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Janissary Music and Turkish Influences on Western Music

Module by: Catherine Schmidt-Jones. E-mail the author

Summary: The primary influence of the Ottoman Empire on Western music, including a significant influence on the composers of the First Viennese School, came through the Ottoman military bands. The most lasting effect of this influence has been on the band traditions of Western Europe and the U.S.

It must never be forgotten that in military music, and in outdoor music generally, noise is a primary object... -Richard Goldman

The primary interaction between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe was one of military contention, so it should not come as a surprise that the main influences of Ottoman era Turkish music on Western music came through the mehterhane, the Ottoman military band. This paper will explore both those musical influences and the historical, musical, and social factors that caused or limited them.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose music is pivotal to this subject, identified two distinct types of "Turkishness" in his music. Turkische Musik ("Turkish music") referred to music that simply had certain percussion instruments added to it, whereas alla turca ("in the Turkish style") referred to melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements that purported to imitate Turkish music [1]. This is a very useful distinction for the following discussion, as the influences of the mehterhane on Western music do seem to fall into two broad categories. The alla turca influence was short – mostly limited to the era surrounding the Classical period of Western music – and limited in scope. The Turkische Musik influence, particularly on the military and band music of the West, however, has been deeper and longer-lasting, if not widely recognized.

Mehter History and Instrumentation

Before discussing these influences, a general description of the mehterhane and its music is in order. The term mehterhane ("house of mehter") refers to ensembles of musicians formed for military and ceremonial purposes. In Ottoman Turkey, the mehterhane were sometimes called the davulhane, or “house of drums” [2]. In the West, Mehter music and its imitations are also sometimes called Janissary music. The Janissaries (yeniçeri) were the elite military of the Ottoman Empire, who appear to have first formed official mehter ensembles around the year 1330 [3], and the mehterhane was very closely associated with the Janissaries throughout the Ottoman period. It should be noted that this was definitely not the earliest use of music by the Turkish military. There are earlier records showing that military bands were a traditional gift from one Turkish ruler to another, and a Chinese chronicle of a general’s visit to a Turkish monarch in 200 BC includes a description of a tug (drum) team - a mostly-percussion ensemble that also included a zurna-like instrument and a kind of trumpet - and the general’s subsequent formation of a similar ensemble for his own military [4]. So it can be assumed that even in 1330, the mehter inherited an already-established tradition of military music.

There are two possible derivations for the word mehter itself: some have it coming from the Persian word mahi-ter, which means new moon or crescent, while others trace the word from the Persian mihter, for footman [5]. The word mehter is now used to refer both to the ensemble itself as well as to the genre of music it plays [6].

There were many mehter ensembles. Besides the sultan’s royal mehters, the sadrazam (prime minister), the Beylerbeyleri (governors general), Sancakbeyleri (district governors), and the commander of the Janissaries each had their own ensemble. (One source has Selim III increasing the number of official mehter ensembles from 177 to 200 [7].) A traditional mehter ensemble was organized by folds, and the number of folds in an ensemble was an indication of the importance of the person for whom the mehter was playing. Thus the prime minister’s mehter might be nine-fold, a governor’s seven-fold, and unofficial mehters hired by a trade organization, say for a parade, would be only three- or five-fold [8].

Instrumentation could vary between battle and ceremonial settings [9], but basically each kat, or fold, of a mehter consisted of a zurna (a very loud double-reed similar to an oboe), a boru (a trumpet), nakkare (small kettledrums, usually played in pairs), a davul (a large, cylindrical, bass drum), and zil (a pair of “crash” cymbals). One set of kös, a large kettledrum usually played in pairs, was added in ceremonial situations, only to the sultan’s mehter, and in battle, only to the chief general and deputy chief general’s mehter [10]. The çağana or çevgen (a crescent-shaped standard from which bells are hung), the "jingling johnny" which became so well-known in Europe that its use alone was sufficient to represent "Janissary music", does not show up in sources or iconography before the nineteenth century, and may actually have developed (from a standard decorated with horsetail tassels) partly in response to interaction with Western European ideas of Turkishness [11]. Even then, it was mainly used (one for each fold) in ceremonial settings, as it is not a loud instrument. A glance at the instrumentation of a mehter, filled with loud percussion and winds with particularly piercing timbres and high tessituras, clearly suggests its original, battlefield function: to be very, very audible.

