Lear’s musical travel writing
Edward Lear had a quick ear: easily offended and alive to ambient noise, from sparrows chirping, to ‘plate-clashing waiters’ or the roaring of circus lions. When he travelled, which he did constantly, he wrote down notes on the places through which he passed. These included musical notes. When travelling in Italy, Lear recalled a song in praise of Garibaldi. In Corsica, it was a fishing song. In Egypt in 1866, he was fascinated by the singing of sailors on a boat travelling down the Nile: ‘The sailors are singing a sort of quadruple chorus song—which is very characteristic and fine. One set says Tayib, Tayib, & there is a quick answer—Ba boo ban dir—& then the chorus ai lai—a very pretty song—all minor.’ He had a go at writing down the tune he heard on basic staves in his diary.
Lear included scores in his Illustrated Excursions in Italy (1846), so that readers could transport themselves musically to the places he described, hearing an ancient pilgrims’ chant and a traditional Italian air in praise of the swallow. You can hear these by following the links below: