'Orientalism' Before 1600  

An International Conference

12-15 JULY, 2001


EMRE ARACI director

East meets West: a musical travelogue through the centuries

Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge,

Friday 13 June 2001

Emre Aracı

The Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies, University of Cambridge

Although it is impossible to put an exact date as to when Turks and Europeans met for the first time musically, it would not be wrong to assume that the earliest contacts were in the battlefields during the crusades. The martial music of the Ottoman janissaries, the Sultan's elite corps, was to have a significant impact on European composers of the 18th and 19th centuries. Their bands, popularly known as Mehter in Turkish, employed mainly percussion instruments such as cymbals, bass drums, kettle drums and bells which were later modified and incorporated into symphony orchestras in Europe - so much so that even today the percussion departments of orchestras are occasionally referred to as the 'Turkish section'. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were all greatly influenced by the sound and hallmarks of this percussive music rich in oriental modes, leaving a rich catalogue of examples - famous works like the Military Symphony, the Rondo alla Turca and Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the Ruins of Athens (with its Turkish March), and the Ninth Symphony. In fact Berlioz described this tradition as "The colourisation of rhythm".

The first four items in tonight's concert are examples of the influence of janissary music on European composers; with the latter two being perhaps more universally known than the first. Marche pour la ceremonie des Turcs comes from Lully's comedie-ballet Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, produced in collaboration with Moliere. It is a fine and an early example of European-Turkish music with strong and repetitive rhythmic patterns almost echoing the march of the janissaries, which the 18th-century German musicologist Christian Schubart described as "No other genre of music requires so firm, decided and overpoweringly predominant a beat. The first beat of each bar is so strongly marked with a new and manly accent that it is virtually impossible to get out of step". Telemann's Klingende Geographie or Singing Geography - an orchestral suite in two volumes, comprising 36 pieces - was composed for his old school friends at the Gymnasium Andreanum in Hildesheim. It is a colourful work which travels around the world with each number being associated with a different region or country. The tour starts in Europe and finally ends on the banks of the Mississipi in America. Three pieces in Vol. II (nos. 31,32 and 33) deal with the Ottoman Empire: European Turkey, the janissaries and Asiatic Turkey. In the third number, also subtitled Mezzetin en Turc, Telemann depicts the hustle and bustle of a Turkish market. Long sustained drone effects, unexpected harmonic shifts and repetitive sevenths are all part of a formulae the composer uses to recreate Turkish music.

Mozart's Rondo alla Turca and Beethoven's Turkish March from the Ruins of Athens need very little introduction; although both items appear in different arrangements in this concert. Originally the last movement of the piano sonata in A major, KV 331, the Rondo alla Turca here is scored for string orchestra with the addition of a mehter çevgen (the jingling johnny) to enhance and show how the percussive effects in Mozart's pianistic writing actually forms a perfect framework to an authentic janissary instrument. The experiment is also continued in Beethoven's Turkish March from the incidental music to The Ruins of Athens composed in 1811 to mark the ceremonial opening of the Royal Municipal Theatre in Pest.

Despite the fact that there is, to an extent, an awareness among European audiences of the Turkish influence on European music, the same cannot be said for the European influence on Turkish music - which seriously started to take root only in the 19th century, and then only in court circles. This neglected field is too significant to be ignored. European music was heard by the Ottoman sultans long before the ninteenth century, of course. In fact one of the earliest recorded evidences of this comes from the sixteenth century when, during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-66), a group of musicians was sent to the Sultan by François I as a goodwill gesture, after the Ottoman ruler supported the French King against the Habsburgs. The Sultan received the musicians at his court and heard them perform, but later ordered them to leave the country, fearing that the kind of intoxicating music they were performing might in the future have a weakening effect on the discipline of his armies. A similar account is given later by George Sandys writing in 1610: 'On a time, the Grand Signior was persuaded to heare some choise Italian Musicke: but the foolish Musicians (whose wit lay only in the ends of their fingers) spent so much time in unreasonable tuning, that he commanded them to avoid, belike esteeming the rest to be answerable' (Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrims, contayning a history of the world in sea voyages and lande travells by Englishmen and others, Glasgow, 1905, Vol. VIII, Ch. 8).

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Ottomans continued their musical contacts with the West in the form also of gifts received from their European counterparts trying to secure trading privileges in the East. One particular item sent to Sultan Mehmed III in 1599 by Queen Elizabeth I of England, was an organ built specially by the English organ builder Thomas Dallam, who installed the instrument at Topkapı Palace in the presence of the Ottoman ruler. Amongst Elizabeth's State Papers, a letter dated 31 January 1599 describes the instrument as a 'great and curious present going to the great Turk which no doubt wilbe talked of, and be very scandalous among other nations, specially the Germanes' (Stanley Mayes, An Organ for the Sultan, London, 1956, p. 19).