In ceremonial (or concert) situations, the musicians of a mehter stand (except for the nakkare players, who sit) in a half-circle, with the kos in the middle. In battle, the large instruments and their players would be mounted on horses or camels. (One source even mentioned very large kos being carried on elephants [12].) Mehter ensembles did play in many situations other than during battle. They played, for example, in parades during the preparations for going to war, at festivals, at weddings, at the births of the sultan’s children, at diplomatic events and state receptions, and at the striking of the watch at the gates of the castle. The royal mehter even played while the sultan was being shaved [13].

The typical dress would have delighted an Enlightenment-era Austrian (more about that later):

The chief of the Mehters or the conductor and the leaders of each group of instruments wore red "binnis" (gown with wide sleeves and bide), according to the occasion. On their heads they had red turbans wrapped with white gauze, on their legs red felt leggings, and on their feet they wore short slip-on boots made of yellow morocco-leather (sahtiyan). The other members of the band wore green turbans wrapped with white gauze, their gowns were of purple, navy, or black felt, their leggings were of red cloth, and their slip-on boots were of red morroco leather.

Because the mehter were so strongly associated with the Janissaries, they were abolished along with that military by Sultan Mahmut II in 1826. In 1827, a new band was formed for the new Turkish army, but it was meant to be a Western-style band; various Italians were hired to run it and commissioned to write marches for it. This ensemble eventually split into the Republican Band (now the Presidential Band of the Turkish Republic) and the State Orchestra [15]. In 1914, during a period of growing nationalism, a Royal Mehter was reestablished, to be associated with the Ottoman Military Museum, but it was disbanded in 1935, during the reforms of the Republican period [16]. In 1952, the Military Museum established a nine-fold replica of the Ottoman Royal mehter, dressed in copies of the Ottoman costumes [17], but with a repertoire dominated by the compositions from the earlier twentieth-century mehter [18]. This group still performs at the museum and other venues around the world.

Mehter Music

Musically, mehter pieces fall well within the range of typical Ottoman-era Turkish music. Eric Rice [19] finds that mehter music did not change significantly through the centuries, and makes the following list of characteristics of mehter music influences on the Western European alla turca style:

  1. Melodies are played and sung monophonically.
  2. Melody instruments have a more incisive timbre than their Western counterparts
  3. Cymbals are always used.
  4. Several types of drums play subdivisions of the basic pulse on different metric levels.
  5. System of modes is complex and varied; to Western ears the melodies sound as if there are sudden “unprepared” shifts from the major to the minor and back.
  6. Meter can be duple or irregular.
  7. Initial rhythm of melodies is often three notes played at the level of the basic pulse.
  8. Melodies are characterized by fast ornamental patterns.
  9. Pieces have a rondeau-like form with many repeated sections.

Other characteristics of mehter music that Rice finds purposely echoed in Western pieces include sequencing, the use in ornamented passages of dotted rhythms and stepwise motion, and larger leaps, including augmented fourths and leaps up to a tenth, in other melodic passages [20]. Daniel Heartz mentions, as evidence of "Viennese Turkish color": running sixteenths, leaping eighth note figures, minor mode, and the use of certain cadential patterns [21].

It should be made clear that, in spite of the length of this list of characteristics, Viennese "Turkish" music cannot be mistaken for real mehter music. The three characteristics of Turkish music that stand out to the Western listener as being most unignorably non-western are the use of modes instead of major and minor keys, the use of monophonic or heterophonic textures rather than functional harmony, and the common use of irregular meters. Turkish modes share some aspects with Western major and minor scales, possibly because of common roots in ancient times [22]. There are usually seven pitches within an octave, and the pitch distances between adjacent notes of a mode tend to be near the Western half steps or whole steps, often with two half steps and five whole, as in a Western scale [23].

However, differences in tuning and in placement of the half steps, in the way the notes of the mode are used, and in modulation techniques, mean that real Turkish modes would not be mistaken by any listener for either major or minor tonality, although some modes do sound a little like a minor key. European composers, if they addressed the issue of modes at all, did so only by using a minor key, sometimes with the “unprepared” shifts in tonality that Rice mentions.

Western composers were also mostly uninterested in monophony. Some alla turca pieces include passages in unison or octaves, but for the most part, the composers used Western functional harmony in standard homophonic and polyphonic textures. (It should be noted here that, although much Turkish instrumental music is heterophonic, the basic texture of mehter music is monophonic, again probably because monophony can be much louder than heterophony.)

Irregular meters also seem to have been almost entirely ignored, but this may be quite reasonable. Although irregular meters are very common in Turkish music and were used by the mehterhane, regular meters were also very common in mehter music [24].

