Turkish earworms of joy

More joyous music encountered in the middle of the night, via my Apple Music (formerly iTunes), this time very familiar and beloved music, which has given me a pair of intractable earworms for two days now:

Mozart, Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Act 3 Vaudeville “Nie werd’ ich deine Huld verkennen” — an ensemble song of joyful thanks — and then the joyous triumphal finale of the opera / Singspiel, the Turkish Chorus

I have loved this music since the early 1960s, when I encountered the opera in a Mozart and Haydn course at Princeton (a course I have been pretty much continuously grateful for these past 60 years — even more, since I had to fight the mathematics department to be allowed to take the damn course). But these two short numbers, wonderful though they are, are fiercely sticky. Alas, writing about my mental-music affliction for you is only making it worse.

What I encountered on one of my whizz breaks was a 1992 recording of Josef Krips leading the  Chorus of the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Now available on YouTube, a charming performance by Curt Jurgens, Christiane Eda-Pierre, Norma Burrowes, Stuart Burrows, Robert Tear, Robert Lloyd, with the John Alldis Choir and the orchestra of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, led by Sir Colin Davis.

That gets you one little masterpiece, followed by a big blare of thumping Viennese-Turkish fun. (I have played through this recording eight times in the last hour; it makes me happy — and similarly affects lots of other people, to judge from the deeply felt comments on YouTube.)

But wait, there’s more! You could also enjoy the Vaudeville and Chorus sung on location at Topkapi Palace, from the recording Mozart in TurkeyDie Entführung aus dem Serail  (Groves, Kodalli, Rancatore, Atkinson, Rose, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, led by Sir Charles Mackerras) — YouTube here.

The opera these pieces come from is flawed — the ripping story of Konstanze’s rescue from the seraglio by Belmonte is interrupted by very substantial (and vocally challenging) concert arias, which inevitably creates narrative longueurs — but these two bits at the end are stunning.

But information, you need information. From my 3/1/15 posting “abduction”, in a section on Mozart (there’s also a section on alien abduction and bits on a gay porn movie and an action-adventure movie):

From Wikipedia:

Die Entführung aus dem Serail (K. 384; The Abduction from the Seraglio; also known as Il Seraglio) is an opera Singspiel in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The German libretto is by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner with adaptations by Gottlieb Stephanie. The plot concerns the attempt of the hero Belmonte, assisted by his servant Pedrillo, to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the seraglio of [the Turkish] Pasha Selim. The work premiered on 16 July 1782 at the Vienna Burgtheater, with the composer conducting.

The overture, which leads with a distinctly “Turkish” thematic turn, can be heard and seen here, in a performance by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

In this case, the purpose of the abduction is to sequester (essentially, imprison) someone, for sexual use. [Addendum: … There are two abductions of Konstanze here: Pasha Selim’s (purpose: imprisonment) and Belmonte’s (purpose: rescue). Belmonte’s is the abduction of the title.]

The text of the Vaudeville, in the German original, then in a fairly straightforward English translation (well, it sounds flat-footed in contrast to the German original, but it’s serviceable).

Nie werd’ ich deine Huld verkennen,
Mein Dank bleibt ewig dir geweiht!
An jedem Ort, zu jeder Zeit
Werd’ ich dich gross und edel nennen.

Wer so viel Huld vergessen kann,
Den seh’ man mit Verachtung an.

Never will I forget your benevolence;
For ever shall I sing your praises.
In every place, at every time
I shall proclaim you great and noble.

Anyone who can forget such graciousness
Deserves to be looked upon with scorn.

Pasha Selim turns out to be generous and noble in the end, so Konstanze, Belmonte and company sing him a gorgeous song of gratitude. All is resolved, and the Turks march off (they marched in at the beginning of the opera).

The music of this song sounds deceptively simple — fabulously artful contrivance from apparently simple stuff was a Mozart specialty — but would repay some more careful analysis than I can give it here (I will note that the modulations and little melodic inversions are part of what produces such beauty).

