Music at the Finca Vigia: A Preliminary Catalog of Hemingway's Audio Collection

By Justice, Hilary K. | The Hemingway Review, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Music at the Finca Vigia: A Preliminary Catalog of Hemingway's Audio Collection


Justice, Hilary K., The Hemingway Review


This illustrated note provides a description and preliminary catalog of Hemingway's Audio Collection, including phonograph records and the sound system, at the Museo Ernest Hemingway (Finca Vigia) in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba. The description considers architectural and acoustic features of the house, some specifics of Hemingway's sound technology, and the organization of the collection, as well as patterns of wear that may indicate Hemingway's favorite works. The catalog is based on digital enhancements of photographs taken by the author in November of 2000.

INTRODUCTION

When Ernest Hemingway left the Finca Vigia, his home in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, on 25 July 1960, he did not know that between his failing health and tightening travel restrictions he would never return. Hemingway had lived in the house since April 1939, when his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn, rented it and had it renovated (Reynolds 93-94). Mary, his widow, returned to Cuba after his death in 1961, and was allowed to remove a few paintings and selected papers, including the manuscripts and typescripts for much of what would constitute his posthumously published works (Mary Hemingway 505, 508). What she left--almost all of the books and papers, works of art, and personal items--constitutes the holdings of the Museo Ernest Hemingway. As of 2000, prior to the first of a series of tropical storms that have since necessitated restoration and repair of the Finca, the contents of the house and their placement within it purportedly represented conditions upon Hemingway's final departure. Whether or not this is uniformly true for every item in the house, the Museo Ernest Hemingway offers extensive collections of personal items, including objects usually dispersed throughout a family as generations pass.

Hemingway's music collection, including his sound system and phonograph records belonging to the author and his wives, is one of the most important. As of November 2000, Maria Valdes, the phonodisc curator at the Museo Ernest Hemingway, was preparing a complete catalog of Hemingway's music collection. The preliminary catalog offered here is intended to provide interested scholars with an initial glimpse of the collection and to spark discourse whose full development must await the eventual publication of Valdes's full version.

Perhaps surprisingly, Hemingway's single most important musical artifact is the Finca Vigia house itself. Its open floor plan, high ceilings, and tiled floor reflect an architectural pragmatism appropriate to the tropical climate, but also coincidentally render the house almost acoustically perfect. This architecture style itself is hardly remarkable; however, during his years there, Hemingway--or perhaps one of his wives--had the house wired for sound.

Acoustically and technologically, then, the Finca Vigia acts as a house-sized stereo system. Hemingway's Bell phonograph record player, located in the living room, plays music through two sets of large speakers--one in the living room and one in the library. As these rooms are connected via a large, open archway, the presence of the library speakers probably indicates a desire for then state-of-the-art sound quality. There are no speakers in the bedroom the staff identifies as Hemingway's; however, the living room speakers are located on the common wall to the bedroom--the wall against which his bedroom bookcase and typewriter stand. As he stood at the bookcase writing, the door to the sitting room was to his immediate left. Thus if there was anything playing on the phonograph while he was writing in the library, in the bedroom, or anywhere in the main house, not only could he have heard it, but the sound quality would have been excellent.

PRELIMINARY DESCRIPTION OF THE PHONODISC COLLECTION

The phonodiscs in the collection reflect the musical tastes of at least two individuals: Ernest and Mary Hemingway (the tastes of Hemingway's sons, who visited the Finca, Martha Gellhorn, who initially rented the house and who may have left items behind after her divorce, and Pauline Pfeiffer, who was a long-term guest at the Finca in the 1940s, may possibly be represented as well). …

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