A Classical Vogue for Turkish Music

Considering how very different the Western and Ottoman musical traditions were, it is reasonable to ask how and why any influence on Western music came about. One obvious factor is history. Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, and the empire thereafter continued to grow. Under Suleyman I in the sixteenth century, its area of direct control included Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Eastern Hungary, Moldavia, Wallachia, Transylvania, Iraq, the Caucasus, Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis. Throughout the late middle ages and the Renaissance, Western Europe quite reasonably feared this powerful empire, for both religious and military reasons. The Ottoman Empire first attempted (and failed) to take Vienna in 1529; its final failure to take that city, in 1683, signaled the beginning of the collapse of the Ottomans, the subsequent rise of the Habsburgs, and a related flourishing in Austria of culture and the arts; but this, of course, was not obvious at the time. By the time Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781, the Ottoman Empire was what is now called a "paper tiger", still frightening to the populace on an almost mythological level, but not a serious military danger [25].

The siege of Vienna had ended with the Ottoman army being chased down the Danube all the way to Belgrade. This was the first time the empire had suffered a decisive loss of territory to a Christian foe [26], and a series of further military disasters (for the empire) ended with the treaty of Belgrade in 1739. A period of peace, during which the main contact between the two civilizations was diplomatic, ended with the Ottomans attacking Russia in 1784. This proved even more disastrous for the empire, which retreated into weak factionalism in the early nineteenth century, as the rising powers of Europe squared off against each other [27]. It is during this period, while the Ottomans seemed a less direct threat but hadn’t yet been eclipsed in the European mind by newer threats such as Napoleon, that the vogue for things Turkish struck Europe. At this time, Janissary instruments were received at European courts as diplomatic gifts from Constantinople. In a spirit of diplomacy, simulations of Turkish music were offered by court musicians to visiting Ottoman ambassadors [28]. The latter were likely quite inauthentic, but some ambassadors travelled with their own musicians, and there is some evidence that Mozart heard the real thing [29].

Meanwhile, the people of Western Europe had an intense curiosity, a fascination, with things Turkish, including Turkish dress, customs, foods, and music. Turkish dramas, ballets and operas, which could include hints at dress and customs as well as music, were particularly popular. Many composers took part by writing "Turkish" pieces of some sort, including Franck (Cara Mustapha), Lully (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme), Rameau (Les Indes Galantes), Gluck (La Rencontre imprevue), Michael Haydn (Turkish Suite), Joseph Haydn ("Military" Symphony, L'incontro improvviso), Franz Christoph Neubauer (Sinfonie a grand orchestre, La Bataille de Martinestie, oder Coburts Sieg uber die Turken), Joseph Starzer (Le gelosie del seraglio), Weber (Abu Hassan), and Beethoven (Symphony No. 9, Die Ruinen von Athen, Wellingtons Sieg).

As mentioned above, there were two ways in which Western composers of this period could suggest "Turkish music" to these audiences hungry for "something Turkish"; the use of the melodic and harmonic devices outlined by Rice (alla turca), or the addition of certain instruments (mostly percussion) for their "Turkish" timbres. One of the percussion instruments added in Turkische Musik was the triangle, rather a surprise, since there is no triangle in a mehter group. Most likely the triangle was a European variation of the sound of the "jingling johnny" [30]. Another instrument that seems to have been sometimes included as a "Turkish color instrument" was a small recorder or fife (flauto piccolo) [31]. But the most important Turkische Musik timbres were genuine Turkish percussion. When they were first added to Western music, such instruments as the bass drum, side drum, cymbals, triangle, and tambourine were so strongly associated with Turkish music that their use in a Western score automatically indicated Turkish color. Gradually, this association widened (quite possibly because of the military music developments discussed below) so that these instruments simply added a "military" sound to an ensemble. But by the turn of the eighteenth century, they were simply accepted as standard tone colors available to the composer [32], although Beethoven still used them specifically for oriental and military scenes, as in Die Ruinen von Athen, the Battle Symphony, and the final movement of the Ninth Symphony.

