- Ämneswennen & Hofskalden: Om sambandet mellan Olof von Dalin och Carl Michael Bellman by James Massengale
This book explores the relationship between two of eighteenth-century Sweden’s foremost songwriters: Olof von Dalin and Carl Michael Bellman. Contemporary audiences are likely to be more familiar with the latter figure. Bellman and his works are today fixtures of Sweden’s musical and [End Page 416] literary canon, as well as its popular culture. Dalin, while highly regarded among specialists, never achieved comparable celebrity. But if Bellman appears the more prominent figure today, this was not true when he and Dalin were contemporaries.
Bellman—who was only 23 when Dalin died—likely considered himself a sort of apprentice, or an “ämneswen” when compared to the older songwriter who was a renowned “hofskald,” or court poet, during his lifetime. The title of this book, Ämneswennen & Hofskalden, thus invites us to examine a rich historical episode, a story of an unruly youth who would one day supersede the reputation of the master he revered.
Researchers have long assumed that Dalin contributed to Bellman’s development as a songwriter, either through moments of direct mentoring or—more likely—as a source of inspiration. Inquiry into this topic remains embryonic, however. For while studies have addressed Dalin’s influence on Bellman in literary terms, the potential musical connections between the songwriters remain underexplored.
Ämneswennen & Hofskalden sets out to address this void, considering how the younger apprentice might have borrowed both textual and melodic material from the older court poet. Given that relatively little is known about the interaction between the two figures, we must look for signs of Dalin in Bellman’s works. This is a demanding task, and we have an expert hand guiding us. James Massengale embarks on this study having published on Dalin and Bellman for over forty years. Despite his oft-noted modesty, Massengale has done nothing less than to transform fundamentally the state of scholarship on these two songwriters. A skilled musicologist as well as a literature scholar, Massengale’s impact on the field stems from his serious and systematic approach to music and text-music relationships. He has produced full- length monographs, almost thirty articles, and a dozen critical editions and recording projects, with his most notable works including The Musical-Poetic Method of Carl Michael Bellman (Almquist & Wiksell, 1979) as well as his and Gunnar Hillbom’s editions of Fredmans epistlar (Norstedts, 1990) and Fredmans sånger (Norstedts, 1992). While Massengale’s scholarship is multifaceted—exploring questions of musical structure, poetics, performance, and authorship—his work sends an unequivocal message to future generations of scholars, namely that Bellman’s and Dalin’s pieces must be examined as the complex, multimodal creations they are. Ämneswennen & Hofskalden—with its drive to explore Dalin’s impact on both Bellman’s texts and music—thus belongs to Massengale’s broader project.
The book consists of a foreword by Hans Bergfast, an introduction by Ingemar Carlsson, three chapters by Massengale, and an extensive [End Page 417] appendix of song notations with light commentary. Though its apparatus falters once—with a misalignment of the table of contents between pages 37 and 46—the production is otherwise remarkable. The text is dotted throughout with facsimiles of paintings, drawings, photographs, and notations.
Ingemar Carlsson’s introduction examines the central piece of evidence suggesting that Bellman and Dalin had contact with each other: a short entry in one of Bellman’s diaries where the young songwriter notes, with pride, that “the great Dalin” had inspected his poem “Månen” and made only one alteration, changing a single word in order to render the lyrics less vulnerable to censorship by religious authorities. Carlsson frames this event as a window into the poets’ relative statuses during their lifetimes. Here, Dalin functions as an authority on both songwriting and the political terrain of late eighteenth- century Stockholm—the type of figure to whom a young Bellman ought to have looked for guidance.
While few details of the two poets’ contact are known, Massengale devotes his first...