The Turk on the Opera Stage

A History of a Musical Cliché

Thesis (M.A.), 2009

117 Pages, Grade: 2.0




1. Introduction

2. The Turks
2.1 Historical Overview
2.1.1 Rise
2.1.2 and Fall of the Ottoman Empire
2.2 The Opinion of Europeans

3. Turkish Music and its Imitations
3.1 Military Music
3.1.1 Janissary Music Instrumentation Music Reception
3.1.2 Alla Turca Style
3.2 Other Styles
3.3 After the late 18th Century

4. Overview of Operas
4.1 Italian
4.2 French
4.3 English
4.4 German
4.5 Interim Results

5. “ Opera-Turks ” in Detail
5.1 Monarchs
5.1.1 The Historical Monarch Handel’s Bajazet Rossini’s Maometto II
5.1.2 The Generous Pasha Mozart’s Bassa Selim Weber’s Sultan Harun Neefe’s Pasha
5.1.3 The Cruel Pasha Mozart’s Soliman Lortzing’s Ali Pasha Weber’s “Turkish Rulers” Wranitzky’s Pasha
5.2 Guards and Henchmen
5.2.1 Mozart’s Osmin
5.2.2 Weber’s Omar
5.2.3 Gluck’s Calender
5.2.4 Neefe’s Mehmet
5.3 Funny and Stupid Turks
5.3.1 Haydn’s “Fake Turks” in “Lo Speciale”
5.3.2 Gluck’s Osmin
5.3.3 Cornelius’ Barber
5.3.4 Lully’s Turkish Ceremony
5.3.5 Gluck’s Cadi
5.3.6 Rossini’s Mustafa
5.4 Women
5.4.1 Weber’s “Oberon”
5.4.2 Gluck’s Slaves
5.4.3 Mozart’s Zaide
5.5 Miscellaneous Elements
5.5.1 Lully’s Turkish Ceremony
5.5.2 Gluck’s “La Rencontre imprevue”
5.5.3 Rameau’s “Les Indes Galantes”
5.5.4 Mozart’s “Entführung aus dem Serail”
5.5.5 Lortzing’s “Ali Pasha”
5.5.6 Neefe’s “Adelheit von Veltheim”
5.5.7 Weber’s “Abu Hassan”
5.5.8 Weber’s “Oberon or The Elf King’s Oath”
5.5.9 Wranitzky’s “Oberon, König der Elfen”
5.5.10 Spohr’s “Zemire und Azor
5.5.11 Gluck’s “Le Cadi dupe”
5.6 Résumé

6. Conclusion


Appendix A: Synopses and Histories of Origins

Cornelius’ „Der Barbier von Bagdad“

Gluck’s “Le Cadi dupé”

Gluck’s “La Rencontre imprévue ou Les Pèlerins de la Mecque”

Handel’s “Tamerlane”

Haydn’s “Lo Speciale”

Lortzing’s “Ali Pascha”

Lully’s “Le Bourgeois gentilhomme”

Mozart’s “Entführung aus dem Serail”

Mozart’s “Zaide”

Neefe’s “Adelheit von Veltheim”

Rameau’s “Les Indes Galantes”

Entrée I: Les Turc généreux

Entrée III: Les Fleur

Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri”

Rossini’s “Maometto secondo”

Spohr’s „Zemire und Azor“

Weber’s “Abu Hassan”

Weber’s “Oberon or The Elf King’s Oath”

Wranitzky’s “Oberon, König der Elfen”

Appendix B: Tables



Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Introduction

Beginning in 1389 with the Battle of Kosovo, the Ottoman Empire and the major European Nations faced their first military confrontation against each other. It marks the starting point in a long series of battles that were to follow. As centuries passed by, the Turks manage several military victories but were finally defeated in 1683 when they besieged Vienna. However, the wars created a certain image of the Turks in the mind of the people who suffered from their attacks. Moreover, even be- fore the existence of the Ottoman Empire, Europeans had military con- tact with Turkish troops. During the first crusade at the end of the 11th century, European crusaders were fighting against the Seljuqs, a Tur- kish dynasty, in order to recapture Jerusalem. The following crusades were also marked by fights against the Turks. This encounter led to an image of the Turks which can be described as brutal, heretical and un- civilized. The perception changed over the course of time, depending on how threatening the foreign aggressors were seen and in which as- pects of Turkish culture the people were interested in.

Artists sought up the atmosphere and elaborated the common opinion on the Turks in their works. Musicians who wrote operas were no ex- ception. For a long time exotic elements were a stimulus for creating musical pieces. Since the people feared the Turkish menace, integrat- ing concepts of Turkish origin into operas was only a natural step for composers. In the beginning, composers just inserted Turkish roles into operas that were written entirely in European style. As time passed by, the European soldiers got in contact with Turkish troops and their habit to send music bands with them, which eventually led to the invention of the alla turca style which was also integrated into operas.

But how was this used to characterize the Turks on stage? How were the Turks characterized on stage? How did the roles they presented on stage changed over time? Are there certain trends which allow us to divide the timeline into distinctive parts?

