The Singing Turk
CHAPTER SIX: “To Honor the Emperor”: Pasha Selim and Emperor Joseph in the Age of Enlightened Absolutism
Mozart, Zaide (1779-1780, unfinished)
Sultan Soliman recites the monologue “Zaide entflohen!” accompanied by orchestra, in the 18th-century style called “Melologo” in Italian and “Melodram” in German.
Kann ich den entsetzlichen Schimpf überleben?
Von einem Christenhund, von einem Sklaven lässt sie sich verführen!
Can I survive the terrible disgrace?
She has let herself be seduced by a Christian dog, by a slave!
Mozart, Abduction (Vienna 1782)
Vaudeville finale: The four emancipated Christian lovers celebrate the enlightened magnanimity of Pasha Selim.
Wer so viel Huld vergessen kann,
den seh’ man mit Verachtung an.
Whoever can forget such benevolence,
let him be regarded with contempt.
Osmin interrupts them with his vindictive rage, but he is silenced, and they recover their harmonious unanimity. In the end the Turkish chorus celebrates the pasha in Mozart’s Janissary style, singing “Pasha Selim lebe lange” (Long live Pasha Selim).
André Grétry, The Caravan of Cairo (Fontainebleau 1783, Paris 1784)
“J’ai des beautés piquantes.” (I have piquant beauties.)
In the trio for pasha, slave trader, and eunuch— bass, baritone, and high tenor— they all cheerfully celebrated the charms of women. Tamorin the eunuch took turns harmonizing his tenor with Husca the slave trader, who extolled the charms of the girls, and Pasha Osman, who was excited at the prospect of his purchase.
“Piquant!’ sang the pasha.
“Charmant,” agreed the trader.
The eunuch and the trader assured the pasha: “Chaque jour plus séduisantes” (Every day more seductive).
The pasha and the eunuch were gratified together: “Et toujours intéressantes” (And always interesting).
The musical spirit was altogether lighthearted as the approaching sale seemed to promise satisfaction to the pasha’s jaded palate.
Mozart’s war song (Kriegslied) of 1788
Composed at the time of the Habsburg-Ottoman war:
Ich möchte wohl der Kaiser sein! I wish I were the emperor!
Der Orient wollt ich erschüttern; I’d like to shake the Orient;
Die Muselmänner müssten zittern, The Muslims would have to tremble,
Konstantinopel wäre mein! Constantinople would be mine.
In the bellicose spirit of the moment everyone (including Mozart) could imagine undertaking the conquest of Constantinople from the Turks. Notice the cymbals (piatti) and bass drum (tamburo grande) in the opening bars of the score, adding a Janissary accent to the orchestral introduction. The singer is the Viennese bass-baritone Walter Berry.
Ottoman Power and Operatic Emotions on the European Stage from the Siege of Vienna to the Age of Napoleon