides away on mouse-hover, which is not ideal.

SGAE Archive search results (Pan y toros)

More critically, the default ordering of results on popular works is not always intuitive: it would be good to see some detailed information directly following a search, rather than having to click on items which may turn out to be of limited relevance. To take one example, a simple search on Pan y toros brought up 55 results, which is impressive. But the first four visible items marked ‘partitura’ turned out to be peripheral, arrangements of sections of the score made for various instruments including a quartet of saxophones. This was not revealed until I clicked on each item to discover what it was - the complete vocal and full scores, as well as the manuscript, only appeared lower down the search results, and had to be discovered with time and effort. Choice of ‘order by date’ solved this difficulty – and perhaps it would be better to make chronology the default.

I am sure these minor teething troubles will be smoothed out soon enough. Have no doubt, the appearance of this astonishingly rich catalogue online is a cause for celebration. It’s a great initiative from a visionary team, which will be welcomed by scholars and performers around the world.

© Christopher Webber and, 2024

SGAE Archive