John Brande Trend

By William Chislett

The Concurso de Cante Jonde, a seminal music competition held in Granada, which celebrated its centenary in June, attracted many people, but none as interesting as the English musicologist and Hispanist John Brande Trend (1887-1958), who was personally invited by the organizer and great composer, Manuel de Falla. (1887-1958).

Trend studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, but his real passion was music. After the horrors of the First World War (Trend fought at Ypres in France), and as a result of the recommendation of his friend the Cambridge musicologist Edward Dent, Trend went to Spain in 1919 instead of Italy, as he had planned. (Gerald Brenan, Trend’s compatriot and author of The Spanish Labyrinth, who had also fought at Ypres, fled England that same year and moved permanently to Yegen in Las Alpujarras with 2,000 books.)

JB Trend in 1923

Dent convinced Trend that there was a vast and fertile field of music to be explored in Spain, unknown to most of the world. The first performance of Falla’s El sombrero de tres picos was given in London in July 1919, a couple of months before Trend’s first visit to Spain. That visit changed his life. As Trend later explained:

“In 1919, after four and a half years in uniform, Spanish ways seemed not only natural but friendly and delightful; for even the 1914-18 war was a crescendo of horrors and the fearful casualties among one’s friends made Spain seem not a country of war and lechery, but of a new Age of Reason.[1]

Linguistically gifted, Trend learned Spanish and plunged into the country’s culture, music and politics, later recounted in his many books.  His don de gentes, not a particularly English trait, endeared him to Spaniards and made him many friends. In 1933 he became Cambridge’s first Professor of Spanish.

Trend met Falla and the young Lorca in Granada. Falla took Trend to see the Alhambra by moonlight and to hear the guitarist Ángel Barrios and his singer father. His first meeting with Falla left a lasting impression. “It has remained with me as one of the most vivid and beautiful which I can ever hope to have[2].”

JB Trend’s article in The Times of 24 June, 1922 (Archive of The Times)

In a letter to Trend in February 1922, part of a correspondence that lasted 16 years, Falla said the aim of the concurso was “to purify and revive the wonderful Cante Jondo, which is not to be confused with Cante Flamenco, which is a degeneration and almost a caricature of it”. Trend covered it for The Times and other prestigious publications, including The Nation and Athenaeum. “Jondo is a provincialism of hondo, deep or profound, the song of the tragic sense of life,” he wrote in The Times. “Flamenco signifies gypsy or gypsified – if such a word may be used – an affectation of gypsy manners, or what are supposed to be gypsy manners. The object of the competition was to attract all those singers who could sing the real, primitive melodies, so that they should be heard before all memory of them was lost under the additions and distortions of the flamenco manner – to show, in fact, native Andaluz song in its classical purity[3].”

Trend spent the rest of his life writing books and articles about Spain, including in The Criterion, edited by TS Eliot, who won the Nobel Prize in 1948, and, in particular, promoting performances of Falla’s music in England. On his visits to Spain he would go in search of manuscripts, and would often transcribe them and send them to Falla. Trend’s investigations produced two pioneering books: The Music of Spanish History to 1600 (1926) and Manuel de Falla and Spanish Music (1929).

Published in 1929. Library of William Chislett

Not only did Trend accompany Falla when he visited England and act as the intermediary between the composer and the organisers of concerts, but he also represented him when he could not go, attending rehearsals and making sure than Falla’s instructions were carried out. This was the case with the first performance of El retablo de maese Pedro in Bristol in 1924, with English texts by Trend. He also translated the Siete canciones populares españolas, adapted for voice and piano by Falla, and the cançons of the Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970). Trend helped Gerhard find a job at King’s College, Cambridge after he went into exile as a result of the Spanish Civil War.

Few if any English writers in the first half of the 20th century have explained the ‘real’ nature of Spain and its culture better than Trend: “the conventional view of Spain [… ] is no truer than a fairy story”[4], he said. He was in a privileged position to write about the “real” Spain, as a result of his extensive travelling around the country and his wide range of friends and acquaintances among the literary and intellectual elite, including Miguel de Unamuno, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Antonio Machado, Américo Castro, Jorge Guillén and Alberto Jiménez Fraud, the first director of the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, where Trend often stayed and which he regarded as “my college Madrid”, in the sense of a British university institution along the lines of Oxford and Cambridge. (Trend’s college in Cambridge was Christ’s – he had the room once occupied by Charles Darwin.)

