In an article on Orientalism and musical style, Derek B. Scott posits a near-exhaustive list of musical characteristics that act as Orientalist signifiers. Measures 85––88 in the development section of the first movement of Haydn's ““Fifths”” Quartet contain eight of them: augmented seconds, sliding or sinuous chromaticism, Phrygian mode, repetitive rhythms, a repetitive small-compass melody, arabesque, parallel movement in fifths, and ostinato. It is difficult to imagine that this passage could have contained any more Orientalist signifiers and still have made sense as Western art music at the twilight of the eighteenth century. If Haydn's string quartets are like four civilized persons holding a conversation, then at this point the interlocutors are speaking a foreign tongue, and that foreign tongue could be Ottoman Turkish. For centuries, the Turks had dwelled in the imaginary world of European exoticism as denizens of a mysterious East as close in geography as it was remote in custom. They were typically represented as either sensual, inviting, and voluptuous (their feminine manifestation), or inexplicably menacing or dangerous (the masculine manifestation).
This article draws from musicology, cultural and literary theory, and psychoanalysis as well as my own analysis in order to help explain the impact of music that is overtly Orientalist, intended as a foil to the rest of the movement. I present this music as a hermeneutic window opening up to broader issues of meaning, and I discuss the implications of such signification in the construction of Western identity.
- ©© 2008 by the Regents of the University of California