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Turkish "Alla Turca" Playlist

February 27, 2014

For a long time in the history of the Mediterranean peoples, the Turks of the Ottoman Empire dominated what we now think of as “the Middle East.” Their territory extended through southeast Europe and the Balkans and, at its furthest extent, right up to the gates of Vienna, Austria. That European-Turkish cultural exchange very much included music. European composers began to imitate the sounds of “Janissary” (military band) percussion. And in 20th-century Turkey, with the reforms of Kemal Attaturk, modern classical music flourished in conservatories, even as older Turkish traditions continued strong. Here’s a playlist of some famous “alla Turca” classics, alongside Turkish music — a mutual influence that continues to this day.


1. “Gazel” (improvisation), on the album La sublime porte: Voix d’Istanbul, 1400-1800, Gürsoy Dinçer, vocals, Jordi Savall, rebab.
Jordi Savall is one of the most fascinating musical travelers of our time and has recorded a huge variety of music from around the Mediterranean Sea. This album makes many connections between Arabic, Turkish, and Sephardic musical traditions. It’s a beautiful journey.

2. “Marche pour la Ceremonie des Turcs” (March for the ceremony of the Turks), on the album Tous les matins du monde (All the mornings of the world).
From the movie that introduced Jordi Savall’s music to a wider audience, here’s a 17th-century French march sporting the Janissary band influence.

3. Turkish March from The Ruins of Athens, Incidental Music, Op. 113 (Beethoven).
And here’s an “alla turca” example from the early 19th century.

4. Allegretto (movement 2) from Symphony No. 100, “Military” (Haydn).
In this masterful piece, Haydn interjects a military section in a minor key into a folksong-like march. If reviews are to be believed, it packed a charge for the first audience.

5. “Madem Küstün Dargindin” song by Fasil Müzikleri on Agopun Meyhanesi
Fasil is a popular song genre in Turkish classical music, and this example represents a fairly traditional approach to performance.

6. “Perpetuum mobile” from Violin Sonata, by Fazil Say, from the album Black Earth.
Contemporary classical from a celebrated Turkish composer/ pianist.

7. Bölüm (movement 3) from Sinfonietta by Ulvi Cemal Erkin.
Born in 1906, Erkin was a member of the pioneering group of composers known as the “Turkish Five” and represents Turkey’s adoption of Western classical musical styles in the mid-20th century.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.