The extent to which a composer used alla turca and/or Turkische Musik in a particular piece apparently depended on whether the composer had heard real mehter music and how likely the audience was to recognize genuine Turkish elements, as well as the composer’s personal preferences. As mentioned above, it appears likely that Mozart heard genuine mehter music. Whether Beethoven heard genuine mehter ensembles has not been answered and perhaps cannot be [33], and the same can be said for most of the other composers involved in the Turkish vogue. Lully may have had the opportunity to hear the real thing, but due to simple historical and geographical circumstances, Viennese audiences were probably generally more likely than French audiences to have accurate knowledge of things Turkish [34], and thus a better appreciation of alla turca style. Many composers, then, were content to simply add the Turkische Musik percussion, and in other cases the musical techniques that suggest "the exotic" have nothing at all to do with genuine Turkish music. Of the composers of the period, only Mozart’s music seems to contain more than surface characteristics of mehter music [35], and even he did not include them consistently.

As Matthew Head explains, "the majority of Mozart’s Turkish works were written for Vienna and in connection with three principal events in the composer’s life: the move from Salzburg to Vienna; the celebration in 1783 of the centenary of the Second Siege of Vienna, and the Austro-Russian war against the Ottomans in 1788-9" [36]. The composer’s best-known alla turca works are: the Fifth Violin Concerto (K, 219, 1775), the singspiel Die Entfurung aus der Serail (K. 384, 1781), and the Rondo alla turca of the keyboard Sonata in A major (K 331, 1781-83).

The central episode of the finale of the Fifth Violin Concerto (K.219) is a mixture of Turkish and Hungarian Gypsy styles [37]. Framing this episode, both before and after, is a very refined, very Western European minuet. Different commentators hear this juxtaposition differently, possibly because of differences in opinion on orientalism in Mozart, or possibly just due to differences in musical preferences. Matthew Head hears the minuet as physically weak and too refined next to the drama and excitement of the “exotic minor”, which we are meant to prefer [38]. Daniel Heartz hears order, moderation, and propriety winning out, triumphantly conquering the exotic [39].

Mehter characteristics can also easily be found in Die Entfuhrung, in the overture, the chorus in the first act, and the closing chorus. In the final chorus, the high tessitura and reedy timbre of the melody instruments, as well as the heavy use of drums, cymbals, and triangle, and the fact that much of the chorus is sung in unison, all strongly suggest the Turkische influence. Sections begin with long notes; sequences and dotted rhythms are used; and large sections of repeated music function as ritornellos, all characteristics mentioned by Rice [40]. Yet the representation is not as authentic as that in the A-major piano sonata, and its hectic tempo makes the chorus sound at least slightly parodic. One must assume these are conscious choices, as Mozart himself wrote "The Janissary Chorus ... can be described as lively, short, and written to please the Viennese" [41].

Elements of Turkish music also appear in other places in Mozart’s work: in the "Agnus Dei" of the Mass in C (K. 337) [42], for example; in the fortepiano variations on Les hommes pieusement (K 455), the keyboard Sonata in A minor (K 310), Sonata in G (K 283), and in a few other spots, more or less ambiguously, but the Turkish passages in these other works are not as long or complete [43].

Much of the modern discussion of this musical phenomenon, in Mozart and in other composers of the time period, centers on questions of its social meaning and appropriateness, and some focuses on decrying any kind of "orientalism" as being a device to define a civilized, European "us" as against a barbaric, oriental "them" [44]. As Head puts it:

From a twentieth-century perspective, in which Mozart is filtered through the age of empire, his parodic representation is readily perceived as high-handed and derogatory. This is so because alla turca represents Ottoman (military) music without departing from the fundamental code of the West, tonality. Signs of difference are ‘relegated’ to the status of details within a pre-existing European framework: Turkish music is representated not only through decoration but as decoration. In the context of millenial multi-culturalism, ‘post’-coloniality and the public envoicement of historically marginalised identities, Mozart’s strategy epitomises Eurocentrism.

Certainly, the efforts of these composers would be judged by modern standards as unacceptably superficial and inauthentic, but is it fair to critique an eighteenth-century Viennese vogue by the light of modern social values? It would seem more reasonable to judge them at least by the professed values of that era, the values of the Enlightenment period. These included secularism, religious tolerance, and openness to cultural difference and a high respect for reason and rationality [46], and in fact these values may have played at least as important a part in that period’s fascination with "the orient" as any need to define it as being barbarian. One clear effect of the move towards rationality was the replacement in plots of the "enchantment" of the supernatural with the “enchantment” of the exotic, an enchantment that many moderns would instinctively understand. For example, Head describes the four scenes in Rameau’s Les Indes galantes, (a Turkish abduction plot, the Sun worship of the Incas in Peru, a Persian flower festival, and a native American peace-pipe ceremony) as "a sort of eighteenth-century National Geographic" [47].

