Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

Janissary music [Turkish music]

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Janissary music [Turkish music]

(from Turkish yeni çeri: ‘new troop’; Ger. Janitscharen Musik, türkische Musik; It. banda turca).

The Turkish ensemble of wind and percussion instruments known in the Ottoman Empire as mehter, introduced into Europe in the 17th century and later imitated there using Western instruments.

The janissaries, the élite troops of the Ottoman Empire, were initially Christian captives recruited to form a new army after their conversion to Islam. The bands of the janissaries were called mehter, a term used also for some Ottoman state officials and thus taken to mean not just the bands but the individual musicians as well. The music of the mehter (mehter musikisi) was not written down, and consequently most information about it concerns the instruments on which it was played. However, the information given in the secondary literature about the instrumental make-up of the mehter has been contradictory and unsupported by adequate proof.

There is no definite evidence that what became known as janissary music began with the founding of the janissaries in 1329. There were other military bands in Asia before and at that time, and these served as models for the mehter. According to 9th-century accounts, military ensembles of trumpets, shawms, drums and gongs were used by Turco-Mongolian peoples in north China. Ibn Battuta mentioned a 14th-century Byzantine band with trumpets, shawms and drums, and a manuscript of the 14th century (TR-Itks A. 3472) contains a miniature showing a band consisting of trumpets, kettledrum, bass drum and cymbals.

The instrumental make-up of the mehter depended on its function. One function was to play on the battlefield to inspire the soldiers. The band was always to be found at the centre of the action; as soon as the music fell silent, the soldiers stopped fighting. The mehter also provided solemn music for state ceremonies, played on the arrival and departure of important persons, and accompanied Ottoman ambassadors to Europe. The entry of the Grand Envoy Mehmed Pasha into Vienna on 8 June 1665, for instance, was accompanied by a large mehter, consisting of four shawms (zurna), two pairs of large kettledrums, two cymbals, three cylindrical bass drums and four trumpets. The instrumental forces of such bands were already considerable in the 16th century, since numbers of individual instruments could be multiplied according to requirements. There were up to 39 musicians in the mehter of the 17th and 18th centuries. Such large bands were particularly impressive, with the shrill sound of the wind instruments, the mighty boom of the drums and the metallic clash of cymbals.

The standard instruments of the mehter were the zurna (see Surnāy) and Davul (cylindrical bass drum). The penetrating, shrill sound of the surnay made it ideal for military music. The davul differed from similar European drums in being struck on one side with a curved stick and on the other with a switch of twigs. The zurna and davul are native to Anatolian folk music. Other instruments played by the mehter were the boru (trumpet), nakkare (small kettledrum, usually played in pairs; see Naqqāra), kos (large kettledrum, also frequently used in pairs) and zil (cymbals), adding to the basic sound of zurna and davul. The boru and kos were used exclusively in military bands, while the zil and nakkare were also played by members of religious orders.

The trumpet is an important indication of mutual cultural influences between East and West. The looped trumpet tube appeared in Eastern miniatures only after encounters with European cultures, in which S-shaped, then looped forms were developed and gained popularity in the 14th and 15th centuries. Persian and Ottoman pictorial evidence shows bands using the straight trumpet exclusively until the second half of the 15th century. Thereafter the mehter used the S-shaped and later the looped trumpet. The looped trumpet occurs in Eastern miniatures after the second half of the 16th century; tubes of this shape were known in Europe some 150 years earlier.

The Turkish crescent [Schellenbaum] may originally have derived from the tugh, the symbol of rank of the Ottoman military élite. It may have developed in the West when jingles were added as decoration to these military standards. The new instrument still acted symbolically as a standard, since it was possessed only by certain special military bands, and almost never by civilian wind bands. Impressed by the European version, the Ottomans adopted it in the 19th Century; the Turkish crescents in the Istanbul military museum are imitations of a 19th-century European tradition and no Ottoman source shows the Turkish crescent as an instrument of the mehter.