Through their ambassadors in the eighteenth century the Ottomans were kept further informed about the musical life of Europe. In his celebrated memoirs, Yirmisekiz Mehmet Çelebi, who was sent to France during the reign of Ahmed III, gives a splendid account of an opera performance he attended while in Paris:

"Apparently there is a famous play which is a speciality of the city of Paris. It is called opera. All the polite company in the city patronise it, even including the King himself. [...] This thing called opera even has a respectable director from the nobility. Because it is very expensive to run, they have even invested state money into it [...] They have shown us such surprising things, that they are impossible to describe; thunders, lightnings and unbelievably strange and weird things" (Şevket Rado, Yirmisekiz Mehmet Çelebi'nin Fransa Seyahatnamesi, Istanbul 1970, pp. 51-53).

It seems that the Ottoman ambassadors not only made observations about the musical life around them, but sometimes were also the source of inspiration for musical compositions, as can clearly be seen in the case of Yusuf Agah Efendi, the first permanent ambassador of the porte to the court of St. James's in 1794. In the holdings of the British Library there is a piece for the 'harpsichord or the pianoforte' entitled The Turkish Ambassador's Grand March by one W.P.R. Cope, no doubt composed to mark the appointment of the new ambassador. Coincidentally or otherwise, Haydn's only 'Turkish' Symphony, the Military, was also first heard in 1794, at the Hanover Square Rooms, 31 March.

These early contacts were important, but they remained at a superficial level. It was not until 1826 that European music began to be taken seriously at the Ottoman court, when that same year the janissary corps was abolished along with their colourful bands to be replaced by a European-style army. In 1828, on the orders of Sultan Mahmud II, Giuseppe Donizetti, the brother of Gaetano Donizetti, the famous opera composer, was invited to become Director of Muzika-yi Humayun, the Imperial Military Music School, established after European models to train the new bandsmen. It appears from the accounts of foreign travellers to Turkey at this time that Donizetti achieved good results in a very short time. The British naval officer Sir Adolphus Slade:

"The strains of a military band, and, unexpected treat to me on the banks of the Bosphorus, we heard Rossini's music, executed in a manner very creditable to Professor Signor Donizetti. We rose and went down to the palace quay, on which the band was playing. I was surprised at the youth of the performers [...] and still more surprised on finding that they were the royal pages, thus instructed for the Sultan's amusement. Their aptitude in learning, which Donizetti informed me would have been remarkable even in Italy, showed that the Turks are naturally musical" (Sir Adolphus Slade, Records of Travels in Turkey, Greece etc, and of a cruise in the Black Sea with Capitan Pasha in the years 1829, 1830 and 1831, p. 135).

A similar entry can also be found amongst the recollections of Hans Christian Andersen, who visited Istanbul in the 1840's:

"Bands of music had been posted at different points, and releived each other at intervals. In general, pieces from Rossini's William Tell were played, but suddenly they were broken off, and the strains of the young Sultan's favourite march were heard. This march had been composed by the brother of Donizetti, who has been appointed band-master here' (Trans. H. W. Duleken, The Complete Illustrated Stories of Hans Christian Andersen, 'Mahomet's Birthday - A scene in Constantinople", Chancellor Press, 1889, p. 835).

Apart from composing popular marches dedicated to his royal patrons, Donizetti also taught the members of the Sultan's family and was instrumental in organising the visits of important musicians to Turkey, such as that of Liszt in 1847. During his well-advertised stay Liszt heard Donizetti's Mecidiye March and composed and played a solo piano piece based on its themes which he called Grand paraphrase ... pour Sa Majesté le sultan Abdul Medjid-Khan (published by Schlesinger of Berlin the following year). The fact that a celebrated virtuoso like Franz Liszt was invited to Constantinople to give a series of concerts at court is an important indicator of the growing popularity of European music in the Ottoman household. Liszt's letter to Countess Marie d'Agoult, dated 17 July 1847, is revealing:

"His Majesty [Abdülmecid] was extremely gracious to me, and after having recompensed me both in money [...] and with a gift (a delightful enamel box with brilliants), he conferred on me the Order of Nichan-Iftikar in diamonds [the scrolled diploma of which is in the Liszt Museum, Weimar]. I admit I was greatly surprised to find him so well informed about my bit of celebrity" (Adrian Williams, Portrait of Liszt, Oxford 1990, p. 236).

