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Harmonia Early Music

Alla Turca

This week on Harmonia we’ll learn about the Battle of Vienna, Jannissary bands and music with a tinge of Turkey. Plus, a new release from the Borel Manuscript.

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plaque with written in German

Photo: JoJan

A plaque marking the tricentennial anniversary of the defense of Vienna by the Holy League against the Turks.

Turkish music and instruments made their way throughout Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries, which inspired composers to incorporate both into their works. Their music was imported in the form of bands appreciated by the Europeans for their exotic melodies and instruments, yet the Turks were then also seen as hostile people.

A perfect example lies in the story of the Battle of Vienna.  In 1683, a very large army from the Ottoman Empire besieged Vienna.  The brave and ingenious Turkish troops were set to take the capital when they were successfully pushed back by a European alliance known as the Holy League.

The ensuing retreat meant that the Ottoman troops left quite a bit of booty for the defending armies to enjoy.  One notable treasure was coffee.  Although it had already been brought to other parts of Europe, the Battle of Vienna can be said to be responsible for the introduction of coffee to Austria and Poland.

Turkish music is commonly referred to as Janissary music.  It takes its name from the Jannisaries or select troops of the Ottoman Empire.  Their military bands and their musicians are called “mehter.”  These bands, made up of winds and percussion, were the ones that first appeared in Europe during the 17th Century.

The instruments of the “mehter” are characterized primarily by their percussion instruments, including varieties of drums, the triangle, cymbals, and bells.  Yet the trumpet is also part of the Janissary band.

The alluring sounds of the “mehter” made them an attractive entity that was incorporated by a number of European composers.  Johann Joseph Fux was one distinguished name who wrote a Turkish suite which used trumpets and percussion to evoke the feel of Janissary music.

The European version of Janissary music differs from the original traditional Turkish songs and dances, but retains, in a number of ways, the essential spirit of the music.

By far, the most famous European composer to incorporate Turkish musical elements was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  He did this most successfully in two well known works, the final movement “Alla Turca” from the sonata in A major, K. 331 the opera “Abduction from the Seraglio.”

Our new release of the week is the third installment in the series “Le Clavecin Français,” produced by the Plectra Music label.  Davitt Moroney is the harpsichord soloist in excerpts from the Borel Manuscript, a collection of French pieces from the late 17th Century.

The music heard in this episode was performed by Romanesca, Armonico Tributo Austria, the Kecskés Ensemble, and The English Baroque Soloists.

Music Heard On This Episode

Anonymous: Anonymous: Branles de Poitou
Davitt Moroney (hpd) — Music from the Borel Manuscript (Plectra, 2008)
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Anonymous: Anonymous: Branles de Poitou
Davitt Moroney (hpd) — Music from the Borel Manuscript (Plectra, 2008)
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Andreas Anton Schmelzer: Sonata “Victory of the Christians over the Turks”/Andreas Anton Schmelzer: An adaptation of H.I.F. Biber’s 10th Rosary Sonata
Romanesca — Violin Sonatas/Schmelzer (HMU , 1996)
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Johann Joseph Fux: Turcaria K. 133–Janitschara, K. 331
Armonico Tributo Austria/Duftschmid — Concentus Musico-Instrumentalis (ARCANA, 1998)
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Johann Joseph Fux: Il Libertino – Contretens
Armonico Tributo Austria/Duftschmid — Concentus Musico-Instrumentalis (ARCANA , 1998)
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Johann Joseph Fux: Posta Turcica – Les Combattans, K. 331
Armonico Tributo Austria/Duftschmid — Concentus Musico-Instrumentalis (ARCANA , 1998)
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Johann Joseph Fux: Marche des Ecurieus, K. 331
Armonico Tributo Austria/Duftschmid — Concentus Musico-Instrumentalis (ARCANA , 1998)
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Giovanni Battista Donado: Two Turkish love songs – 1688
Kecskés Ensemble — Ancient Turkish Music in Europe (16th – 18th Centuries) (HCD , 1984)
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Anonymous: Three Turkish dances from the Linus manuscript – 1729
Kecskés Ensemble — Ancient Turkish Music in Europe (16th – 18th Centuries) (HCD , 1984)
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Anonymous: Esztergom Castle – Turkish heroic song, 16th-17th Centuries
Kecskés Ensemble — Ancient Turkish Music in Europe (16th – 18th Centuries) (HCD , 1984)
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W.A. Mozart: III.Alla Turca
Richard Burnett — Keyboard Collection [from Finchcocks] (AMON , 1982)
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W.A. Mozart: Overture
The English Baroque Soloists/Gardiner — B0000057E6 (Archiv , 1992)
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Anonymous: Chambonnieres: Allemande en paysanne
Davitt Moroney — Music from the Borel Manuscript (Plectra , 2008)
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Anonymous: de la Pierre: Grand Suedoise – Courante/Balet/Bouree/Sarabande/ Pavane
Davitt Moroney — Music from the Borel Manuscript (Plectra , 2008)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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