It seems particularly unreasonable to claim that Mozart portrays Turkishness as simplistically barbarian, given the plot of Die Entfuhrung. It is true that Mozart purposely uses "Turkishness" to underline the barbarity of Osmin’s vengefulness and his loss of control in anger [48], but the pasha acts with unwonted (Christian, perhaps?) charity and forgiveness, while it is revealed that Belmonte’s (Spanish) father has behaved abominably. Here, the important break between "us" and "them" seems more the one between the servants and the nobility than between east and west. In fact, at least one author has suggested that the Turkish noble’s actions imply a veiled criticism by Mozart of some of the less-than-noble habits of the European nobility [49]. This theme of the "noble savage" runs consistently through the Turkish operas of the period. It is true that this is hardly an accurate representation of Ottoman Turkey, which was in fact its own well-developed civilization, but accuracy, and authenticity of experience, do not seem to have been as highly valued in that era as they are in our own.

By the close of the eighteenth century, it was much less common for Turkish ensembles to travel throughout Europe as part of diplomatic retinues, and so the window of opportunity for any sort of authenticity in Western "Turkish" music was closing. Rice considers it likely that by 1824 there were no mehters in Vienna [50], and by 1826 the mehterhane had been completely disbanded by Sultan Mahmut II. It is likely that with the Turkish "threat" waning, orientalism lost some of its fascination for audiences; but it is also clear that, without exposure of both audience and composers to the "real thing", the alla turca style was destined to lose its ability to signify "Turkishness" for the audience. At this point, the presence of a "jingling johnny" would not only be sufficient to suggest Turkishness; any further musical references would probably not even be understood as such. Yet it can be argued that there was a more lasting influence on the music of the West.

Band Music: The More Lasting Influence

As mentioned earlier, loudness is of prime importance for actual battlefield music, a function well-filled by loud, high-tessitura winds with piercing timbres, playing in unison and backed by plenty of percussion. During the Turks' conquest of Constantinople in 1453, "the sound of mehters overpowered the city's bells, which were ringing to call soldiers to arms" [51]. During actual fighting, the state of each side’s standard (in familiar modern parlance, the battle flag) is a very important signal to the soldiers regarding the progress of the battle; but in the chaos it may not always be visible to every soldier. In Ottoman battles, the mehter musicians would gather in a circle or semi-circle around the standard, and as long as they were playing, it could be assumed by everyone within earshot that the Turkish standard was unharmed.

The value of this in terms of morale (on both sides), particularly if the music was aggressively loud, should be obvious, and it was not lost on the military of Western Europe. The Polish military is generally recognized as being the first in Western Europe to organize a specifically "Turkish-style" military band, but they were soon followed by the Austrians, Russians, Germans and French. By the 1770’s, "Turkish" military bands were common throughout Western Europe. By the late eighteenth century, a Turkish percussion section had become a part of standard European military music. According to a report from Vienna in 1796, military music comprised two broad categories: field music (signals and flourishes) and Turkish music [52]. In France, this influence became important to the overall history of band music, because the serenading of the general populace, outdoors, by a military-style ensemble, became very popular during the period of the French Revolution. The instrumentation for one ensemble at one of these mass outdoor educate-the-people fetes lists: "10 flutes, 30 clarinets, 18 bassoons, 4 trumpets, 2 tubae curvae, 2 buccins [a trombone relative], 12 horns, 3 trombones, 8 serpents, with 10 side-, bass-, and kettle-drummers, cymbalists, and triangle beaters" [53]. Although the percussion section is still clearly Turkish, the rest of this ensemble begins to look more like a modern Western band, and indeed, this development in France is widely recognized as the birth, in terms of size, function, and repertoire, of the ensemble that became the modern wind band (as typified by high school bands throughout the U.S.) [54].

Western militaries did have bands before this particular adoption of mehter-style bands. In fact, it is likely that an earlier case of Ottoman influence actually led to the very beginning of the regular military band in the West. France led this earlier wave; the oboe bands organized by Lully for Louis XIV are the earliest known regularly constituted military ensembles in Western Europe [55]. Some military music histories seem determined to ignore any real Turkish influence, mentioning, if anything, only the adoption of the Turkische musik percussion, and these see the oboe ensemble as an evolution from the military fife/bagpipe tradition of earlier times. However, considering the fact that Louis XIV is known to have entertained Turkish emissaries and that Lully is known to have incorporated both mehter-influenced musical elements and actual Turkish instruments from the royal collection in the Turkish-themed opera that Louis requested of him [56], it seems reasonable to assume – as other histories do - that these oboe ensembles were at least partly inspired by the zurna-dominated mehter. Apparently, other than the percussion, the timbre that made the strongest impression on West Europeans was that of the zurna, whose closest relative in the European tradition is the oboe. This dominance of the zurna may be because trumpet was a more familiar sound, particularly in military settings, or it may be because the trumpets did not play as constantly as the zurnas [57]. A Turkish source states that "a prelude (peşrev) or semai cannot be played on the trumpet. One can only keep rhythm (dem) with it" [58]. Since we are discussing an era before the modern valve trumpet, it can be assumed that the instrument was indeed limited in melodic function compared to the zurna, and in fact the comment about keeping rhythm with the trumpet does bring to mind the typical trumpet parts of a Classical-period symphony.