In the course of his visit, masterminded by Mustafa Reşit Pasha (the Sultan's Grand Vizier and a moving force behind the Ottoman drive towards Europeanisation) and Lamartine, Liszt stayed in Istanbul for more than a month, playing at the Russian Embassy and Franchini House in addition to private apparances at the palace (the sultant conversing with him in fluent French). For his concerts a 'magnificent' Erard was shipped from Paris, an instrument later sold to a Monsieur Baltaci for 16,000 piastres - who bought it as a gift for his fiancée. Liszt himself informed Erard about the sale, commenting that it was a 'romantic fate' for a 'beautiful instrument'. An amusing incident of the visit was the discovery of a fellow pianist by the name of Listmann, who, having dropped the last syllable of his name, had been giving concerts imposting the famous Klaviertiger. He had even received an award from the Sultan intended for his illustrious contemporary. In consequence, legend has it, the real Liszt was detained and arrested during his entry to the city.

Gaetano Donizetti and Rossini were among the famous composers to write ceremonial marches for the Ottoman sultans. Suprisingly, however, Rossini's Marcia militare dedicated to Abdülmecid, though an important example, is not as well known as it might be. Numerous references to European musical life in Turkey are found in foreign music periodicals of the nineteenth century. A letter sent from Constantinople to La gazette musicale Paris in 1856 reports:

"The European taste for music has, of late, made immense progress here. The Sultan has at present for his harem an excellent orchestra composed of women alone. One in particular, is remarkable for her performance on the violin; her style of execution resembling exceedingly that of Teresa Milanollo [1827-1904]. Very few harems are now without a pianoforte, and many of the Turkish ladies are excellent performers. The Sultan has signified his intention of building a theatre at Tophane".

The theatre mentioned was indeed built, opened as the Dolmabahçe Palace Theatre in 1858. But, tragically, it was reduced to ashes only six years later following a devastating fire. And even more apallingly, its outer shell (all that survived) was demolished in the 1930's to make way for a six-lane thoroughfare.

Since an Italian like Donizetti was responsible for creating a school of music in Turkey, it was naturally Italian music and opera of the time that became popular in the Ottoman court. In fact in a letter to a Signor Dolci in 1846 Donizetti wrote: 'Maybe my son has told you that my Turkish pupils can all sing Italian songs. The Sultan also wanted to see some operettas performed' (Bülent Aksoy, Avrupalı Gezginlerin Gözüyle Osmanlılarda Musıki, İstanbul 1994, s. 214). In fact since the 1830's the brothers Naum, who owned a number of theatres in Péra (modern Beyoğlu), had been bringing opera companies to the city. Almost all the popular Italian operas of the day by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi were heard in Constantinople.

After Donizetti Pasha, during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz, another Italian, Callisto Guatelli, became the Sultan's Master of Music. Likewise given the title of Pasha, he was originally the conductor of an Italian opera group at the Naum Theatre in Istanbul. As well as composing many popular marches Guatelli harmonised traditional examples of Turkish monophonic music. Some examples can be found in a two-volume set of short piano pieces entitled collectively Arie nazionali e Canti popolari Orientali (National Airs and Popular Oriental Songs) published in Constantinople circa. 1850. With certain numbers named after members of the Ottoman royal family, this collection amounts to almost an anthology of miniature portraits.

Aziziye March became Marş-ı Sultani, the Imperial March of Sultan Abdülaziz. Its themes were later incorporated into the Marche de l'Exposition Ottomane along with national airs from Britain and France, the two most important allies of the Ottoman Empire at the time. The march was dedicated to Sadri Azam, Grand Vizier Mehmed Fuad Pasha. From the memoirs of Charles McFarlane in his book Constantinople in 1828, it appears that it was not uncommon to find the sultans' bands playing national airs from foreign lands:

"It was agreeably striking to stand alone in the midst of these Turks, and to listen to well-known strains, that recalled Italy, and many pleasant scenes and dear friends; but this was nothing to the delightfully melancholy sensations I experienced one morning, when the band of the guards struck up an old English air I had not heard for many years..." (Charles McFarlane, Constantinople in 1828, London, 1829, Vol. II, pp.170-171).

Despite the general conception that Sultan Abdülaziz had no taste for European music, some piano works by him with titles like Invitation à la valse, La harpe caprice and La gondole barcarolle were published by the Italian publishing house of F. Lucca in Milan. Although these pieces are not adequate to establish him as a composer of great music, they nevertheless show the growing importance of the fashionable European music of the time for the Ottoman household. Abdülaziz, who donated handsomely to Richard Wagner's Bayreuth funds, also attended a number of opera performances during his European trip in 1867, including a performance of Auber's Masaniello at Covent Garden. In fact according to The Times report of 15 July 1867 amongst other works by composers such as Meyerbeer, Auber, Gounod and Donizetti, La Gondole Barcarolle "composed by His Imperial Majesty the Sultan" was performed by the band of the Grenadier Guards, under the baton of Dan Godfrey, at a dinner given by the Prince of Wales at the Marlborough House in his honour on 13 July 1867.

