Analysis of Turkish Influences in Western Classical Music

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Turkish influences in classical music

The Ottoman’s contribution to music has always been evident in the music we play or hear almost everyday. Be it Mozart, Beethoven. The Ottoman’s mehter (meaning military band) influenced the start of the military and the marching band. They too, were the first to use the soldier’s marching beat in their music. I believe that the Ottomans have significantly influenced the music we listen to everyday, contributing to the Alla Turca form we are familiar with. In my paper, I will examine the contributions made by the Ottomans, their styles and how composers in particular Mozart have interpreted it. The Ottomans formed an Empire, which lasted from 1299 to 1923. They travelled far and wide, controlling many territories that brought about the Empire’s downfall. Split into 29 provinces and numerous vassal states, it reached its height of power in the 16th and 17th centuries. The sieges and battles of Vienna during the period of 1529 to 1683 played an important role in the wars and in the spreading of the Ottoman music because Vienna was strategically located, and had interlocking control over southern Europe and the overland trade routes. Also, during the 18th century, Vienna was the capital of European music, serving as the home of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven, who came to Vienna forming the “First Viennese School”, making the city very popular. The Turkish influences in classical music were spread through the many wars that the Ottomans had. From the victories to celebration of treaties, the Ottoman showcased their music; mainly the mehter music -which would take form in the first military and marching band- to the world.

After many victories and defeats, negotiations and treaties, composers imitated the music and rhythm of the Mehter band. Beethoven and Mozart use an Ottoman influenced style called Alla Turca. To celebrate the Treaty of Karlowitz negotiated by Austria and the Ottoman Empire in 1697 after the battle of Zenta, the Ottomans brought a Janissary band along with other performers for several days of performances. Slowly, people started imitating these performers, starting with the military bands. Classical composers started to introduce the “Alla Turca” (meaning in the style of a Turkish march) into their music. But the Viennese were not the first to use such a style in their music. According to the musicologist Henry George Farmer, “The credit for having introduced this battery of percussion and concussion into Europe usually goes to Poland which, in the 1720s, had received a full Turkish band from the Sultan. Russia, not to be outdone, sought a similar favor of the Subline Porte (which is the name of the Sultan’s open court.) in 1725, Prussia and Austria following suit, and by the 1770s most other countries had fallen under the sway of Janissary Music.”

In the third movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No: 11 in A major K331, Alla Turca by Mozart, the following rhythm:

Example 1
is heard by the left hand part of the bass note. It is also the rhythm of a soldier’s marching beat. The Janissary bands followed the army around in order to provide entertainment, and to boost morale amongst the people. The bands started using this rhythm in their music too. Another characteristic commonly found when emphasizing rhythm is the use of grace notes. Many melodic instruments in Turkish music used this technique in emphasizing rhythm. An example is Mozart’s violin concerto in A major, K219 Rondo.

An excerpt from Violin concerto no 5 in A major, K 219 by Mozart, Example 2 The excerpt from above shows both characteristics of Turkish music. The oboes and horns are heard giving the marching beat of Example 1 (refer to page 4). Like these wind instruments, the cellos and basses are giving a somewhat different rhythm by using only crotchets and rests (see bar 1 to 3), but are using grace notes to emphasize on the crotchet beats. The...
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