By 1665 the mousquetaires had 3 oboes and 5 drums to each company. The gardes du corps had oboe ensembles that played in four-part harmony, with a curtall (another double reed) playing the bass part. Other militaries, including England’s, soon had their own oboe bands; in Germany the generic term for a bandsman was an Hautboist (the French word for oboist) [59].

Before this earliest Ottoman influence, military music in Western Europe seemed to comprise two separate, and fairly simple traditions; signals and flourishes by trumpets and drums, and simple marching tunes played on fifes or bagpipes [60]. Even this earliest tradition was apparently influenced from the east, however. The Crusades predated the Ottoman Empire but were fought in part against the Seljuk Turks for control of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). One crusader described the battlefield music of the "Saracens" (the Crusader’s term for any Muslim) as "comprising trumpets, clarions, horns, pipes, drums, cymbals – a prodigious array, creating a horrible noise and clamour" [61]. These mehter-like ensembles influenced early European military music, particular the widespread use of a small side-drum (which in medieval Europe was generally called a tabour).

So, what exactly did a late-eighteenth-century European military mean by a "Turkish" band? At first, the term was quite literal. Poland received a full Turkish band from the sultan in 1720 [62]. Later it became common to hire blacks and dress them in outlandish "oriental" costume. This may have been partly because the average white European of that time saw little difference between the exoticism of a black and that of a Turk (literature of the period often refers to Turks as being "dark" or "black"), but it should be noted that, even before the vogue for Turkish music, it had long been customary for the military to hire black trumpeters and drummers [63]. In England, at least, it was still common to hire blacks for the military bands until the 1840’s [64]. Along with the flamboyant costumes, the members of these bands were supposed to perform eye-catching "evolutions" such as twirling and throwing and catching drumsticks. But the main reason they were adopted so enthusiastically by one military after another was the emphasis on loud percussion keeping a steady beat, and the effect of this on the marching (and supposedly also on the morale) of the troops [65]. Turkish music has even been cited as the origin of the band description "oom-pah", with the "oom" and "pah" being the heavy and light beats (in Turkish music, the dum and tek) that were played, in a repeated rhythmic pattern defined by the music, by two different sized sticks on the davul [66].

These imitation "Turkish" bands at first consisted largely of percussion, but as seen in the French example above, Western winds were soon being added in large numbers, as the ensembles quickly evolved into military bands that were very similar to the modern tradition. These ensembles in turn influenced various other community band, dance band, and popular band traditions. Modern jazz musician Dave Brubeck, during a trip to Turkey, composed his "Blue Rondo a la Turk". With an authentic Turkish irregular meter, a melody hinting at Mozart’s famous alla turca rondo, and backed by the traditional jazz drum set, which includes a bass drum and cymbals, this piece is perhaps its own ideal commentary on the influences of Ottoman music that still echo, however faintly, through the West.

Selected Discography

(A selection of some of the recordings studied for this paper, with short listening notes on each.)

Mehter music (Turkey: A Musical journey: Traditional Songs, Dances, and Rituals, EZGI Records as part of Nonesuch Records Explorer Series, 1975) Listening for the characteristics listed by Rice, noted the piercing timbre and homophonic texture of the zurnas, the strongly duple meter, and the cymbals and bass drum articulating the rhythm at the level of the beat, while a higher drum plays a rhythm subdividing the basic beat. The mode does sound minor to Western ears, but there were no noticeable shifts in mode. Rice’s "initial rhythm" of three strong notes at the level of the beat is very noticeable, as is the use of dotted rhythms.

