A photo of James Massengale

James Massengale

Professor Emeritus


The Bellman Project.

Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795) is Sweden’s most renowned song poet. The author of two famous collections of songs, Fredmans epistlar (The Epistles of Fredman, 1790) and Fredmans sånger (The Songs of Fredman, 1791), his legacy has enriched Sweden’s literary culture for over 200 years. Although not a composer in the traditional sense, Bellman was an active performer of the songs of his day, the tunes of which he adapted from older sources and set new lyrics to, and most of Bellman’s lyrics have greatly outlived their older texts. But questions concerning this type of song production have until recently been neglected, and the particular requirements for the study of this interdisciplinary field of musicology, literature and folklore are not generally taught. The work of Ross W. Duffin (Shakespeare’s Songbook) and Françoise Rubellin (POIESIS: Parodies d’opéra sous l’Ancien Régime) comprise notable exceptions to the negative norm. After my dissertation (The Musical-Poetic Method of C. M. Bellman) was published, I served as music editor for the on-going publication by Bellmanssällskapet (The Bellman Society) of the “Standard edition” of Bellman’s works, working together with text editor Gunnar Hillbom. We collaborated on four volumes in this edition: XIII (Ungdomsdiktning), XIV (Bacchanaliska dikter), XV (Politiska dikter) and XVII (Efterskörd), as well as updated editions of the Epistles and Songs of Fredman.

The problems of re-connecting Bellman’s verbal manuscripts with their intended melodies were very great. Enlightenment poets used a verbal reference (“timbre“) to indicate how a new poem should be sung relative to an older setting; but these references are always sporadic, depending on how crucial this information might be for the poem’s recipient. Other internal indicators (like a refrain or a quotation) help identify the musical source for the new poetry, but these too are often lacking. Generic timbres of the type “Menuet” or “Polska” force the researcher back to dozens of 18th century dance books, violin books and students’ exercise books at the collections of SMS (Statens Musiksamlingar) or across Sweden, Finland, Denmark and farther abroad. Many such dance books have literally hundreds of old dances notated. As an aid to sort out the compendious material, I devised an Analytical Song Index for C. M. Bellman’s Poetry (1988). The structural analysis provided helps to reduce the number of possibilities for the identification process, and can often produce a poetic “fingerprint” for song verses that provides irrefutable proof of Bellman’s melodic source. The results of these combined searches have been noted in the respective volumes of the “Standard edition.” Since the completion of that work, however, the Analytical Song Index has been improved and expanded to include the work of Bellman’s contemporaries, H. C. Nordenflycht and Carl Envallsson, as well as that of older poets, including: Werwing, Lucidor, Runius, Holmström and, of course Dalin (see “The Dalin Project”). These databases (several of them presently available for use at the Swedish Folksong Archive) will gradually be made available to the public via a website. The Bellman project is not done, although the “final” volume of the “Standard edition,” vol. XX (Register) was published in 2006. Since then many new melodic linkages have been made, filling gaps in older volumes. The material needs to be made available to a new generation of singers. For the present, enquiries regarding authentic melodies to any of Bellman’s poems may be addressed to me via my e-mail address or to the Scandinavian Section at UCLA.

The Dalin Project.

The idea of editing music for the Swedish poet Olof von Dalin’s Complete Works (Olof von Dalin’s “Samlade skrifter,” vols. I-IV & VII-VIII have so far appeared in print) could have been something of  an oxymoron. As recently as the early 1990’s, there was no music corpus for such a project. A half dozen tunes were known to Swedish specialists, and a few more would have been rather easy for ballad scholars to identify. But the bulk of the song tradition that he both represented and contributed to – using the widely known technique of writing new lyrics to old melodies – was long since forgotten. Based on materials known from the generation following Dalin, I put together a little songbook (“The Songs of Olof von Dalin,” Scandinavian Studies 1996) that brought my approach to the attention of a team of researchers and editors – Svensk Vitterhetssamfundet – that had done exemplary editions of other early modern Swedish poets, and were planning to tackle Sweden’s most prolific poet. The head of the team for the new Dalin edition, Ingemar Carlsson, had already established himself as the leading authority, not only of Dalin’s enormous production, but of  Swedish manuscript collections, both public and private, from the “Age of Freedom” in Sweden (1719 – 1771). Carlsson’s collection of Dalin’s poetry numbered over 2400 texts, a majority of which had been sung. While Dalin had a habit of re-using certain popular tunes multiple times, his repertoire nonetheless contained hundreds of melodies, and my task for this project has been to attempt to identify as many as possible, to find the melody variant or variants that most closely link themselves to Dalin’s circle in time and place, and to reproduce them in a way that may allow any amateur or professional singer to use and adapt the material to a modern performance setting. The Swedish troubadour, Martin Bagge, has now performed Dalin songs for almost two decades. His Dalin CD, Kom fria sinnen hit! was issued by Proprius (BRCD 9166) in 1999.

Field of Interest

Prof. James Massengale is the world’s leading expert on Carl Michael Bellman. He is currently at work on the definitive, multi-volume annotated works of Olof von Dalin.