Thursday, July 13, 2017

Georg August Wallin's Bedouin Tunes (1851-1864)


For a while now I am working on a little project about "exotic" tunes in European publications from the 16th to the 19th century (see here in my blog and the bibliography at GoogleDocs). Occasionally I happen to find some additions. Here is one I thought particularly interesting: Finnish orientalist Georg August Wallin who traveled through the Middle East during the 1840s and noted a handful of Bedouin tunes. 

Wallin (1811-1852; see Öhrnberg 2011; Wikipedia; see also Berg et al. 2014, Berg 2015) was born in the Åland isles. He studied Oriental languages since 1829, first in Helsinki and then in St. Petersburg. After his graduation he worked as a librarian but in 1843 he went to Cairo and from there he traveled all through the Middle East and also to Persia, saw Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem and made expeditions through the desert. He "was the first European to get to know the Bedouins and their way of life, and to live among them for a considerable time" and the "first scholar to collect Bedouin poetry" (Öhrnberg 2011). 

After his return he became professor of Oriental literature in Helsinki in 1851 but died only shortly later at the age of 41. Very little of what he wrote was published during his lifetime. Most of it came out only posthumously . There were some articles in German and English but the greatest part of his writings is only available in Swedish. 

Wallin was also a trained musician and played some instruments: the flute and the bass. He listened to songs and music he heard during his travels and was able transcribe some melodies (see Elmgren I, p. xliii). The first relevant publication was an anthology of "modern Arab songs" - with translations and notes - in a German journal: 
  • Georg August Wallin, Probe aus einer Anthologie neuarabischer Gesänge, in: Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 5, 1851, pp. 1-23; 6, 1852, pp. 190-218, at the Internet Archive

For some reason he included here only one tune (5, p. 4) that he had transcribed from a singer's performance. A second one was published two years later, after his death, in a partial edition of his diaries from the first expedition from Cairo to the Arab desert: 
  • Georg August Wallin, Första Resa från Cairo till Arabiska Öknen. Fragment, Simelius, Helsingfors, 1853, here p. 69, at Google Books 
He had heard this piece from his Bedouin companions while riding through the desert: it was one single line sung endlessly to a simple melody, "but with many variations in the voice, first in the deepest bass, then in the thinnest falsetto, sometimes with a rippling loud voice [...], sometimes barely audible".

A decade later some more tunes came to light. S. G. Elmgren edited four volumes of Wallin's diaries between 1864 and 1869 and in the first we can find five melodies. He noted (pp. xiii-xiv) that Wallin had given them only shortly before his death to Finnish folklorist Henrik August Reinholm.
  • Elmgren, S. G.: Georg August Wallins Reseteckningar från Orienten åren 1843–1849, Vols. 1–4, Frenckell & Sön, Helsingfors, 1864–1866, at the Internet Archive [= WellcomeL], here I, p. xxxiii

At that time Wallin's melodies could have been a welcome addition to what was already available. But as far as I can see they were not taken note of by musicologists, folklorists or editors of songbooks. 

Arab tunes had been published in European books since the 18th century (see my bibliography, at Google Docs). Thomas Shaw in 1736 (p. 272) and Danish traveler Georg Höst in 1779 (after p. 244) had both presented a few pieces they had collected. Shaw's tunes were also regularly reprinted in other publications. Otherwise not much was added until the end of the century. The great breakthrough was surely Villoteau's De l'État Actuel de l'Art Musical en Égypte (1809, at the Internet Archive), an extended treatise with many musical examples. A few travelers added some more tunes, like Burkhardt (1831, p. 66) and especially Lane in his An Account of the Manners of the Modern Egyptians (1836, II, pp. 80-93). 

When Kiesewetter wrote Die Musik der Araber (1842, at the Internet Archive) he still had only a rather limited corpus at tunes at hand. He relied mostly on Shaw, Villoteau and Lane. At the same time the "sounds of the desert" became immensely popular among European music fans. French composer Félicien David's Le désert (1844) was a great success. More original tunes were only published in the 1860s, in Salvador Daniel's Chansons Arabes, Mauresques et Kabyles (at the Internet Archive) and Alexandre Christianowitsch's Esquisse Historique de la Musique Arabe aux Temps Anciens (1863, at the Internet Archive). 

Wallin's tunes would have fit well to this new interest for Arab music but by all accounts they remained unknown. Not even Danish composer A. P. Berggreen, editor of Folke-Sange og Melodier Fra Lande Udenfor Europa (1870, at the Internet Archive), the best and most comprehensive popular anthology of international national airs, seems to have been familiar with them. In this respect Wallin's work was more or less forgotten. 

I should add that Wallin's writings are a good and important source for research into the music in that area. He clearly kept his eyes and ears open and was a good observer and listener. In his diaries we can find interesting descriptions of musical performances. For example the three articles in English published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society offer some relevant remarks: 
  • Georg August Wallin, Notes taken during a Journey through Part of Northern Arabia, in: Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 20, 1851, pp. 293-344, at the Internet Archive [= jstor] 
  • Georg August Wallin, Narrative of a Journey from Cairo to Medina and Mecca, in: Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 24, 1854, pp. 115-207, at the Internet Archive [= jstor], here pp. 147, 183, 185, 187
  • Georg August Wallin, Narrative of a Journey from Cairo to Jerusalem, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 25, 1855, pp. 260-290, at the Internet Archive [= jstor], see here f. ex. pp. 265, 268 
His complete writings are now published - in Swedish of course - by the Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland.  
Seven volumes are available at the moment, all with notes, commentaries and helpful introductions. This is an excellent edition and thankfully the pdfs of these volumes can be downloaded for free. There are no additional tunes - apparently he hadn't collected more - but the complete diaries should include more information about the music he heard during his time there. 

Literature 
  • Patricia Berg et al., Dolce far niente in Arabia. Georg August Wallin and His Travels in the 1840s, Dolce Far Niente in Arabia, Society of Swedish Literature in Finland, Helsinki, 2014 
  • Patricia Berg, The Travels of G. A. Wallin and His Views on Western Influence in the Middle East, in: Neil Cooke & Vanessa Daubney (eds.), Every Traveller Needs A Compass. Travel and Collecting in Egypt and the Near East, Oxford & Haverton, 2015, pp. 23-32 
  • Kaj Öhrnberg, The extraordinary travels of Georg August Wallin or ‛Abd al-Wālī. From the Åland Islands to the Arabian Peninsula, in: The National Library of Finland Bulletin 2011, at NLF

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