Genç Osman ("Young Osman") Janissary March. (Turkey: Traditional Songs and Music collected & edited by Wolf Dietrich, Lyrichord Discs Inc.) This one did not begin with Rice’s "initial rhythm", but did also feature dotted rhythms. The melody in the zurnas (timbre and texture as expected) is very stepwise, with fast ornamental patterns. Again, the mode sounds minor, but there is no discernable change in mode. Both of these tunes featured short repeated sections, perhaps not long enough for modulations.

Beethoven, Ludwig van. Symphony no. 9 in D minor, op. 125. Ode to Freedom: (Bernstein in Berlin. Deutsche Grammophone, 1990.) The “Turkish march” section of the final movement features Turkische Musik percussion and a dotted-rhythm variation of the melody. Trumpet and piccolo are prominent timbres. The repeated unison note that announces the beginning of the march may be a variation on Rice’s "initial rhythm" or a suggestion of a trumpet call, but the melody stays in the major key and is harmonized, and countermelodies added, in traditional Western style.

Brubeck, Dave. "Blue Rondo a la Turk" Dave Brubeck Quartet: The Great Concerts. CBS Records Inc., 1968. The most noticeable feature of this jazz piece is the time signature, which alternates between 9/8 (in a traditional Turkish 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 pattern) on the head sections and a normal 4/4 American-jazz swing for the improvised sections. The melody is only a suggestion, not a close imitation, of Mozart’s. Sequencing is prominent, but is also a standard feature of jazz.

Haydn, Joseph. Symphony No. 100 in G major "Military". (Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 94 & 100 London Philharmonic Orchestra. The Decca Record Company Limited, 1984.) Triangle, cymbal, and bass drum are added to some sections of the second and fourth movements, near the end of each movement.

Lully, Jean-Baptiste. La Ceremonie des Turcs from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. (Lully – Moliere: les Comedies-Ballets, Marc Minkowski. Erato-Disques, 1988.) A bass drum and tamborine provide color at the beginning, but other musical elements do not suggest any portrayal of the exotic, other than some chanting and unison sing-shouting in the choral parts that sounds (to my ear) extremely parodic. There is one short, very interesting section at the center of this piece (and which returns near the end) in which the “exotic” percussion is added again, dotted rhythms are featured, and a complex series of syncopations manages to strongly suggest irregular meter.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219. (Mozart: Die 5 Violinkonzerte U. A. Perlman/ wiener Philharmoniker/Levine, Polydor International, 1983) The “Turkish” central section of the final movement, does switch to the minor and features stepwise motion when the melody is ornamented, contrasting with melodies with much greater leaps. No features of the rhythm, harmony, timbre, or texture seem to suggest the exotic. Personally, I disagree with both Head and Heartz on the contrast with the very-European minuet sections. The return to the minuet feels to me neither like a triumph or order over chaos or a return of the weak after the strong, but simply a “whew, that was a lot of fun, but it’s time to get back to the opening theme now”. Reactions to the music seem to be too personal to draw any conclusions about Mozart’s intentions.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Sonata No. 11 in A major K. 331. (Mozart: Sonatas – Vol. I, Malcolm Bilson – Fortepiano. Hungaroton, 1989) The third movement, Alla Turca, exhibits a great deal of sequencing. Although the sonata is in A major, the minor mode is prominent, and there are sudden "unprepared" shifts in the key center. Although Western tonality is not abandoned, the melody is often a single line or octaves, without thirds to “sweeten” it for the Western ear, and the accompaniment is persistently rhythmic and at times very percussive.

Rameau, Jean-Philippe. Les Indes Galantes 1st entrée: Le Turc genereux. (Rameau – Les Indes Galantes: Les Arts Florissants William Christie. Harmonia mundi, 1991) Likely because it is both early (premiered in 1735) and French, this “exotic” offering features some special-effects music depicting nature, but nothing at all that I can hear as being purposely Turkish. The possible exception is a prominent tamborine in the final scene, but there are many possible associations that the audience may have had with that instrument, as “exotic” but not necessarily specifically Turkish.


Farmer, Henry George. Military Music. Chanticleer Press. New York, 1950.

Farmer, Henry George. The Rise and Development of Military Music. Books for Libraries Press. Freeport, N.Y., 1912 (1970 reprint).

Goldman, Richard Franko. The Concert Band. Rinehart & Company, Inc., N.Y. – Toronto, 1946.

Goldman, Richard Franko. The Wind Band: Its Literature and Technique. Allyn and Bacon, Inc. Boston, 1961

Goodwin, Jason. Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. Picador. New York, 1998.

Head, Matthew. Orientalism, Masquerade, and Mozart’s Turkish Music. Royal Music Association. London, 2000.