Turkish bands were known in Europe from the 17th century. A carousel at the Württemberg court in 1617 included türkische Pfeiffer und Trommeln, and the band of the Croatian regiment in Dresden had türkische Pauklein and kleinen Schallmeyen by 1650. Turkish instruments had been used occasionally in opera in the late 17th century: in 1780 N.A. Strungk used Turkish cymbals in Esther (Hamburg, 1680) and Domenico Freschi used cymbals and other Turkish instruments in Berenice vendicativa, written for Venice. Turkish bands began to gain popularity in Europe towards the end of the 17th century, during and following the war between the European powers and the Ottoman Empire. The Polish king Jan III Sobieski apparently had one in his retinue in 1673 and Augustus II (d 1735) also maintained one, which played in Dresden in 1697. Anna Ivanova (Empress of Russia, 1730–40) had a mehter sent from Constantinople in 1725 and such bands began to appear elsewhere in Europe by the 1740s: Ritter von Trenck marched into Vienna with one in May 1741 and the Prussian artillery had one when they entered Prague on 20 September 1744.

Contact with the Ottoman Empire influenced European music in several ways: some writers and composers viewed the Turks merely as an exotic and hostile people, for example in Lully and Molière’s comédie-ballet Le bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Daniel Speer’s Musikalish Türckischer Eulen-Spiegel (1688); others were influenced by Ottoman military music in the use of characteristic percussion instruments, with composers expressing Turkish subjects in their music without actually copying Turkish music itself, as in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail.

One of the most striking developments was the addition of Turkish instruments to the European Feldmusik ensembles (oboes, bassoons and horns or trumpets) used as military bands. The most important instrument in janissary music around the middle of the 18th century was the davul, the big bass drum. During the last quarter of the century cymbals and triangles were also added to the instrumentarium. The Turkish crescent first appeared towards the end of the century. These percussion instruments belonged to an independent ensemble which, unlike the military drums and fifes, played only on ceremonial occasions, never in battle. Under the influence of these additions, European military bands grew in the early 19th century into large wind ensembles.

A pre-condition of the fashion for ‘Turkisms’ and therefore Turkish music was the establishment of normal political relations between the Turks and the European states. But the Turks remained a symbol of the exotic, an idea emphasized by the use of Middle Eastern and black African musicians or musicians with blackened faces to play the percussion instruments. The signboard of a Tyrolean company of actors and musicians (Österreichisches Museum für Volkskunde, Vienna, no.19767) dating from the late 18th century or the early 19th still shows musicians with darkened faces. Turkish players were never engaged in British bands, but black musicians were enlisted to play the percussion instruments; ‘blackamoors’ had been employed in the British army as side drummers, kettledrummers and trumpeters for half a century. These players were dressed in the most extravagant Orientalist style and their antics in performance became a feature of military music. The present leopard-skin aprons of drummers and their elaborate drumstick flourishes are relics of this tradition.

Many compositions display the new fashion for the alla turca style, for example Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A major k219 and Piano Sonata in A major k331, and Michael Haydn’s music for Voltaire’s Zaire (1777). Some operas were so strongly marked by the Turkish fashion as to earn the popular name ‘Turkish opera’. An early example was Gluck’s Le rencontre imprévue (1764) and the most famous, in which the fashion reached its height, was Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782). The musical ‘Turkish’ effects were achieved by the use of the new percussion instruments and piccolo (the latter to create shrillness) and by characteristic methods of writing such as repeated notes, scale runs, unison writing, striking interval leaps, simple harmonies and sudden changes in dynamics. The aim was to suggest rather than to copy Turkish music. In line with political developments in Austria and the spirit of the times, Die Entführung is a masterpiece of humanist thinking, not only musically but in its content: it is an appeal for better understanding between peoples and a condemnation of the hostile image of other nationalities.

The accounts of the Vienna Hoftheater for 1782–3 record a payment to Kapellmeister Franz Tyron for the performance of a ‘Bande von der Artillerie Music’ in Die Entführung. This document is of particular significance, revealing that military bands played in new compositions outside their usual sphere, performing on instruments hitherto unusual in the orchestra. It also shows clearly how the influence of Ottoman military bands had moved through military music to bring changes to the instrumentarium of the orchestra. The new instruments did not always serve to imitate Turkish music, but were also employed in general to create a dramatic and ‘foreign’ effect. Gluck, for instance, used these possibilities in Iphigénie en Tauride (1779), as did Mozart in Die Zauberflöte. The Turkish instruments and other dramatic effects earned Haydn’s Symphony no.100 the appellation ‘Military’. In the course of time the new instruments became part of the orchestra, offering the composer new tone-colours: Beethoven, for instance, employed them in this way in Die Ruinen von Athen (1811) and the Ninth Symphony (1824).

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