Thursday, August 24, 2017

Gustav Parthey's Remarks about Sicilian and Egyptian Music in his Wanderungen (1834/40)

In the previous article I have discussed an interesting addition to my bibliography of "exotic" tunes in European publications from the 16th to the 19th century (see here in my blog and the bibliography at GoogleDocs): a few Bedouin tunes the Finnish orientalist G. A. Wallin's collected during the 1840s.

Two decades earlier young German scholar Gustav Parthey had traveled to the Mediterranean and to Egypt and he also brought back some music: tunes from Sicily, Malta and Egypt. They later appeared in his travelogue which is worth rediscovering not only because of his own contribution to this field but also because he reprinted some formerly unpublished tunes and notes by a famous traveler of the previous century: 
  • Gustav Parthey, Wanderungen durch Sicilien und die Levante, 1. Theil. Wanderungen durch Sicilien und Malta, Nicolai, Berlin, 1834, here Musikbeilage 
  • Gustav Parthey, Wanderungen durch Sicilien und die Levante, 2. Theil: Wanderungen durch das Nilthal, Nicolai, Berlin, 1840 
  • Gustav Parthey, Wanderungen durch Sicilien und die Levante. Anhang zum zweiten Theil der Wanderungen durch Sicilien und die Levante, Nicolai, Berlin, 1840, pp. 15-20,
    all at the Internet Archive 
Gustav Parthey (1798-1872; see Wikipedia; see ADB 25, 1887, pp. 189-91, at wikisource), German art historian, Egyptologist and philologist - he was the grandson of Friedrich Nicolai (1733-1811), the influential publisher, writer and critic, a key figure of literary enlightenment - studied in Berlin and Heidelberg. After his dissertation in 1820 he went on an extended journey through Europe and to the Mediterranean and also the Levant. Especially Egypt and the Holy Land used to be popular travel destinations for German intellectuals (see f. ex. Goren 2003; Amin 2013) . 

He returned in 1824 and soon became director of the Nicolaische Buchhandlung, the publishing house founded by his grandfather. Parthey also made himself a name as a private scholar. Among his publications were a dictionary of Coptic language, a geography of old Egypt and catalogs of modern and antique works of art (see wikisource). Later he moved to Italy and died in Rome. 

His travel report appeared in two parts, first a volume about Sicily and Malta in 1834 and then in 1840 the second one about his time in Egypt. An extra volume with a map, illustrations, astronomical observations by the one of his companions, the astronomer and mathematician Johann Heinrich Westphal, a small Nubian dictionary and a chapter about music was published as a supplement. 

Parthey's account of his travels is well written and still very pleasant to read. He was mostly interested in the antiquities and offered good summaries of the history of the places he visited. But he also happened to be a good and sympathetic observer who showed some genuine interest in the people he met, their culture and their everyday life. 

In the volume about Sicily and Malta we can find some helpful and valuable remarks about the music he had heard there (see pp. 27-8, 93-4, 124, 140, 143-4). For example he discussed the legendary Sicilian poet Giovanni Meli (1740-1815, see Wikipedia), a name not unknown in Germany. His songs were still popular among the people and sung all over Sicily (pp. 45-48). 

The Musikbeilage offered a collection of 21 songs and tunes mostly from Sicily and Malta that he had recorded from oral tradition - "dem Volke abgehorcht" -, among them some of Meli's together with the melodies they were sung to as well as songs apparently imported from Tyrol and France (Nos. IV & XII). Of course he couldn't resist including a tarantella from Apulia (No. V). 

The volume about Egypt also includes a number of short and often casual remarks about musical performances he witnessed (f. ex. pp. 63, 91, 186, 203, 208-9, 280, 294, 560-2). But more important and informative are a chapter about music as well as 21 tunes and songs that can be found in the extra volume, the Anhang zum zweiten Theil (here pp. 15-20). It is obvious that Parthey was not particularly impressed with what he had heard there. In fact he sounds very disappointed: 
"Die Armuth des heutigen Orients an edleren geistigen Genüssen zeigt sich auch in der Musik [...] Man findet im Orient weder eine wissenschaftliche noch eine praktische Ausbildung der Musik, einen zwei- oder mehrstimmigen Gesang hört man nirgends, die Notenschrift ist gänzlich unbekannt, von Generalbass oder Kontrapunkt hat niemand einen Begriff [...]" (p. 15). 
This was a not uncommon attitude for travelers from Europe. But nonetheless he collected some tunes (Nos. I-VI), for example a song of a Nubian sailor, a Nubian variant of the popular tune "Malbrook s'en va-t-en guerre" as well as a "lament of an Arabian girl whose lover was conscripted by the Pasha. She wants to go to him but her mother holds her back with beatings" (see p. 15). He also noted that these melodies were difficult to transcribe "weil die Araber und Nubier, ausser den halben, auch Drittel-Töne haben, woran ein europäisches Ohr sich schwer gewöhnt". 

But apparently Dr. Parthey wasn't really satisfied with what he had noted. Therefore he made available some more tunes collected eight decades earlier by the famous Carsten Niebuhr. His grandfather Friedrich Nicolai used to conduct correspondences with numerous contemporaries. Among them was Niebuhr (1733-1815, see Wikipedia; a good introduction: Wiesehöfer & Conerman 2002), who between 1774 and 1780 had sent several letters to Nicolai where he discussed Arabian music and also included a number of melodies (see Kalliope). 

Niebuhr, a German engineer in duty of the Danish king, started his journey to Arabia, India and Persia in 1760 together with five companions. In 1767 he returned as the only survivor. The first two volumes of his famous Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und anderen umliegenden Ländern appeared in 1774 and 1778. This would become one of the most important and widely read travel books of the 18th century and it was quickly translated into other languages. 