This thesis is about the presentation of the Turks in operas of the West- ern European nations. I will have a look at which different roles where used to describe the Turks. In the sense of this paper the term “Turk” does not restrict its perspective to the area of the modern Republic of Turkey. As, for example, Preibisch (1908, p13) notes: during the 18th century composers did not distinguish between, for example, Persia and Turkey. Pahlen (1980, p12) even suggests that the whole Arabian community was regarded as Turkish. Moreover, except other Arabian countries sometimes even China and India were regarded as “Turkey” (Whaples 1998, p4). To be precise, this inaccuracy can be applied to a lot of other countries that were part of the Ottoman Empire like Egypt, Algeria, and so on. However, although some of the operas that will be discussed in this paper do not play in Turkey or contain Turkish charac- ters but are placed in neighboring countries of the Ottoman Empire or contain characters from these countries, these works will also be dis- cussed because from the perspective of our ancestors, they all display Turkish elements. The definition of Turkish that will be used in this pa- per is therefore similar to that used by Griffel (1975, p85ff) and is based on a rather dynamic concept. This means, when analyzing an opera concerning its “Turkishness”, the common perspective of the time has to be kept in mind.

Apart from that, I will analyze how the typical characters changed over the course of time keeping in mind the historical background. This is achieved by comparing similar characters from different operas with each other.

As we will see, basically the timeline can be separated in three different parts. In the baroque-period the Turks were generally viewable in heroic roles which fitted to the concept of the opera seria. Then, the upcoming of the opera buffa made it possible to exaggerate elements of Turkish culture and characters in order ridicule them. On the other side, due to the beliefs of the Era of Enlightenment, Turkish characters were used as a mean to show the deficiencies of European culture.

After that, deeper contact with Turkish music and culture led to the de- velopment of a great variety of different “Turkish” persons that were put on the opera stage. During the Romantic period, composers liked to create dreamlands which had their origin in the stories of “1001 Nights”.

In the end, however, the step to analyze oriental culture with scientific methods led to the demystification of the romantic image the people had about Turkish and Oriental culture. In this paper we will see how this development took place. Another aspect of this paper is to give an overview of the musical techniques composers used in order to achieve their desired intention.

This thesis is structured as followed: 2 will give a short historical over- view on the relations between the Turks and Western Europe. Having this knowledge will make it easier to understand why certain changes of the presentation of Turks in operas were made. Apart from that a sum- mary of the opinion of Europeans on Turks will be provided. In 3 I will have a look at Turkish music and its “Turkish” imitations, which means I will show how the original music was like, what Europeans did with it and which aims they had by doing so. 4 contains a comprehensive overview of different operas that contain Turkish elements which were written in Europe. It is supposed to deliver a historical survey and com- pletes all the information needed to have a look at single operas. It will not be possible to analyze all the operas that are listed in this chapter due to the vast amount and accessibility of works.

Having acquired knowledge about the basic fundamental tools, it is then possible to start the analysis of the operas in 5. Here I will present a more detailed view of different operas. In this chapter I will pick several works and analyze their presentation of Turks. This part is considered to be the main part of my thesis. It is structured by the different roles the Turks had on the opera stage. We will see that there are a few very popular stereotypes that were used again and again. Finally, in 6 I will have a look back at what we have learned so far and provide a conclu- sion on the topic. Since some of the operas that will be discussed are rather unknown I have put the synopses and the histories of origins of all the operas that will be discussed in 5 into the appendix. I highly rec- ommend reading the relevant synopsis before reading the analysis of the characters. Moreover I added a list of all “Turkish” operas to the Ap- pendix that I have found.

2. The Turks

In order to understand the presentation of the Turks in operas it is im- portant to have a look at the relationship between the Turks and the European countries. One important special aspect of the relationship between the Turks and the Europeans is that they represent two very different cultural and religious concepts. In ancient times, both sides regarded the other as infidels, which made a military confrontation in- evitable.

2.1 Historical Overview

In this chapter I will have a look at the history of the relations between the Turks and the Western European Nations. This will not cover a de- tailed of the Turks engagements in Asia or power struggles within the Empire. I will merely focus on those parts that are of interest for my purpose. For a comprehensive overview I suggest Faroqhi (2001) or Matuz (1994).

2.1.1 Rise …

Before the Ottoman Empire was founded, the Middle East was sepa- rated into several small kingdoms. One of the first military encounter between some of these kingdoms and Europeans were the crusades. The first crusade was initiated by Pope Urban II. During this and the following ones, the European crusaders made intense contact with the Turks in their home area. The skirmishes led to a certain image of Turks which hardly changed during the centuries which followed. One reason for this is that the Roman Catholic Church was highly interested in creating such a picture and did everything to convey their attitude by massive propaganda.

After the crusades, the Turks became active themselves now being united under the flag of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was founded by Osman I. who reigned from 1299-1326. He declared independence of his country in 1299.

In the beginning of the 14th century, the Empire was only a small princedom which fought for supremacy against a lot of other prince- doms. Since sources from that time are scarce, it is hard to reconstruct the exact military movements the Turks made in the beginning (Faroqhi 2001, p16). However, it is only important to note that the Empire grew stronger and was able to conquer the surrounding areas. Until the middle of the 15th century the Ottoman Empire covered most of the Balkan region and continued spreading in all directions. One of the major important dates that marks the starting point of the relations be- tween Europe and the High Porte was 1453 when Constantinople, the modern Istanbul, fell to the hands of the Turks. Until 1514 the Turkish Pasha Selim I pushed the Ottoman’s expansion eastwards and towards Africa, which added Iran and Egypt to the area of the Empire. With the accession to the throne by Suleiman the Magnificent, son of Selim I, in 1520 the Ottoman’s expansion towards Europe continued and things began to get interesting. The Hungarians were defeated in 1526 which led to a long-lasting military conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Hapsburgs.

