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Mozart: Exoticism and the Enlightenment Essay

Music exoticism is a term used to identify the musical practices borrowed from other people to evoke an alien frame of reference. It depicts the manner in which music composers and, to some extent, their listeners associate either rightly or wrongly with distant countries or people. During the 18th century, Europeans used music exoticism to form stereotypes about Turks. Similarly, Turks used music exoticism to form stereotypes about Europeans. This paper discusses Mozart’s works: The abduction from the Seraglio and the Violin Concerto No. 5, Mov 3, and the way they defined and characterized the Turkish and European characters in Vienna during the eighteenth century. The paper argues that Mozart used music exoticism to highlight the major differences between European and Turkish characters.

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Firstly, it is important to point out that a study of the Turkish musical style reveals more about Europeans than the Turks. Similarly, a study of the European musical style reveals more about the Turks than Europeans. The reason is that each style seeks to differentiate itself from the other; hence, crucial to state the ‘rival style’ elements. This paper mainly focuses on the European style that presents Turkish characters as both promiscuous and violent. It uses harems to epitomize promiscuity and horrible threats to depict violence (Bellman 33). During the 18th century, people feared Turks more than the Russians and Germans. In line with this fear, Turkish stereotypes were more common in the Turkish style popularized in Europe, and they formed the base of socialization used in Vienna during the 18th century.

Mozart’s depiction of Turkish and European characters in the opera

In The abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart portrays the Turks as promiscuous. He depicts them as people that take advantage of women because of their Islamic practices. He also illustrates them as violent people that disregard other people. For example, he depicts Osmin as offensive whereby he abuses Belmonte when the latter inquires about Pedrillo, his servant. In line with the promiscuity view, Bellman claims that the Turkish tendency to promiscuity was represented onstage by a harem (33). For this reason, the Turkish males were portrayed in European operas as trying to control European female, but in most cases they were unsuccessful due to cultural differences. The abduction from the Seraglio illustrates the same concept. It involves a European lady rescued from a notorious Ottoman harem, Seraglio. The purpose was to demonstrate the Turkish civilization through learned western behaviors (Bellman 33). On the other hand, European characters are depicted as emerging from a restrictive society that does not advocate for promiscuity. They are particularly portrayed as people who do not take advantage of women like Turks do. In addition, Europeans are depicted as civilized people who do not engage in violent activities.

The differences between Turkish and European characters

The operas depict Turkish characters as both promiscuous and violent. They take advantage of women and use violence to dominate other people. Harems are used throughout to depict promiscuity and horrible threats to portray violence among Turks. However, as a way of civilizing the Turks through western behaviors, the former appear in the majority of operatic drama played in Europe as unsuccessful in subjugating European women. On the other hand, European characters are depicted as civilized as well as constrained by their restrictive societies. They do not subjugate women like the Turks even if they covet Turkish promiscuity (Bellman 33). Furthermore, they are depicted as people that take care of women to the point of risking their lives for their sake.

The extent of their differences

The differences largely reflect stereotypes about the Turks and European. They subsequently differentiate the two groups of people. The Turks appear promiscuous and violent whereas Europeans appear civilized to the extent that they do not practice promiscuity. Although these differences might be true, they largely reflect the extent to which each group holds stereotypes against the other. The Turks believe that Europeans live in a restrictive society that limits their promiscuity. Conversely, the Europeans believe that the Turks live in a society that is both violent and that does not take care of women (Weiss 131). These aspects might be false, but they reflect the stereotypes regarding each group.

Reinforcement of the differences

Mozart’s music has reinforced the cultural differences between the Turks and Europeans through new musical ensembles, arias, and numbers, some of which supplanted spoken dialogues (Rice 204). For example, the presence of trumpets in his violin concerto reinforces these differences. On one hand, the use of trumpets from time to time that never play complete tunes reinforces the Turkish cultural practice. On the other hand, the use of trumpets that play complete tunes reinforces the European cultural practice. Mozart’s music employs these differences to reinforce the stereotyping aspects regarding the Turkish society. The music depicts a Turkish Islamic society that does not care for women. It also depicts the simplistic stereotypes about Turkish land (Bellman 33). The music also creates an image of a European society that cares much about women.

Musical tropes in violin concerto

Similarly, the above musical tropes equally informed Mozart’s violin concerto even in the absence of Turkish and European characters. They differentiated Turkish and European sounds in instrumental work. Firstly, the trumpets appeared from time to time, but never played a complete tune among Turks. However, they appeared throughout and played a complete tune among Europeans. Secondly, the pipes played continually among the Turks, but failed to do so among Europeans. Thirdly, the Turks played great drums both ends: the top part with great sticks using the right hands, and the bottom with bare left hands. In contrast, great drums with bract and corded bottom appeared among Europeans (Bellman 33). The three musical instruments while appearing in different forms helped to differentiate Turkish and European sounds in the violin concerto.


The above concepts reflect the cultural circumstances of the 18th century in Vienna that led to mistrust and insecurity among the Europeans regarding the Turks. They highlight the stereotypes that Europeans held against the Turks as well as the stereotypes that Turks held against Europeans. They particularly explain how the European perceived the Turks as both violent and promiscuous, and as a result of violence produced insecurity among western minds. Furthermore, they explain how stereotypes against Europeans led to mistrust between the Turks and Europeans. The mistrust between the two groups is demonstrated as affecting live in Vienna and the manner in which the two groups integrated with each other. Although the stereotypes might be false, they are demonstrated as affecting life in Vienna during the 18th century.

Work Cited

Bellman, Jonathan. The style hongrois in the music of Western Europe. Boston: Northeastern university press, 1993. Print.

Rice, John. Music in the eighteenth century. New York: W.W. Norton and company.

Weiss, Piero. Opera: A history in documents. Oxford: Oxford university press, 2002. Print.

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