The Residencia, the Institución Libre de Enseñanza and the Junta de Ampliación de Estudios, enlightened institutions, were very important for Trend, as he explained in A Picture of Modern Spain, his first book published in 1921. Trend identified with their modernising impulse, particularly the education reforms proposed by Francisco Giner de los Ríos (1839-1915), who, Trend said, saw the need for Spain to “shed the military and clerical weight which throughout its history has prevented it from progressing[5].”

In 1937, following the bombing of Guernica on 26 April, Trend helped organise the evacuation from the Basque Country to England of 3,840 children on the steamship Habana, including a friend of mine, Herminio Martínez, who never returned to live in Spain and died in Cambridge in 2019. 

Trend’s last visit to Spain was in July 1937, by which time a large part of the country was in Franco’s hands.  In protest at Franco’s victory, and out of respect for his many Republican friends, Trend never returned to Spain. The nearest he came to Spain was Portugal, from where he would gaze nostalgically across the border. He turned his attention to Latin America, writing books on South America, Mexico and Simón Bolívar. On his first visit to Mexico, the first place he went to, almost as an act of homage, was the Casa de España in order to renew contact with exiled friends and “his” Spain.

“What was lost in the Civil War was not just a government but a modern culture,” he wrote in The Civilisation of Spain, sadly the only book of his translated into Spanish (in 1955 by Editorial Losada in Argentina, founded by Spanish exiles, but never in Spain, something that I am trying to remedy[6]). This jewel of a book is ideal for students of Spanish, as is Trend’s The Language and History of Spain (1953), which is dedicated to Alberto Jiménez Fraud, for whom Trend found a job when he went into exile in England.

Trend’s olnly book published in Spanish in 1955 (Left). Published in 1953 (Right). Library of William Chislett.

When Trend learned that the Great Spanish poet Antonio Machado had crossed the border from Catalonia into France on 28 January 1939 along with his 86-year-old mother and brother José, he wrote to offer him a job in the Spanish Department at Cambridge. But by the time the letter arrived at the hotel in Collioure where Machado was staying, he had died. José responded in a letter: “Usted, señor Trend, que tan alta cumbre representa en la intelectualidad en ese país, reciba la profunda gratitud por sus bondades para con mi hermano, de este antiguo alumno de La Institución Libre de Enseñanza.”


An Unlikely Spanish Don, The Life and Times of Professor John Brande Trend, Margaret Joan Anstee, Sussex Academic Press, England, 2013.

Manuel de Falla, John B. Trend, Epistolario (1919-1935), edición de Nigel Dennis, Universidad de Granada y Archivo de Manuel de Falla (2007).

JB Trend’s publications

A Picture of Modern Spain: Men and Music (Constable, 1921).

Luis Milan and the Vihuelistas (Oxford University Press, 1925).

Alfonso the Sage and Other Essays (Constable, 1926).

Spanish Short Stories of the Sixteenth Century in Contemporary Translations (Oxford University Press, 1928).

Manuel de Falla and Spanish Music (Alfred A. Knopf, 1929).

The Origins of Modern Spain (Cambridge University Press, 1934).

Mexico, A New Spain with Old Friends, (Cambridge University Press, 1940).

South America, with Mexico and Central America (Oxford University Press, 1931).

The Civilization of Spain (Oxford University Press, 1944).

Bolivar and the Independence of Spanish America (Hodder & Stoughton, 1946).

Juan Ramon Jimenez: Fifty Spanish Poems (English Translations) (The Dolphin Book Co, 1950).

Eleven Essays on Spain, Portugal and Brazil (R.I. Severs, 1951).

Unamuno (R. I Severs, 1951). (Pamphlet)

Federico García Lorca (R.I. Severs, 1951). (Pamphlet)

Alfonso Reyes (R.I. Severs, 1952). (Pamphlet)

The Language and History of Spain (Hutchinson’s University Library, 1953).

Antonio Machado (Dophin Book Co, 1953).

Cervantes in Arcadia (R.I. Severs, 1954).

Lorca and the Spanish Poetic Tradition (Basil Blackwell, 1956).

Portugal (Praeger, 1958).

[1] Lorca and the Spanish Poetic Tradition (1956), pp 5-6.

[2] Ibid, p. 135.

[3] A Musical festival at Granada. Manuel de Falla and his work”. The Times, 24 June, 1922

[4] Alfonso the Sage and Other Spanish Essays (1926), p. 200.

[5] A Picture of Modern Spain (1934), p. 7.

[6] The Civilization of Spain (1944).