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JANISSARY BAND MUSIC      


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The flag and janissary band have an important role in the Middle Asian tradition of Turkish states. It was a tradition to play drums and timpani in front of the grand tent of the Khan, the leader of the state, at certain hours of the day to show the power of the state to the enemy. This was called “Nevbet beating” (beating band) or “Nevbet hitting”. The band playing in front of the tent under the flag to encourage the troops was called the Khan’s Band. The Khan would step out of his tent when the band played and the conquests would begin.

The janissary band was not a means of entertainment but an indicator of magnificence and being ostentatious. The grandeur of the state would be echoed by the sound of the drums.

Continued and developed in the Ottoman Empire, the janissary band was an important indicator of the existence and independence of the state, besides encouraging the troops with music during sieges and wars on land and at sea. On the other hand, it would frighten the enemy with the amazing noise of the drums and help the conquests.

In the land wars, one single drum would be a janissary army on its own. It would determine the attacks and pauses, and the band, consisting of drums and horns, would direct the army. Defeat in a war would be demonstrated by plundering the band. Therefore, the greatest wars would be around the flag and the janissary band. In peacetime, the musical aspect of the janissary band would be emphasized, and became a symbol demonstrating that the sultanate of the Khan continued. In addition, the janissary band would also make declarations and announcements.

The Ottoman janissary band included wind instruments such as clarion, pipe, kurrenay (a horn with a curved end) and janissary whistle and percussive instruments such as kettledrums, drums, nakkare (small kettledrums played with hand or sticks), bells and cevgan (jingles shaped as crescent). The number of each instrument would be same, which would determine how much folded the band was. The Sultan's band, which was the greatest janissary band, was nine folded, which meant that there was nine of each instrument. Later on this number increased to twelve and then to sixteen. The Grand Vizier and other authorities of the state also had their own janissary bands. They were also present in many provinces and castles around the empire.

As the first military band around the world, the janissary band was admired by the Europeans, who took it as an example to establish military bands all around Europe.

These bands included some instruments of the janissary band, such as bells and drums. Many outstanding composers in Europe were inspired by the janissary band’s music and composed many pieces, which led to a new kind of music in Europe in 18th century, called “alaturca”. Many artists, including Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, used amazing rhythms and melodies of janissary band music in their works. It is known that the final partitions of the famous 9th symphony, and in the Turkish Anthem was adapted from the janissary music.

The janissary music bears the characteristic of classical Turkish music in rhythm and has a sound system consisting of 24 sounds.

The janissary band was closed by Mahmut II in 1828 and replaced with the Royal Band (Mizika-i Humayun) established by Giuseppe Donizetti, the retired band officer of Napoleon, who was a close friend of Selim III.
The janissary band performs at the Istanbul School of War Military Museum today.