The Turks besieged Vienna in 1529 for a short time but were repelled successfully. In 1535, France signed a trade treaty which integrated the Ottomans into Central European politics. Another reason for France’s interest in the Turks was seeking an ally against the House of Habs- burgs, its main competitor in mainland Europe. (Faroqhi 2001, p38). Their alliance went so far that in 1543 a Turkish-French fleet conquered Nice. The Turks’ hostility with the Hapsburgs even led to trade relations with the United Kingdom in the end of the 16th century which mainly covered the trade of resources needed in the arms industry. In 1571 the military superiority of the Ottomans was questioned when they lost the battle of Lepanto to Venice.

Until that time, the Ottoman’s conquered a lot of regions that were inha- bited by people from other cultures and religions. It is true that non- Muslims were victims of discrimination. According to Faroqhi (2001, p48ff) non-Muslims had to pay cizye, a form of capitation, and did not have the same rights in court as Muslims. However, in reality these rules were not always enforced and non-Muslims enjoyed a great free- dom in choosing their religion.

2.1.2 … and Fall of the Ottoman Empire

Beginning in the end of the 16th century and until the Middle of the 17th century the Empire was shaken by conflicts from within. Bandits that worked for governors threatened the unity of the country. Moreover, a high inflation during the 1580s and 90s, the weakness of the Pashas Mehmet III and his son Murat III and a long war against Austria, which lasted for more than 15 years, also destabilized the country (Matuz 1994, p142ff). The government was forced to increase tax payments in order to finance the war which led to unrests among the citizens. Sum- ming up, the Empire lost a lot of its former (military) power and began to decay. At the same time the Janissaries became weaker and weaker. Once being the military Elite troop of the Empire, greed and decadence transformed it into a corrupt and useless military unit.

The situation improved under the reign of grand vizier Köprülü Mehmet Pascha (1656-1661) and his son Köprülü Fazil Ahmet (1661-1676). The Empire was stabilized and the conflict with the Hapsburgs began to in- tensify. The consolidation was suspended under the reign of the tyran- nical Kara Mustapha Pasha (1676-1683). He was far more ambitious concerning military actions than his predecessors but underestimated the technological advancements the other European nations had made. Under his regency, the Empire went to war with Russia and Austria. France played a special role in this. In the beginning of the 17th century their relationship intensified, but during the whole time the main inten- tion remained the same: Putting military pressure on the Hapsburgs. Such a practical way of thinking had its price. The relation was not so harmonious during the whole time. From time to time the Turkish Sultan put French diplomats into jail. The relationship began to improve in 1669 when the Turks sent their first mission to France (Betzwieser 1993, p23).

A few years later, the “Great Turkish War”, which lasted from 1683 to 1699, began. On the one side there was the alliance of France, Sweden and the Ottomans and on the other side there was the House of Habs- burg which represented Austria, Russia and Venice. At the beginning, the Turks put Vienna under siege. Although the city was totally outnum- bered by the aggressors1, the Ottomans were defeated with help from Germany and Poland. Unlike after the first siege of Vienna in 1529, the Hapsburgs now had the resources to go after the retreating Turks and managed to reconquer Hungary. The Turks were only saved from a to- tal defeat by the intervention of France which broke its peace treaty with Austria. The Austrians had to relocate their forces, which helped the Turks to retreat.

Beginning from that point their influence declined more and more in the upcoming decades due to smaller battles with European countries. The Europeans anticipated that the Ottoman Empire was not invincible and started coordinated attacks.

Apart from that, problems within the Empire weakened its stability. Many of the countries which were conquered and became part of the Empire in the centuries before, now claimed their independence which eventually led to the fall of the once so mighty Ottoman Empire. In 1821, the Greeks started a civil war against their masters and gained inde- pendence in 1831. The situation even changed so much that in the 19th century, Egypt turned its back on its former occupiers. In the aftermath, structural problems in the administration and the armed forces lead to the loss of territories in Asia too. The final stab came during the First World War when Turkey received its current shape. Since a detailed description of this period of time is not needed for the understanding of the presentation of the Turks on the opera stage I will end this historical excursus here and will turn to the opinion the Europeans had of the Turks.

2.2 The Opinion of Europeans

The military aggressiveness of the Turks and the propaganda and sup- port of the Roman Catholic Church led to the creation of a certain pic- ture of character and culture of the Turks in the minds of the Europeans. Especially the influence of the time of the crusades lasted very long. Back in the days, fighting against the Muslims became a holy obligation for Europeans which was rewarded with indulgence. Turks and Muslims (200.000 Turks vs. 20.000 defenders) were regarded as “Erz- und Erbfeinde” and their prophet Mohammed was called “Erzbetrüger” (Wilson 1984, p17).