Wait: what the hell is this thing about? I wonder what a modern listener would make of the Abduction if they had no preparation for it. Certainly, you have to know what a seraglio is (‘the women’s apartments (harem) in an Ottoman palace’ (NOAD); harem ‘(in former times) the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants; the women occupying a harem’ (NOAD)). You need to know, at least approximately, who the Ottoman Turks were; in particular, you need to know that they were Muslims.

But how did they get to interact with all those apparently Viennese — well, at least Habsburger — characters? (Istanbul, the westernmost city in Turkey, is a considerable distance — roughly 1500 miles — from Vienna.) But interact they must, since Pasha Selim has kidnaped Konstanze to add her as an unwilling member of his harem — as a slave.

Why is Pasha Selim so wicked? (Oh, yes, pashahistorical the title of a Turkish officer of high rank’ (NOAD).) I mean, is it just him, or is it a pasha thing? Or a Turkish thing? Or a Muslim thing? Is any of this actually historical, or is it part of some conventional fiction, a tissue of stereotypes, maybe one loosely based on history? If the latter, whose conventional fiction? (If you’re a modern American, you no doubt have some fictionalized image of a Turkish Muslim potentate, but can you really use that to understand a story from about 250 years ago, set in an imperial German-speaking central Europe?)

(Is it relevant that Mozart was himself by birth a Salzburger, then a Viennese, in Habsburg times?)

I suppose you can look on the whole thing as set in a fantasy world with strange customs that are incomprehensible to you, don’t bother about them, just roll with the story. And let the music wash over you.

But it might improve things if you knew something about actual history, insofar as it’s relevant to the opera, and especially if you knew about the cultural background of the opera, including those fictionalized images from Mozat’s time and place.

The Siege of Vienna. The opera came roughly a century after Ottoman Turkish invaders had advanced (through the Balkans and into the Habsburg empire) to the gates of Vienna. From Wikipedia:

The Battle of Vienna took place at Kahlenberg Mountain near Vienna on 12 September 1683 after the imperial city had been besieged by the Ottoman Empire for two months. The battle was fought by the Holy Roman Empire led by the Habsburg monarchy and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, both under the command of King John III Sobieski, against the Ottomans and their vassal and tributary states. The battle marked the first time the Commonwealth and the Holy Roman Empire had cooperated militarily against the Ottomans, and it is often seen as a turning point in history, after which “the Ottoman Turks ceased to be a menace to the Christian world”. In the ensuing war that lasted until 1699, the Ottomans lost almost all of Hungary to the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I.

“Turkish” music. So the Viennese had the experience of the Ottoman Turks up close and personal. They were the enemy, they were ferocious, they were barbaric heathens. They were also the possessors of a long-standing highly developed artistic culture: in architecture, city planning, sculpture, design, graphic art, dance, music, and more. That is, they were both threatening and attractively exotic. And so a Habsburg variety of orientalism developed. All kinds of stuff that wasn’t left by the Turks when they retreated, but was created anew on the Holy Roman Empire’s home ground. Turkishness. Odd bits of it all over the place. Among other things, “Turkish” music.

From Wikipedia:

Turkish music, in the sense described here, is not the music of Turkey, but rather a musical style that was occasionally used by the European composers of the Classical music era. This music was modelled — though often only distantly — on the music of Turkish military bands, specifically the Janissary bands.

… Mozart’s 1782 opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail … is the quintessential work of Turkish music, as the whole plot centers on the stereotyping of comically sinister Turks. (The Pasha, at least, turns out noble and generous in the end.) The overture to the opera as well as two marches for the Janissary chorus are Turkish music in the sense just described. This and other contemporaneous operas were so influenced by the Turkish fashion they earned the popular name “Turkish opera.” [AZ: plus other works by Mozart, works by Haydn and Beethoven (there’s a Turkish march in the finale of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony), and a number of other composers]



One Response to “Turkish earworms of joy”

  1. Mark Mandel Says:

    This sounds very enjoyable, and I have saved the link. Thanks a lot!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: