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MENC: The National Association for Music Education
Boomings, Jinglings, and Clangings: Turkish Influences in Western Music
Author(s): Karl Signell
Source: Music Educators Journal, Vol. 54, No. 9 (May, 1968), pp. 39-40
Published by: MENC: The National Association for Music Education
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Accessed: 27/01/2010 18:49
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M Near-Eastern influences on music are considerably more far-reaching than the "snake-charmer wail"
of the Valentino movie days. Westerners owe many of the more colorful sounds of the modem orchestra to the Turks, who exported
music along with warriors in their
forays into the West.
The first major cultural contact
between East and West began with
the First Crusade in the eleventh
century. Records show that by the
year 1544, European musicians employed giant kettle drums and military oboes, which they had borrowed from the Turks. In 1529, and
again in 1683, Vienna, already a
center of music, was besieged by
the minions of the Sultan of the
Ottomans. These battles were accompanied by the awesome and
terrifying sounds of drums, cymbals, jingles, trumpets, and oboes
of the yeniperi (janissary, or Sultan's Elite Guards)-the mehter
bands. Those who were caught in
Currently Graduate Assistant, World
Music Program, Wesleyan University,
Middletown, Connecticut, the author
lived two years in Turkey, where he was
Instructor of Music at the American Colleges of Istanbul.
] IN
&n 1
by KarlSignell
the path of the advancing Turks
must have been frightened out of
their wits not only by the army but
also by its attendant boomings, jinglings, and clangings.
The Sultans soon recognized the
impressiveness of the mehter music
and in peacetime often sent a small
Turkish band with their envoys to
various European capitals. In turn,
the European monarchs were so
pleased with these new sounds that
they began to send their bandmasters to Istanbul to learn the secrets
of mehter music. They were not as
interested in the actual melodies or
rhythms as in the vigorous spirit
and colorful instrumentation of the
Some of these instruments, usually in a modified form, have been
retained to the present. The Qevgdn
(crescent with jingles) gradually
lost its bells and became our modern triangle. The original Turkish
Crescent, however, has survived
as the Schellenbaum used in German bands to the present day.
Every mehter band also proudly
displayed the tu# (horsetail banner). Descended from the central
Asian shaman's staff, the tug was
appropriated by the Germans and
displayed as a totem by the victorious German armies in the 1930's
and 1940's. Modem bands still retain a vestige of these in the tassels
that are attached to the sides of the
The rapid acceptance of these
percussion instruments during the
seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries was not long confined to
the military bands. Around 1760,
Gluck wrote the first "Turkish"
opera, Le Cadi Dupd, which was
followed by others by Gr6try, Andr6, Bickerstaffe, Dibdin, and Mozart in his Abduction from the Seraglio in 1781. Haydn recognized
the Turkish influence in his Symphony No. 100, the "Military"
(1784), when he rudely interrupted
the docile second movement with
the clangorous noise of "Turkish"
A typical Turkish military band, or mehter,
of the type used in the Sultan's palace about
1825. The dress is the official costume
of the Ottomans of the period. The performer in the center left holding the
cevgan, or crescent with jingles, in the
first master of ceremonies. The bearded
zurna, or shawm, player in the right center
of the circle is the conductor of the group.
music. He employed the standard
European alla turca effects: heavy
beats emphasized with bass drum
(large stick) and cymbals, the small
stick and triangle "trotting" along.
The triangle also rang alarums and
was occasionally used for small
solos, as in the Seraglio overture.
Mozart's fascination for this musical fad began in 1772, when he
wrote a "ballet turc" for his opera
Lucio Silla. He later borrowed
this in toto for the "Minuetto" of
his Violin Concerto in A Major,
K.219 (the "Turkish"). In 1778, he
incorporated a spirited "Rondo
alla Turca" into the Piano Sonata
in A Major, K.331. In this work, he
hinted at the arabesques of the
zurna (oboe) in the melody and
imitated the nakkare (small drums)
and the davul (bass drums) in
the light, rhythmic accompaniment.
To create the sound of the kis
(giant kettle drum) and zil (cymbals) he wrote the forte arpeggiated chords in the second section.
Some of the most exciting alla
turca music is found in the alla
marcia of the finale of Beethoven's
Symphony No. 9 (1824). At the
height of a tremendous tutti of the
orchestra and chorus, the harmony
suddenly shifts from a "sharp"
tonality (A) to a "flat" one (Bb).
After a dramatic silence, a muffled
squawk from the bassoon and bass
drum, played on the offbeat, begins
the accompaniment for an unusual
march in the new key. The strangeness of the key is emphasized by the
colorful effect created by the pianissimo triangle and cymbal. The judicious use of these percussion colors
is a far cry from the "kitchen batterie" surprises of Haydn or Mozart,
or, indeed, from Beethoven's own
"Turkish March" from the incidental music to The Ruins of
The Turkish craze reached such
proportions that Viennese piano
manufacturers obliged the demand
for the exotic by inventing a new
attachment for the piano. This
Janitscharenzug, or "Janissarystop,"
imitated the percussion of the
mehter by adding jingles and
thumps to the sound of the instrument - "instant Turkish music."
The influence of Turkish music
extends beyond the military and
court life of the eighteenth century.
Even today, the countrysides of
Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Hungary
reflect the long years of Ottoman
occupation. B1la Bart6k's prodigious research in Hungarian peasant music disclosed rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic similarities
between the music of Hungary,
Rumania, and Bulgaria. His research also unearthed similar characteristics between MNagyar and
Anatolian folk melodies, and in
1936, he visited Turkey in order to
pursue his investigations. A. A.
Saygun, who originally invited Bart6k to Turkey, is continuing the
Hungarian composer's research in
this field.
The great vitality of Turkish music, which so strongly influenced
WVestern art music and Eastern
European folk music, has continued
down to the present day. Folk music and dance are not only very
lively throughout the entire land,
they are also generously supported
by the Turkish government. Perhaps because of Turkey's minor
role on the world stage recently,
students of music, ethnomusicologists, and composers remain in ignorance of these fascinating traditions.
A Turkish mehter
on horse-
back and camelback,
as used in the field
around 1720. The instruments
are the born (trumpet), kos (kettledrum), davul (bass drum), and zil (cymbals).