Unlike many other travelers Niebuhr was also a trained musician. He played the violin and even performed there for the locals. He also tried to keep his ears open and listened to what he heard. In his Reisebeschreibung we can find a chapter about "Leibesübungen und Zeitvertreib der Morgenländer bey müssigen Stunden" and here he wrote a little bit about music (I, pp. 175-182, at the Internet Archive). But, just like Parthey eight decades later and just like other visitors in the meantime, he was more or less disappointed and mostly critical. Particularly valuable were Niebuhr's descriptions of musical instruments (see Pl. XVI, at UB Kiel). He was also able to transcribe tunes he had heard. For some reason he only included one single melody in his work (dto., E)

Parthey had access to his grandfather's estate and reprinted nearly all the unpublished tunes from the correspondence as well as the relevant parts from six of the letters Niebuhr had written for Nicolai: they offer explanations and notes about these tunes and Arabian music in general. First there is the original, uncorrected version of the tune published in the Reisebeschreibung (No. VII). Then there are five tunes identified by Niebuhr as Greek (12.3.1775) - perhaps these were "Oriental melodies" performed for him by a Greek musician that he referred to in an earlier letter (30.9.1774) - as well as three Arabian and Egyptian tunes, among them a sailor's song he had heard on a ship (Nos. XIV-XII; 12.3.1775). This of course isn't much but there is so little Arabian music available from that time that even the fragmentary pieces recorded by Niebuhr may count as a major addition. 

The rest are tunes from other publications. The music of the dervishes of the mosque in Pera (Nos. XVIII-XX) was of course taken from Ferriol's Recueil de Cent Estampes Representant Differentes Nations du Levant (1715, p. 16) but Niebuhr had some doubts about its authenticity. One part he claimed he had heard himself but another one didn't sound "morgenländisch" to him (18.4.1775).

He also referred Nicolai to a new Danish publication, Georg Höst's Efterretninger om Marokos og Fes, samlede der i Landene fra ao. 1760 til 1768 (1779). Höst (1734-1794; see Dansk Biografiskt Leksikon) had spent most of the 1760s in Morocco, first working for the short-lived Danish-African Company and then as vice-consul. Encouraged by Niebuhr he wrote his own report about his time there which also included a chapter about music as well a generous amount of tunes (pp. 241-6, plate No. 32). Niebuhr sent some of them to Nicolai even before the book was published (here only No. XXI). In the last letter reprinted he even translated some relevant parts of this chapter for Nicolai (3.4.1777, 20.3.1780). 

Taken together both Niebuhr's tunes and comments as well as those by Parthey himself eight decades later offer interesting insights into how non-European - here Arabian - music was experienced and judged by European scholars (see also Lebedeva 2011 & Harbert 2008). Both showed a remarkable openness and were willing to listen but in the end they were mostly disappointed about what they heard. Their attitudes - particularly the cultural bias - were still very similar even though in the meantime major treatises about Arabian music - particularly Villoteau's work (1809) - had been published. Nonetheless the tunes they have collected - no matter how their authenticity in a modern sense may be judged - and their often casual descriptions of musical performances and performance contexts are still valuable historical sources. 

  • Abbas Amin, Ägyptomanie und Orientalismus. Ägypten in der deutschen Reiseliteratur (1175-1663). Mit einem kommentierten Verzeichnis der Reiseberichte (383-1845), Berlin, 2013 
  • [Charles Ferriol], Recueil de Cent Estampes Representant Differentes Nations du Levant, tirée sur les Tableaux peints d'apres Nature en 1707 et 1708 par les ordres de M. de Ferriol, Ambassador du Roi a la Porte. Et gravées en 1712 et 1713 pat les soins de Mr. Le Hay, Le Hay, Duchange, Paris, 1715, p. 16, at Gallica Bnf & the Internet Archive
  • Haim Goren, "Zieht hin und erforscht das Land". Die deutsche Palästinaforschung im 19. Jahrhundert, Göttingen, 2003 
  • Benjamin J. Harbert, Of Their Knowledge in Musick: Early European Musical Encounters in Egypt and the Levant as Read within the Emerging British Public Sphere, 1687-1811, in: Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology 13, 2008, at Ethnomusicology Review
  • Georg Höst (i. e. Høst), Efterretninger om Marokos og Fes, samlede der i Landene fra ao. 1760 til 1768, N. Müller, Kiøbenhavn, 1779, pp. 241-6, plate No. 32 (at the Internet Archive) 
  • Carsten Niebuhrs Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und anderen umliegenden Ländern, 2 Vols., Möller, Kopenhagen, 1774-8, at UB Kiel & UB Heidelberg, here Vol. 1, pp. 175-182 & plate No. 26 (there are also several GB-scans, for example this one at the Internet Archive , but the plates are never correctly scanned). 
  • M. Villoteau, De l'État Actuel de l'Art Musical en Égypte. On Relation historique est descriptive des Recherches est Observations faites sur la Musique en ce pays, in: Description de l'Égypte, ou, Recueil des Observations et des Recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l'Éxpédition de l'Armée Française. État Moderne, Vol. 1, De L'Imprimerie Royale, Paris, 1809, pp. 607-846, available at the Internet Archive & at World Digital Library 
  • Josef Wiesehöfer & Stephan Conermann (eds.), Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815) und seine Zeit. Beiträge eines interdisziplinären Symposiums vom 7.-10. Oktober 1999 in Eutin, Wiesbaden, 2002

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