Arts & culture, Music and WW1, Musicology

Instruments of War

Dr John Morgan O’Connell has recently been awarded a Cardiff University research fellowship to study music in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Entitled ‘Instruments of War’, his proposal reflects a continued interest concerning the role of music in conflict and the place of music in conflict resolution. His 2010 edited collection Music and Conflict (co-edited with Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco) highlights the role of music in both inciting and resolving a spectrum of social and political conflicts in the contemporary world. 

This award is consistent with a wider interest in Cardiff University commemorating the Great War in Wales. Although principally intended to publish materials related to music in the Middle East Campaign (1914-1918), the proposal also envisages establishing a collaborative link between Cardiff University and the National Museum Wales where music is viewed as an integral part of the WW1 Initiative in both institutions.

Here, Dr O’Connell tells us a little bit more about the project and about music in the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

 

A Representation of the Janissary Band

A Representation of the Janissary Band

Of course, the First World War was not the first world war for the Turks. During the Second Constitutional Period (1908-1922), the Ottoman Empire was already at war with its subject peoples in North Africa and Southeast Europe (amongst others). In this context, music played a critical role in galvanizing support amongst its citizens and for instilling terror amongst its opponents during an extended period of internecine strife. Old military ensembles (such as the Janissary Band) were resurrected and new military bands (such as brass bands) were initiated to instil patriotic sentiment and to foster popular support. Further, music was employed to celebrate victories and to commemorate defeats, victory parades and funeral processions often being set to the sound of military music.

 

A Brass Band in the Ottoman Navy

A Brass Band in the Ottoman Navy

Music was employed to recruit in a wide range of contexts, theatrical events and musical performances in particular being used to raise funds and to rally support. Musical institutions (such as conservatoires) were founded not only to educate musicians but also to train bandmasters in the musical art of warfare. Further, musical personalities played an important role by writing nationalistic compositions (such as anthems) and by performing jingoistic numbers (such as marches). Here, music on sound recordings and music with silent films played a major role in promoting the war effort. Above all, music operated as a medium for disseminating propaganda both as a means of curtailing intra-national dissent and as a way of consolidating inter-national assent. Interestingly, different politicians used distinctive musics to disseminate dissimilar ideologies

 

A Recording of Ottoman Marches

A Recording of Ottoman Marches

Indeed, music reflected the complex character of Ottoman society. On the one hand, modernists employed ‘western’ music (alafranga) to their advantage by staging soirées and balls. Here, their German allies obliged by training orchestral conductors in academies and by coaching music directors in theatres. On the other hand, traditionalists used ‘eastern’ music (alaturka) to advance an alternative viewpoint by performing Ottoman music in concerts and Ottoman theatre on stage. The situation was even more complex. Turkish nationalists used folk music and non-Turkish nationalists used popular music to advocate dissonant positions at a critical moment in Turkish history. Whether it concerned courtiers or commoners, secularists or spiritualists, distinctive factions contributed to the heterogeneous sound world of an empire in decay.

 

German-Trained Musicians at War

German-Trained Musicians at War

‘Instruments of War’ will focus on a number of major events as they relate to music during period. Structured around the concept of ‘instrument’, it will examine sequentially the making of instruments in war (such as in musical ensembles), the training of instrumentalists for war (such as in musical academies), the arrangement of instrumentals during the war (such as in musical compositions) and the concept of instrumentality after the war (such as in musical polemics). Drawing upon sources in English, French, German and Turkish, the research will follow the multiple actors who used music to celebrate and to commemorate the triumphs and the setbacks of the Middle East Campaign. It will also show how music helps explain the legacy of imperial diplomacy a century after the cessation of hostilities.

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