Although not so popular on the opera stage, dramatic works based on crusade plots were still written in the 18th century. One example for this is Lessing’s “Minna von Barnhelm”. This shows that the image created by the church lasted over centuries and is still perceivable nowadays. A main factor for this was that the Turks themselves fostered the devel- opment of this picture by their aggressive military advancement. Even when the Ottoman Empire began to decay, and the Turks were not an- ymore seen as a military threat, the distorted image of the Turks seemed inextinguishable (ibid., p20).

However, if we have a look at operas we find other elements of Turkish culture like, for example, Harem, religion or abstinence which show us that at least some knowledge about their culture was present to the composers which did not concern the military aspect. These aspects were also used by the church to show that their religion, the Islam, al- lowed obscure and sinful behavior. In the case of Harems the sin of promiscuity was addressed. Abstinence on the other hand was used in order to show that the Turks did not even take own religious principles seriously when they are presented on the stage drinking alcohol. For Europeans such a rule must have been absurd since their church re- garded wine as Jesus’ blood, which has to be drunk during Lord’s Sup- per.

Moreover, even during times of war European adventurers and travelers left their home country to experience foreign culture at first hand. The notes about their experiences became quite popular in Europe although language problems and ignorance sometimes led to a misinterpretation of Turkish customs.

The ambivalence of the Europeans attitude towards Turks and their cul- ture becomes evident when analyzing how European culture was influ- enced by Turkish culture. Especially France, which shared a rather friendly history with the Turks due to their military cooperation, was a forerunner for the integration of Turkish styles into their own. There this trend was called turquerie, which also spread to other countries during the following decades. The problem with this was that only some ele- ments of Turkish culture which were regarded as very en-vogue were imitated. This concerned luxury foods, like coffee, fruits or spices, and fashion, like turbans or garments. This picture was fostered by stories from oriental countries that were written in the style of “1001 Nights”. It was mainly this work which led to a change of the perception of Turks. Turkey was not seen anymore as a country where the antichrist lived, but as a region full of exotic places, adventures and mysteries (ibid. p21ff).

Moreover, the ambivalence also existed among scientists. On the one hand there was a great interest in analyzing Turkish language, culture, religion and literature. But on the other hand this approach was not done in order to falsify the prejudices but in order to fortify ones own cultural superiority.

At the end of this inspection, let me summarize the European’s attitude of Turks. First of all, the Turks were seen as barbaric and uncivilized opponents. This image does not surprise, keeping in mind the several encounters on the battlefield. Second, they were seen as unrestrained persons who had a rather different relationship to sex. Third, they were regarded as heretics who followed the wrong religion. The opinion changed during the course of time which explains why later on, Turkish emperors were displayed as generous people on stage.

We can say that most “Turkish” operas were written at a time when the political and cultural relationships between Turkey and Europe changed a lot. This change was characterized by the decay of the Ottoman Em- pire and it is appellative that most of such operas were written between 1768 and 1774 during the Russian-Turkish war. This war showed how weak and helpless the Ottoman Empire had become after centuries of supremacy (Wilson 1984, p32ff.).

At the end of this overview I want to sensitize the reader not to make the same mistakes as the Europeans did during the time of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks were seen as brutal and thoroughly militaristic people. However, were the Europeans so much different? The Chris- tians were very intolerant towards followers of other religions. It was the Europeans who started the crusades and who left their home countries to enslave people from their colonies. What I want to say is that the Turks were hardly any more brutal than the Europeans and their objec- tives for their military advancement were hardly more noble or justifiable. The negative connotation was only added by the opinion of the Euro- peans.

3. Turkish Music and its Imitations

When talking about Turks on the opera stage it is not only important to look at the characters that are presented, but it is also important to ana- lyze the means that were used in the music. The music of Turkey and Western Europe did not share a common history, so the styles that were developed differed from each other in a lot of ways. A big problem was that Turkish music was normally improvised. Therefore, there were only very few scores of music that composers could study. One of the earliest original pieces that were available was printed in 1668 and con- tained three original melodies published by Giovanni Battista Donado (Ringer 1984, p89).

In the early 18th century, composers had to rely on the information they got from persons who listened to such music and then draw their own conclusions on it. The types of music Europeans were acquainted with were, very limited in the initial stage but grew as time passed by. When the Ottomans were defeated and retreated from Western and Central Europe, they not only left ruins and corpses, but also a new impulse on music, which George called “luft von einem anderen Planeten” (George cit. by Ringer 1984, p86). The European music of the 18th century had rather monotonic rhythms which changed when European composers integrated elements of Turkish music into their pieces. And even Bach seemed to have known some original Turkish melodies. When compar- ing some of his pieces with original ones, melodic similarities can be found (Ringer 1984, p86).

However, since European composers did not have the chance of being raised in the Ottoman Empire, their music written in Turkish style could only try to imitate the original. In this chapter I will have a look at how the original Turkish music looked like and what Europeans did with it when they tried to copy it. I will start my explanation with describing the most well known and popular type that was used back in the days, namely the military music. After that I will also have a look at other styles which were also known but not as popular.

3.1 Military Music

In this chapter I will have a look at the music of the Janissary troops of the Ottoman Empire and how the Alla turca style developed from it.

