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The impact of Turkish military bands on European court festivals in the 17th and 18th centuries
Abstract

Ever since Turkish forces first crossed the Bosporus, the threat of Ottoman domination in Europe was made real by almost 400 years of armed confrontation. The West viewed the Turkish empire with a mixture of curiosity and fear. A long series of cultural contacts by diplomats, businessmen, explorers, scientists, physicians, clergymen and artists brought back reports of the Turkish court military musical ensemble known as the mehter. Eager to emulate the powerful and exotic image of the Ottoman sultan, the courts of the German Protestant Union in particular appropriated the concept of the ‘Janissary’ band in their festivals of state. At first Turkish themes incorporated into these events featured musicians in Turkish dress, playing on conventional trumpets, shawms, drums and the like. Later, actual ensembles of Turkish musicians were imported. When tensions lessened during relatively long periods of peace, a ‘Turkish craze’ developed: anything Turkish was eagerly adopted by the Europeans. This was reflected not only in state celebrations, but in literature, opera and symphonic music. Finally the concept of the mehter spilled over into the military, with regiments being outfitted with Turkish-style bands, though by this time they were a poor imitation of the real thing, and in large part much westernized.



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