Murad V was probably the most accomplished composer of European music among the Ottoman sultans. His unpublished works - written principally for the piano in the popular dance forms of the nineteenth century, the polkas, polka-mazurka, waltz and quadrille - run to hundreds of pages. After his brief three-month sultanate in 1876, Murad was imprisoned in the Palace of Çırağan, where for the rest of his life, until his death in 1904, he continued to compose. Some of these pieces were dedicated to his friends and family members. The reason given for his dethronement at the time was madness.

Despite a strong influence of European music on the Ottomans period during the nineteenth century, it is interesting to note that a national school of composition did not take shape in Turkey until after the proclamation of the Republic in 1923 - in contrast to developments a hundred years previously in Russia and the Slavonic lands. The reason for this may be related to the fact that, aside from those composers of the Christian minorities who occasionally attempted to write operas based on Ottoman themes, there was no proper middle- class in Ottoman society. The average Turk in the street could neither read nor write let alone indulge in any musical activity apart from their own regional folk traditions. For the upper- classes music was a form of entertainment and, even if some of their members composed, they remained as amateurs.

The other interesting aspect of European musical life in Ottoman Turkey is that it was for so long dominated by Italian opera and military band music. The popularity of Italian opera seems to have been due to the large number of Latins living in the Ottoman Empire, and to the influence of Italian court musicians employed by the sultans. It was not until 1918 that symphony concerts including the works of the Austro-German symphonists began to take place in Constantinople, with an orchestra founded at the Imperial Military Music School. And it was only during the Great War that a German orchestra first visited the Ottoman capital, reciprocated by a visit of the Ottoman court orchestra to Berlin and Dresden in 1918. It needed the proclamation of the Republic under Kemal Atatürk's rule, and the implementation of music reforms based on European principles, for Western music to become more accessible to wider audiences in Turkey, culminating in the creation of a distinctive modern Turkish school of composition.

Essay © Dr. EMRE ARACI, 2000

This is an abridged/modified version of an essay which was originally published in the accompanying booklet to the CD entitled European Music at the Ottoman Court (Kalan Records, 2000)

Emre Aracı was born in Ankara in 1968. He started his music training at a very young age, as a piano pupil of Rana Erksan in Istanbul, only devoting himself seriously, however, once turned eighteen. During this time he briefly studied the piano with Gülseren Sadak, music theory with Okan Demiriş and conducting with Ilarion Ionescu-Galati, before going on to read music at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with a BMus (Hons.) degree in 1994. Also at Edinburgh, sponsored by Lady Lucinda Mackay and the Inchcape Foundation, he later completed a doctorate on the life and works of the seminal 20th century Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun. Emre Aracı has lectured on Turkish-European musical exchange at venues ranging from the Boston Public Library and New York University to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the University of Cambridge. He contributes regularly to Turkish newspapers and journals as well as English-language periodicals including The Musical Times, International Piano Quarterly and Cornucopia. He is currently Research Associate at the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies, Newnham College, University of Cambridge, where his research on European music at the Ottoman court is sponsored by the Türk Ekonomi Bankası. As a composer, his works include Elegy for Erkel (1993), Farewell to Haluk (1994), Marche funèbre et triomphale (1995), a violin concerto (1997), premiered in London in November 1999, and The Turkish Ambassador's Grand March (1998). Based in the United Kingdom since 1987, he founded the Edinburgh University String Orchestra in 1992 and is Director of the London Academy of Ottoman Court Music, which he established in 1998. Emre Aracı also recorded two CDs with this group entitled European Music at the Ottoman Court - released in Turkey by Kalan records in August 2000 - and War and Peace Crimea: 1853-56 to be released in the autumn. He has given similar thematic concerts with the Sarajevo Academy of Music, Istanbul Technical University and Borusan Chamber Orchestras and most recently with the London Academy of Ottoman Court Music at London's St John's Smith Square which was enthusiastically received.


Violin 1
Peter Fisher (leader)
Joseph Frohlich
Tim Myall
Christopher Koh
Violin 2
Gavin Davies
Craig Stratton
Reiad Chibah
Catherine Shave
Nick Allen
Paul Brunner
Andy Wood
Mark Taylor