This is the story about Henning Haslund-Christensen and his expeditions to Inner Mongolia. During these expeditions, Haslund-Christensen – just as explorers do – collected ethnographical artefacts, for example music instruments. However, Haslund-Christensen also collected voices. Actually, this is the story of a unique and awesome collection of traditional Mongolian vocal and instrumental music recordings.

Haslund-Christensen on camel back. Photo: Nationalmuseet.

Haslund-Christensen on camel back. Photo: Nationalmuseet. Rights reserved – free access

Haslund-Christensen was born in Copenhagen in 1896. After graduating from high school, he enrolled in the Army Academy and in 1918; he was appointed second lieutenant in the Danish Army. He was an optimistic and charming person and he always trusted his fellow workers.

The Mongolian farm
Haslund-Christensen spent several longer periods in Mongolia. Under the direction of Dr. Carl Krebs (1889-1971), he journeyed to Outer Mongolia in 1923, obviously to help run an experimental agricultural project. During his stay at this farm in Mongolia, Haslund-Christensen learned the Mongolian language, he learned singing their songs and he listened to their traditional tales.


“The Sino-Swedish Expedition”
Haslund-Christensen left the farm in 1926. However, he was fascinated by the nomadic life of the Mongolians and soon he was offered a more suitable employment by the Swedish ex-patriot, Hertog Larsen, also known as the “Duke of Mongolia.” Larsen introduced young Haslund-Christensen to Sweden’s most celebrated Central Asian explorer, Sven Hedin (1865-1952).

Hedin hired Haslund-Christensen as a camel caravaneer for the “The Sino-Swedish Expedition” (1927-1929). However, because of his particular interest for Mongolian culture, Haslund-Christensen was quickly involved in the scientific work: He participated in collecting Mongolian cultural artefacts and he recorded music on a phonograph.


Haslund-Christensen’s own expeditions
By 1930, Haslund-Christensen had decided to branch out on his own. However, the plans were delayed when he was badly wounded in an avalanche and had to return to Europe for surgery. Following his recovery, Haslund-Christensen lectured in Denmark and Sweden, then announced that he was returning to Mongolia with state of the art recording equipment to record the music and oral legends of Inner Asia. The lacquer discs, which Haslund-Christensen produced on his expeditions, now form the oldest collection of Mongolian folk music, a unique collection housed at Statsbiblioteket.


The first Danish expedition to Central Asia 1936-1937
This expedition lasted from June 1936 to July 1937, and is called the “First Danish Expedition to Central Asia”. In 1936, Haslund-Christensen went to the area of Ulanhot (Wang-in Sume).

During the winter of 1936/37 Haslund-Christensen came to the Sinkiang-area and stayed in Manchu Ail close to Solun. In 1937, he was touring by car in the area of Khukhu Khoto together with Georg Söderbom whom he knew from the Sino-Swedish expedition. He recorded music on lacquer discs during his journeys.


The second Danish expedition to Central Asia 1938-1939
The expedition with the three Danes, Kaare Grønbech, Henning Haslund-Christensen and Werner Jacobsen lasted from May 1938 to September 1939. Their first destination was the area north-west of Peking in Inner Mongolia. A journey to Outer Mongolia had postponed, it took them several months just to obtain permission to make minor excursions to towns with a train service in this area.

As in Haslund-Christensens’s former expeditions, many sound recordings were collected and a number of musical instruments were purchased.


Two gramophones and a petrol motor
Haslund’s sound recording gear was extensive: he brought two disc machines (gramophones), one for recording and one for the playback of the records. Because of the machines’ heavy weight, he needed to bring along a motor and consequently petrol canisters for the operation of the disc machines. Last, but not least he brought a carbon microphone and 300 lacquer discs. The gear was provided by the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation (Svensk Radiotjänst).

Haslund-Christensen travelled with two gramophones, one for recording, and one for replaying. Photo: Nationalmuseet

Haslund-Christensen travelled with two gramophones, one for recording, and one for replaying. Photo: Nationalmuseet. Rights reserved – free access

Mongolian music
Mongolian music is in penta tone and song texts obey poetic rules. Two kinds of songs are dominating: ”long songs” with melisms and free rythm and ”short songs” with a fixed rhythm and strophic construction. Some vocal genres highlight themselves with their own specific vocal register; for example the over tone song chöömij, which has both a deep bordun and a flute like melody.


Listen to various music examples

  • Man (lama) reciting speech with a big frame-drum, a pair of small cymbals and a thighbone trumpet. Listen
  • Man from Khoten Sume singing. Listen
  • Short modern song with the long-necked lute siduryu/sanja and a larger lute dörben cikitei quyur. Listen


  • Dzakhchin-Mongolian singing an old ballad about the four seasons, accompanied by a zither. Listen
  • Instrumental version of a ballad with two flutes, song from Wang-in Sume, instrumental with 2 flutes. Listen
  • Woman from Wang-in Sume, singing. Listen
Woman singing. Photo: Nationalmuseet

Woman singing. Photo: Nationalmuseet. Rights reserved – free access


  • Female singer accompanied by morin khuur. Listen
  • Two men from Khukhu Khoto singing together. Listen
  •  Man from Khukhu Khoto, singing and whistling. Listen

Henning Haslund-Christensen’s recordings of Mongolian folk music are available on Europeana.

 by Sabine Schostag, Statsbiblioteket