3.1.1 Janissary Music

One of the first types of Turkish music the Europeans got acquainted with was Janissary music. An interesting point concerning the “Turkish- ness” of Janissary music is that it is not as Turkish as the composers of the 18th century believed. The Janissaries were recruited from captured Christians and formed this military elite troop. The term derives from the Turkish word yeniceri which means ‘ new troop ’ (Jäger 1996, c1316). The (at best) superficial connection between the Janissaries and Tur- kish culture and the role of Janissary music as military music make it a controversial representative of Turkish music. However, the contempo- raries were ignorant of such details and in their eyes the point of origin was not relevant for their ambition to mock Turkish culture. Surprisingly, this lack of knowledge does not extend to other aspects of Janissary music. Europeans of the 16th century already knew about instrumenta- tion and music-making from pictures and travel reports (ibid., c1324). Instrumentation

But let us get back to how the Europeans got to know this style of music. As mentioned earlier, contact with Turkish culture was in great parts through war. Since the Turks had the habit to strengthen the morale of their troops by supporting it with a mehter, the defending units were al- so in the position to listen to this type of music. Moreover, extensive cultural exchange in the 18th century included also exchange in the area of music. Sometimes mehters were given to European courts as presents or were even ordered by European monarchs, like for example by the Polish and the Russian courts in the 1720s (Hunter 1998, p43). And even Austria had the opportunity to hear an original mehter when in 1665 the Turkish emissary Kara Mehmed Aga came to Vienna and brought such a band with him (Jäger 1996, c1324).

A mehter was a music band which could vary in size, depending on the importance of the situation and the availability of musicians and instru- ments. However, it normally consisted of about 50 players (Schmitt 1988, p261). The term is derived from the Persian words mih (big) and ter (very big) (Jäger 1996, c1318). It is not sure when the first mehter in its standard instrumentation was founded since military music had a long tradition in the Turkish Empire. However, due to the special con- nection of the mehters and the Janissaries, the founding date of the elite troop (1329) may give us a vague idea about when the first mehter started working.

There weren’t any special restrictions on the size of a typical mehter but normally there were about nine players of each instrument in a mehter. In Figure I we can see a typical mehter:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure I: Mehter (

The instruments of a typical mehter were (the numbers refer to those in Figure I):

1. zurna: The zurna is a double-reed wind instrument. A distant rel- ative of the oboe. In a mehter the big zurna and the small zurna were normally used. One player stood in front of the others and led the group.
2. davul: The davul is a double headed drum which was often used for accompanying the zurna.
3. boru: The boru is a type of trumpet without valves or finger holes. Since the range of the boru is quite limited it is assumed that a boru player normally brought several instruments along which were tuned differently.
4. nakkare: The nakkare is the second type of drum that was used in a mehter. These kettledrums were normally made of copper.
5. zil: The zils are cymbals.
6. cagana: The cagana is the Turkish version of a crescent

Besides these six instruments there were others which were also used occasionally but were not essential for a complete band. These were for example the düdüg ü, a type of flute, the kös, the biggest drum that was used by bands of the Turkish military or the def, another, smaller, type of drum (ibid., c1320).

As can be seen from this list, a mehter mainly consisted of percussion instruments. Since the boru had a limited range, the zurna was the instrument that was normally used for playing melodies.

In 1826 the Janissaries were annihilated, and with them their music. Sultan Mahmud II decided to westernize Turkish military music and in- vited Giuseppe Donizetti to become the Chief Imperial Music Director. After that, Turkish military music never returned to the style it had under the Janissaries. Music

Apart from instrumentation, it is also important to have a look at the musical specialties that characterize this style. From the instrumentation we can already make a guess on how it must have sound like. The great number of percussion instruments suggests a strong focus on rhythm. If we remind ourselves of the function the music had to serve, this guess is even strengthened: Being mainly heard on the battlefield, the soldiers were hardly in the position to enjoy complex harmonic de- velopments or the processing of musical motifs. Considering these cir- cumstances, the music had to be simple concerning several aspects. And indeed, if we have a look at the real Janissary music, our suspi- cions are proved right. However, since the music was normally impro- vised and hardly notated, it is difficult to reconstruct the real sound.

One important concept of Turkish music, and Janissary music in special, is the usul. The usul is basically the rhythmic pattern that forms the basis of a Turkish piece. It was repeated continuously and structured the music. These rhythms must not necessarily be very complex, but could also have been of very simple structure like for example: halfnote/quarter-note/half (Hunter 1998, p43ff). Reception

Due to its special characteristics and the low opinion on Turkish culture, the reception of Janissary music by Europeans was not very warming. The scales used by the mehters, the lack of harmony and the strong focus on rhythm were confusing for Western ears.During that time, Eu- ropeans were persuaded of the superiority of their own music so the lack of polyphony and other complexities were regarded as something inferior. It is interesting to note that the Turks on the other side were confused when they first listened to music written by European com- posers. Sultan Ahmed III for example heard a French band and re- quested them to leave after they ended playing (Griffel 1975, p92). Their musical system lacked Western concepts like harmony or poly- phony and therefore such elements must have been irritating for some- one who hears them for the first time. Ignorance and disinterest in the foreign on both sides were reasons for such behavior. This explains why the composers who tried to imitate Turkish style were not much concerned about musical details. The people liked, feared and looked down on this, in their ears, primitive style and demanded to hear music which would also trigger these emotions, so the composers delivered music written in:

3.1.2 Alla Turca Style

Whaples (Whaples cit. by Hunter 1998, p49) uses the term “wrong- note-style ” to define alla turca style. By this she means that everything that contradicted the accepted composition styles of that time could po- tentially be regarded as Turkish. We will see that the answer is not that simple.