Heartz, Daniel. Haydn, Mozart, and the Viennese School: 1740-1780. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York and London, 1995.

Meterhane: The Military Band of the Turkish Army. Anonymous. Turkiye Turing ve Otomobil Kurumu. Istanbul, 1971(?).

Reinhard, Ursula. "Turkey: An Overview". Garland Encyclopedia of World Music and Dance Volume 6: The Middle East. Editors Virginia Danielson, Scott Marcus, and Dwight Reynolds. Routledge. New York, 2002. p. 759-777.

Rice, Eric. "Representations pf Janissary Music (Mehter) as Musical Exoticism in Western Compositions, 1670-1824". Journal of Musicological Research, 19 (1999), p. 41-88.

Wright, Al. G., and Stanley Newcomb. Bands of the World. The Instrumentalist Co. Evanston, IL 1970.


  1. Head, Matthew. Orientalism, Masquerade, and Mozart’s Turkish Music. (Royal Music Association. London, 2000), p. 57
  2. Rice, Eric. “Representations pf Janissary Music (Mehter) as Musical Exoticism in Western Compositions, 1670-1824”. (Journal of Musicological Research, 19 (1999)), p. 3.
  3. Wright, op.cit. p. 31
  4. Meterhane: The Military Band of the Turkish Army. Anonymous. (Turkiye Turing ve Otomobil Kurumu. Istanbul, 1971), p.30
  5. Meterhane, op.cit. p. 25
  6. Rice, op.cit. p. 46
  7. Meterhane, op.cit. p. 32
  8. Ibid, p. 25
  9. Rice, op.cit. p. 49
  10. Meterhane, op.cit. p. 34
  11. Rice, op.cit. p. 47
  12. Meterhane, op.cit. p. 31
  13. Reinhard, Ursula. “Turkey: An Overview”. (Garland Encyclopedia of World Music and Dance Volume 6: The Middle East. Routledge. New York, 2002), p. 767
  14. Meterhane, op.cit. p. 25
  15. Wright, op. cit. p. 31.
  16. Rice, op.cit. p. 54
  17. Meterhane, op.cit. p. 32
  18. Rice, op.cit. p. 54
  19. Ibid, p. 46
  20. Ibid, p. 52
  21. Heartz, Heartz, Daniel. Haydn, Mozart, and the Viennese School: 1740-1780. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York and London, 1995.p. 628
  22. Rice, op.cit. p. 51
  23. Ibid, p. 51
  24. Ibid, p. 52
  25. Head, op.cit. p. 49
  26. Goodwin, Jason. Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. Picador. New York, 1998), p. 233
  27. Ibid, p. 245
  28. Head, op.cit. p. 35
  29. Reinhard, p. 767
  30. Rice, op.cit. p. 75
  31. Head, op.cit. p. 57
  32. Rice, op.cit. p. 75
  33. Ibid, p. 80
  34. Ibid, p. 63
  35. Ibid, p. 70
  36. Head, op.cit. p. 50
  37. Ibid, p. 11
  38. Ibid, p. 12.
  39. Heartz, op.cit. p. 628
  40. Rice, op.cit. p. 72
  41. Ibid, p. 74
  42. Heartz, op.cit. p. 669
  43. Head, op.cit. p. 50
  44. Rice, op.cit. p. 2
  45. Head, op.cit. p. 27
  46. Ibid, p. 20
  47. Ibid, p. 45
  48. Ibid, p. 3
  49. Heartz, op.cit. p. 628
  50. Rice, op.cit. p. 80
  51. Ibid, p. 48
  52. Head, op.cit. p. 57
  53. Farmer, Henry George. Military Music. (Chanticleer Press. New York, 1950), p. 37
  54. Goldman, Richard Franko. The Concert Band. (Rinehart & Company, Inc., N.Y. – Toronto, 1946), p. 20
  55. Ibid, p. 23
  56. Rice, op.cit. p. 62
  57. Ibid, p. 48
  58. Meterhane, op.cit. p. 33
  59. Farmer, Military Music, p. 20
  60. Goldman, Richard Franko. The Concert Band, p. 22
  61. Farmer, Henry George. The Rise and Development of Mili\tary Music. (Books for Libraries Press. Freeport, N.Y., 1912), p. 12
  62. Farmer, Military Music, p. 35
  63. Ibid, p. 36
  64. Farmer, Henry George. The Rise and Development of Military Music, p. 73
  65. Ibid, p. 71
  66. Rice, op.cit. p. 49

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