Annals of cultural exchange: Turkish Austrian Turkish music

A Facebook comment by Michael Covarrubias (in Turkey) on yesterday’s posting “Turkish marches” (about the Mozart Rondo alla turca and the Beethoven “Turkish March” from The Ruins of Athens):

Your second Turkish theme in only a few days! [the other was “Turkish Neutrogena” of 9/7]

When I moved to Ankara 9 years ago, a new friend would invite me regularly to classical music concerts. The most memorable was the pianist Ingholf Wunder. His encore began, and as soon as it was recognized as Mozart’s rondo, the audience made an audible delighted gasp.

Wunder ended the opening refrain with what was obviously not Mozart’s chord, and from there the fantasy swirled thru the piece, increasing in its novel energy, almost urging me for the first time in my life to stand mid-performance and applaud out of pure excitement at what I was hearing. I’ve never been so moved by an encore.

At first I thought the audience’s excitement at the opening notes was just because it’s such a well known piece, then I remembered that not everyone calls it just “rondo”. Here they really identify with the “alla turca”.

I hear the piece being played in schoolyards as the classtime bell, I hear it in elevators, I hear it all over as a welcome fanfare… They’re proud to be mentioned.

Here is a video of Wunder performing the arrangement.

And it is indeed stunning (in fact, Wundervoll — I’ll just unburden myself of that before going on). But there is something culturally notable in a Turkish fashion for the Mozart Rondo alla turca, which is one of the prime examples of a European — mostly Austrian — fashion for “Turkish music”. In other words, Turkish Austrian Turkish music. (Well, cultural exchanges do tend to bounce back and forth.)

From my 5/4/22 posting “Turkish earworms of joy”, in which I muse with great pleasure on two numbers from Act 3 of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), the 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:

… The opera came roughly a century after [the Siege of Vienna, in which] Ottoman Turkish invaders had advanced [1500 miles] through the Balkans and into the Habsburg empire) to the gates of Vienna.

… 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]

Meanwhile, I am enchanted by the idea of the Rondo alla turca serving as elevator music in Ankara. I suppose it’s too much to hope that there’s a Turkish hip-hop version of it.


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