The concept of alla turca style was established during the classical period. A forerunner of such music may be found in the music of Lully. Lully writes in his “Le burgeois gentilhomme” in the ceremonial scene that he wanted a “instruments à la turque” (Acte IV, Quatrième Intermede, I. Entrée). We will have a more detailed look at the instrumentation in this opera later on. If we compare his attempt with the later invented alla turca style, we can find some similarities.

The contact with the military music of the Janissary troops led to the invention of this “Turkish ” style. In order to achieve a sound that should remind the listeners of the music of mehters, composers had two possi- ble approaches. First, like Lully, they could use instruments that were similar to those used by the Turks. Travelogues sometimes provided detailed descriptions of the instruments the mehters used. Moreover soldiers who fought against the Ottoman army were also able to get in contact with these things. The percussion instruments were replaced by cymbals, triangles, drums and bells and the melody was played by pic- colos. On the prime of the popularity of Alla turca style during late 18th century, piano manufacturers even made pianos which were upgraded with percussion instruments that sounded the same time when a key was pressed and a stop was activated. However, this trend was popular for only a short period of time (Hunter 1998, p45).

Second, beside of the instrumentation, composers could use elements that were supposed to be characteristic of Janissary music. Reinhard made a list of 14 elements that he considers as representing Janissary music in Mozart’s oeuvre (based on Reinhard 1974, p520ff):

1. The music is often written in duple-meter.
2. Marked accents on strong beats.
3. Forte is preferred.
4. Accompaniment is simple concerning rhythm.
5. Simple harmonies.
6. Drones that are achieved by repetition of notes.
7. A dominating harmony is suspended by monotone accompani- ment and octave doubling of the melodic line.
8. Ornaments
9. Using thirds as melodic outline.
10. Melody develops in steps.
11. Sections of scales can be found frequently.
12. Short motifs.
13. Multiple repetitions of motifs.
14. Frequent use of sequences.

Moreover, apart from these elements, the use of triple notes was also very common in alla turca style (Hunter 1998, p48). What we do see from this list is that there is no counterpart to the usul. Although it is not clear why it was not imitated, Hunter (1998, p49) notes that one reason might be that the other characteristics of Janissary music were easy to imitate by European tools while this one was not.

If we have a look at pieces that are written alla turca, we find that many of these elements can be found. Works from composers like Gluck, Haydn or Mozart are only a few of those that we will have a look at later. However, it is important to note that this kind of music’s purpose was to sound Turkish for people from Western Europe of that time. Concerning the originality, it might be interesting to note that Achmed Effendi, Tur- kish envoy in Berlin 1763, attended a “Turkish concert” and regarded it as not being Turkish (Schubart 1784). Of course, as Effendi listened to western Janissary music written prior to Mozart’s music, we will proba- bly never know if the envoy would have reached a different conclusion had he listened to a performance of “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”.

And Mozart is indeed a good source for music written in Alla Turca style. He composed quite a few pieces of music which try to resemble Turkish music. There is his Rondo Alla Turca of the piano sonata KV331 which is entirely written in Turkish style which is one of the most popular classical pieces ever composed. In the following sample we can see how he used the elements from the list:

Sample 1a: Mozart: Piano Sonata Kv. 331, 3rd mvmt., mm. 1-4

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Sample 1b: Mozart: Piano Sonata Kv. 331, 3rd mvmt., mm. 30-35

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Except this work, in which the music is labeled as what it is supposed to sound like, elements of janissary music can be found in passages of other works like the final movement of the violin concerto KV219 or the aria ‘ Fin ch'han dal vino ' from Don Giovanni (Perl 2001, p221ff). How- ever, the most distinctive compositions may be his operas that are placed in Turkish scenery. Unfortunately Mozart finished only one of his Turk operas, namely “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (KV 384). “Zaide” (KV 334) remains unfinished.

However, Mozart was not the only one who wrote “Turkish” music. De- pending on its popularity, composers were more or less active to write such music. Alla turca music was written for all kinds of ensembles. Starting from music written for solo instruments like the piano, such mu- sic was also written for string quartets or even symphony orchestras. Beethoven for example integrated a “Turkish” passage into the Finale of his ninth symphony.

The reasons why the music of the 18th century seems incapable of in- corporating real elements of Turkish music are quite simple. First, the composers had only brief contact with Turkish music. Their main source of information was (at best) Janissary music, which represented only a marginal phenomenon of Turkish music, or (second best) elements oth- er European composers used to convey Turkish spirit. Second, the composers wanted to show the superiority of their own culture and mu- sic over those of the foreigners. By doing this they had to exclude any elements that would have not supported this aim. Therefore, a critical examination was not needed and not wished (Stegemann 1995, c228). As we will see later, this intention to trivialize foreign culture is also present in the illustration of Turks in operas of that time. The music is used to support and underline the barbaric and primitive nature of these people. This was even the case after the disbandment of the Janissa- ries in 1826. Even in 1870 people regarded instruments which were former used to play Turkish flavored music, like drums, cymbals, trian- gles or glockenspiels as something “Turkish”.

However, it is not really clear if all composers wanted to mock the Turks with the use of Alla turca style. The reason why Beethoven used such music in his ninth symphony when the choir sings about “Alle Menschen werden Brüder” remains unclear. It may be the case because Beethoven did not want to exclude the Turks to become his “brothers” (for a detailed analysis of this issue see Hofer 1997)

3.2 Other Styles

Although the Janissary music was by far the most popular style of Tur- kish origin on the stages of the 18th century, there were also other styles that were popular during that time. Examples for this are Turkish reli- gious music and Turkish art music. This music was partly also played by Janissary bands which shows that besides the militaristic aspect Ja- nissary music was connected to; they also played music of style, differ- ent to the one we have met so far. Some sources support this thesis. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, for example, who lived in Turkey during the 1720s, described the music played as very soft and languishing (Hunter 1998, p55).

An element most people nowadays are familiar with that has its roots in this field is the muezzin’s call to the five daily prayers. Apart from that, the music of dervishes was also known to at least some of the Euro- peans of the 18th century. The music of the Mevlevi Dervish for example was regarded as being soft and unlike music written in alla turca style, which lost its popularity over time; it was still used in the 19th century. But even before that, composers like Jean-Baptiste Lully, Mozart, Jean- Philippe Rameau and Gluck tried to expand the boundaries of exotism in their works by integrating foreign melodies (Gulrich 1993, p28f).In comparison to Janissary music this style was more appreciated, al- though not as popular. This is also true for Turkish art music which was normally played on private occasions. An element which was present in this kind of music but unknown in the Western musical system was the usage of microtones (Schmitt 1988, p264ff). European composers were only familiar with their own system of keys and for them this different approach broadened their knowledge on the endless possibilities of music on several instances.

3.3 After the late 18th Century

This approach changed over time. Although during the Romantic period the focus of European composers shifted from the Middle East to the Far East, there was still interest in the music of the Turks (Ringer 1984, p90ff). In the late 18th century some European composers were already familiar with other types of Turkish music that were not of military origin. However, the styles that were used can still be separated into those of military music and art music (Schmitt 1988, p266). As time passed, the cultural exchange with Turkey deepened. Scientists and Artists chose to leave their home country in order to go on study trips in order to expe- rience real Turkish culture at first hand. The records from their voyages also enabled all those composers who stayed at home to broaden their knowledge of folkloristic Turkish.

During the 1830s, orientalism experienced a boost in popularity. In mu- sic, it reached its climax in Felicien Cesar David’s (1810-1876) sym- phonic Ode “Le Desert ” from 1844. David spent two years in the Middle East and collected a lot of music samples. In “Le Desert ” he processed the sounds he had heard during his voyage. The call of the Muezzin is an example for this:

Sample 2: David: Le Desert (found in Gulrich 1993, p39)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

One composer which did this maybe in the most professional manner was Bela Bartok. He was very active in recording the music of natives in their home country, to analyze it later and then to integrate their musical elements into his own compositions. In 1937 he was invited to Ankara to teach and he also used this opportunity to make records of Turkish folk music in a systematic way. Since local researchers assisted him in his work he was in the position to tell the performers exactly what he wanted. Moreover, gaining the trust from the peasants was far easier with local help than it would have been without (Bartok 1937, p139).

However, during the time of Bartok, writing operas about Turks was al- ready out of fashion. In order to focus on the main aspects of this thesis, I just skip a detailed summary of the historical developments of that time.

4. Overview of Operas

In this chapter I will give a short overview of which different plots were used for “ Turkish ” operas. Beginning in the early Italian opera we will see that some stories were quite popular among composers and succeeding generations often took the liberty of using existing librettos in order to create their own works. I used Preibisch (1902) and Griffel (1975) as a main source of information for generating this overview but also consulted various opera guidebooks.

In this chapter, I will try to give a comprehensive overview of all the op- eras that concern Turkey or Turks. Although I tried to list all such op- eras it may be the case that some pieces escaped my attention. Alto- gether I was able to identify 110 operas for my purpose. Of them, I have picked 16 and put them under deeper scrutiny. Considering this amount, I think that the most important pieces should be covered in. In order to keep focused on operas, I have left out ballets or similar works from my list.

The different parts of this chapter are structured by language. Therefore, operas written in Italian but by German composers, fall under the cate- gory “Italian”.

4.1 Italian

I will begin by having a look at the Italian opera seria. As early as in 1619 there is an opera called “Soliman ” by Prospero Bonarelli and in 1764 by Schwanberger. Another Soliman was penned down by of Jo- hann Adolf Hasse in 1753 which influenced a lot of subsequent operas. In these operas (names of the characters might differ between the dif- ferent versions), Sultan Soliman sends out his son Selim to kill Tac- mente, king of the Persians. He captures Tacmente but falls in love with Narsea, Tacmente’s daughter which causes him to spare the life of his enemy. Selim’s stepmother Roxelana uses the situation to plot against her stepson in order to pass the succession to the throne to her own son. Selim is sentenced to death but saved by his supporters. In the end his position is restored. Other composers of a “Soliman” were Sei- roli (1766), Naumann (1773), Perez (1768) and Sarti (1770).

Before all these different versions about Soliman from the 18th century were composed, Francesco Cavalli wrote “Ormindo” which was first performed in 1644. It is an interesting case since one of the first villain- type Turk can be found in the role of this opera’s Osmano. After that, Goldoni composed a trilogy which consists of the parts La Sposa Persiana (1753), Ircana in Julfa (1756) and Ircana in Ispahan (1757). They are connected since they describe periods of the life of Ircana. She is a cirkassian slave who is involved in the intrigues in the house of Thamas, the son of a rich noble man. The operas are mainly about the love between Thamas, Ircana and Fatima, daughter of a high- ranking officer. The first part concerns Ircana’s jealousy and how she tries to fight against Fatima. However, in the end Fatima and Thamas marry. The second part shows how Fatima’s grief over her failure to get Thama’s heart leads her to think about ending her life. A solution to all the problems is found. Fatima and Thamas divorce, Ircana marries Thamas and Fatima marries Ali, a confidant of Thamas. In the third part, Ircana and her husband are disinherited and expelled due to the prob- lems they caused. In the end, however, using a lie, they are rehabili- tated.

Another plot which was quite popular among opera composers is the story of Tamerlane and Bajazet. The basic background of these operas is pretty much the same. It is about the Mongolian conqueror Tamer- lane who captures his archenemy Bajazet, falls in love with his daughter, who is already promised to somebody else, and tries to marry her. Her father opposes to such a relationship and poisons himself in the end. Moved by this act, Tamerlane releases the girl and her lover.

Although not being of Italian descent, Georg Friedrich Händel (1685- 1759) lived and worked on the British Island and composed operas in Italian. One of the works which is of interest for our analysis is his “Ta- merlane” (1724) which will be analyzed later. However, the first version was written by Marc Antonio Ziani in 1689 which was titled “Il gran Ta- merlano”. After that, Alessandro Scarlatti (1706), Francesco Gasparini (1710) composed also operas based on the story. Both are titled “Ta- merlano”. Although being titled “Bajazette o Tamerlano” (1722), Leo- nardo Leo’s version of the subject is pretty the same. After Handel, Bernasconi (1742), Jommelli (1753), Sarti (1764), Guglielmi (1765), Cheller (1720), Nini (1728), Giacchino Cocchi and Pescetti (1754), An- tonio Vivaldi (1735), Nicola Porpora (1720), Scolari (1764) and Sacchini (1773) also showed their interest in the story.

In the Italian opera buffa other plots were used. One of them was based on a libretto from Gaetano Martinelli. The first piece written on this li- bretto was “Schiava Liberata” by Jommelli from 1768. It is about the Spanish woman Dorimene, her servant and her servant’s fiancé who are sold to the court of a Sultan. The Sultan is not pleased about the feelings his son develops for Dorimene and is happy to accept a ran- som offer by Dorimene’s fiancé. This storyline became quite popular and was then again processed by many other composers. The most famous adaption is probably “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” by Wolf- gang Amadeus Mozart which I will look at when we get to Turkish op- eras from Germany. But even before “Die Entführung” was written, Gui- seppe Schuster (1777) also composed a “Schiava Liberata” based on Martinelli’s libretto (Pahlen 1980, p171). After that, Christian Ludwig Dieter (1785) and Justin Heinrich Knecht (1790), like Mozart, used the libretto adapted by Carl Friedrich Bretzner for composing operas. Another German composer that also wrote a comic “Turkish” opera in Italian that concerned an abduction of Europeans was Haydn. His opera is titled “L ’ incontro improvviso” (1775). He also wrote “Lo Speciale” (1768) which contains Europeans who disguise themselves as Turks. In the late 18th century the popularity of “Turkish” operas fell in Italy, which explains the low number of compositions from this genre from that era. One of these rare works is “Palmira, regina di Persia” (1795) by Antonio Salieri and his “Tarare” (1787).

After the turn of the century, Giacchino Rossini was one of the major composers of Turkish operas who wrote abduction-style pieces. One of his major works from this field is “L ’ Italiana in Algier” (1813). As we can see from the title of “Il Turco in Italia” (1813), in this opera a Turk is placed in to Italy. This seems like a reversion of the popular concept. In it an Italian woman actively tries to get the attention of a Sultan who rejects her. Rossini’s third “Turkish” opera is called “L ’ Adina, o Il califfo di Bagdad” (finished in 1818) which also picks abduction as a central theme. Later in this paper I will have a detailed look at Rossini’s “Mao- metto II ”, which is based on the historical siege of Negroponte.

One of the last operas I have found in Italian is Giovanni Pacini’s “Gli Arabi nelle Gallie” (1827).

4.2 French

One of the first important Turkish operas in France was “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” by Lully which was first performed in 1670. It is based on a comedy by Molière which has the same title. This opera will be ana- lyzed later.


Excerpt out of 117 pages


The Turk on the Opera Stage
A History of a Musical Cliché
University of Osnabrück  (Musikwissenschaft)
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Musicology, Turks, Opera
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Dipl.-Kfm., Mag. art. Christoph Yew (Author), 2009, The Turk on the Opera Stage, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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