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Survival Songs

Survival Songs: Conchita Piquer's 'Coplas' and Franco's Regime of Terror

Series: Toronto Iberic
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Survival Songs
    Book Description:

    How can a song help the hungry and persecuted to survive? Stephanie Sieburth'sSurvival Songs explores how a genre of Spanish popular music, thecopla, as sung by legendary performer Conchita Piquer, helped Republican sympathizers to survive the Franco regime's dehumanizing treatment following the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Piquer'scoplaswere sad, bitter stories of fallen women, but they offered a way for the defeated to cope with chronic terror, grief, and trauma in the years known as the "time of silence."

    Drawing on the observations of clinical psychotherapy, Sieburth explores the way in which listening to Piquer'scoplasenabled persecuted, ostracized citizens to subconsciously use music, role-play, ritual, and narrative to mourn safely and without fear of repercussion from the repressive state. An interdisciplinary study that includes close readings of six of Piquer's most famouscoplas,Survival Songswill be of interest to specialists in modern Spanish studies and to clinical psychologists, musicologists, and those with an interest in issues of trauma, memory, and human rights.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6144-8
    Subjects: Music, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: Conchita Piquer’s Coplas as Psychotherapy
    (pp. 3-15)

    After the Spanish Civil War of 1936–9, Spain was a nation under duress. The countryside had been ravaged by battles, and the cities by bombings. People on either side of the conflict found themselves facing chronic hunger, epidemic disease, grinding poverty, housing shortages, and lack of heat, water, and electricity. And the cultural horizons of Spaniards were hardly less bleak than the landscape, as the regime imposed a stultifying curriculum on schools and severe censorship on the media and literature. As well, people on both sides were in mourning for family and friends killed in the conflict. In this...

  5. Chapter One Camouflage: The Psychology of Survival in Franco’s Spain
    (pp. 16-43)

    The physical threats to survival in Franco’s Spain are well known. The greatest of these was execution. The Nationalist generals who rose up against the Republic adopted a clear strategy of instilling terror in the civilian population, which was largely hostile to them. General Mola gave secret instructions:

    Hay que sembrar el terror ... hay que dejar sensación de dominio eliminando sin escrúpulos ni vacilación a todos lo que no piensen como nosotros.

    We need to spread terror ... we have to give the impression that we are in control by eliminating without scruples all those who do not think...

  6. Chapter Two An Introduction to the Copla and Its Star Performer
    (pp. 44-75)

    In Franco’s Spain, the composers and performers ofcoplaswere on the winning side. The songs were broadcast on the regime’s radio. Yet the defeated were nevertheless able to use manycoplasof the 1940s to meet their own desperate emotional needs. What exactly werecoplas, and how could both winners and losers love them when they agreed on almost nothing else? How did these songs lend themselves to a double reading that might make them useful to both sides? What features of the form and content of certain famouscoplasauthored by Rafael de León made them especially powerful...

  7. Chapter Three Coping with Terror through Popular Music: “La Parrala” (“The Wine Lady”)
    (pp. 76-93)

    “La Parrala” (“The Wine Lady”) was first performed by Conchita Piquer in January 1940, less than nine months after the end of the war, when the bereavements of the war were freshest, imprisonments and executions were ongoing, and the shock of living under the new system of terror would have been most acute. It would remain on the radio for many years, becoming a favourite with the public and one of Piquer’s biggest hits. It was an upbeat, zippypasodoblewith many jocular, teasing moments on the part of both performer and orchestra. I read “La Parrala” here in terms...

  8. Chapter Four Paradise Lost: “Ojos verdes” (“Green Eyes”) as Ritual of Separation
    (pp. 94-113)

    Fear trumps all other human emotions; terrified people devote all of their energy to getting out of danger. In Franco’s Spain, the terror and executions lasted for decades, and this created intense and chronic psychological difficulties that involved not only fear but also grief. The defeated faced cumulative traumatic losses that generated intense anguish, yet they were forbidden to mourn. For them to survive psychologically, they needed to gain control of their terror and then find safe ways to express at least some of their grief. This chapter, and the two that follow, discuss three of Piquer’s most famouscoplas...

  9. Chapter Five “Tatuaje” (“Tattoo”), the Unburied Dead, and Complicated Grief
    (pp. 114-143)

    The song that towers over the entire postwar period is “Tatuaje” (“Tattoo”). It was omnipresent on the airwaves for at least twenty years and has never ceased to be performed since. After Franco’s death, when people could write freely about the 1940s, “Tattoo” was unanimously singled out in essays, novels, and films by intellectuals who had grown up in those years. The right-wing but anti-Francoist writer Francisco Umbral wrote that for “la generación del piojo verde” (“the generation who grew up with green lice in their hair”), “Tatuaje” was a kind of street version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (Umbral 140)....

  10. Chapter Six The “Other Woman”: “Romance de la otra” as Ritual of Marginalization and Disenfranchised Grief
    (pp. 144-161)

    Like “La Parrala,” “Romance de la otra” (“Ballad of the Other Woman”) begins with a female protagonist presented in the third person through the eyes of the neighbours, who want to know the circumstances of her life. They ask a series of questions: Why is she always dressed in black if no one has died? Why does no one visit her? Why is she always shut up in the house? Why is there no laughter in her life? She responds only with sighs, sighs the neighbours cannot understand.

    However, whereas in “La Parrala” (and in “La Lirio,” another Piquer favourite),...

  11. Chapter Seven Reasserting Personhood through Popular Song: “Romance de valentía” (“Ballad of Bravery”) and “La Ruiseñora” (“The Nightingale”)
    (pp. 162-181)

    Key to psychological survival for the defeated was retaining a sense of personhood despite being constantly humiliated and degraded by the Francoists. León and Quiroga’scoplasprovided crucial tools for this, affirming personhood through the kinds of protagonists they created. Their most importantcoplasfeature an isolated character who is suffering and who has to struggle against the surrounding society. The protagonist is most often nameless, known only by a nickname: La Parrala (the Wine Lady), La Ruiseñora (the Nightingale), La Lirio (the Lily), La Otra (the Other Woman).¹ Or she may not even have a nickname, like the prostitute...

  12. Chapter Eight When a Radio Song Is the Meaning of Life: Mending the Torn Fabric of Identity through Narrative, Music, and Interpretation
    (pp. 182-193)

    This chapter explores how the narrative form and the music of Piquer’scoplasworked to address the existential threat to survival that the defeated faced in postwar Spain. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl developed a theory of survival based on his experiences in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. He argued that meaning was the most basic human survival need, more urgent even than the need for food. He identified two necessary conditions for a prisoner to survive in the camps. First, he needed a vision of something in the future to live for, a mission that only he could carry out....

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 194-200)

    Our exploration of thecoplain its historical and emotional context has enabled us to answer the questions posed in the Introduction to this book: How could a song help the defeated survive? What were the mechanisms by which it did so? What were the characteristics of Piquer’scoplasthat made people single them out as the period’s most important survival tools? And how could these songs, created by people on the winning side, meet the needs of the losers?

    We have seen that certain of thecoplaswritten by León, Quiroga, and Quintero and performed by Conchita Piquer allowed...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 201-224)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-242)
  16. Index
    (pp. 243-258)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)