Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart

Now Locke has written a
‘prequel’, Music and the Exotic: from the Renaissance to
, which elucidates the ways in which ‘otherness’ as
represented in European culture during the years 1500 to 1800 was as much a
means of understanding the western condition as it was a way of defining and
controlling the foreign.

Music and the Exotic is divided into four Parts. Part 1 establishes
the rational, methodology and organising principles of the book and tackles the
knotty term ‘exotic’ (exoticism arises from relationships, and does
not reside in ‘things’), identifying some of the techniques by
which it can be depicted in music. The second Part provides us with cultural
background and context through discussion of prose and visual imagery from the
Greek, Roman and early Christian eras, set alongside similar accounts and
images that arose during the first colonial explorations of the New World. The
final two Parts explore representations. First, the words of popular songs and
the musical styles of dances and instrumental music are examined; finally, in
the lengthy concluding Part, Locke turns to the presentation of the
‘exotic’ in works which assimilate musical and other artistic forms
of expression, in the theatre, church and concert hall.

Locke examines musical works and practices alongside cultural events and
developments, such as conflicts between Europe and the Ottoman Empire,
geographical exploration, the dissemination of ancient Greek and Roman writing
about ‘the East’ and its peoples. Each chapter of Parts 3 and 4
chronologically explores a particular genre in the context of political and
social issues of the day. The result is that we can see how evolving
conceptions about kingship, religious authority, gender and the supernatural
were crucial to formulations of identity — of both ‘Us’ and

Locke notes the instability of extant scores and documents from the years
1500-1800, and he is concerned not just with documents but with performances
also. In performance, subconscious decisions about accent, tempo may emphasise
‘Otherness’ or diminish it: as when the young Neapolitans in
Jonathan Miller’s most recent production of Così fan tutte
disguise themselves not as Albanians, but as bandana-ed bikers. In such
instances, Locke argues, the deliberate avoidance of cultural stereotyping
— or, simply, imaginative reinterpretation — may result in the
removal of ‘questions of cross-cultural fear and attraction that are
surely as valid today as they were in Mozart’s day’.

The text is supplemented by visual illustration, and such images are
particularly engaging in Part 2, ‘The West and its Others’, which
elucidates the historical, philosophical and religious trends that underpin the
musical endeavours discussed subsequently. Contemporary drawings, engravings,
paintings and maps enable us to appreciate how stereotypical qualities that
characterised the ‘exotic’ — ‘unfettered
passion’, cruelty, sensuous self-indulgence, superstition — came to
be formed. These contemporary ‘images of Elsewhere’ —
engravings by Théodore de Rey of ‘Sultan Soleiman Chan’ (Khan
Suleiman I), Girolamo Benzoni’s scenes of life in the just-discovered
‘New World’, Erasmus Grasser’s wooden sculptures of
moresca dancers, illustrations from Gregorio Lambranzi’s dance
treatise of the stylised gestures of ‘Turks’ (with padded bellies,
stiff legs, and puffy turbans) — guide the reader to appreciate the
complexity of the West’s interaction with the ‘East’, an
engagement which combined admiration and adulation with competition and
conflict, fear and rejection with praise and appropriation.

The images also bring cultural events and musical performances to life, as
when we enjoy an engraving by Étienne Duran of the 1617 French court
ballet, Le deliverance de Renaud, in which the sorceress Armide,
performed by a male dancer in a riskily revealing costume, is surrounded by her
ministers disguised as outsize creatures risen from the ocean floor, who mock
her impotence in the face of the challenge by the Christian knight Renaud. Or,
when we witness the extravagance of the 1626 ballet, Dowager of
, in which the ‘Entry of the Cachique and his
Attendants’ was supplemented by a mock-elephant and blacked-up musicians
wearing the leg-bells of the moresca and playing Ottoman pipes and

In this way, the groundwork is securely laid in Parts 1 to 3 for the
extensive illustrations of the final section, ‘Exotic portrayals on
stage, in concert and in church’. Locke takes us on a tour through high
culture — courtly ballets, Venetian intermedi, oratorio, opera
— as well as reflecting upon popular art forms — street
entertainments, improvised theatre, the Paris fairs, and London ballad opera. I
had previously paid little attention to Polly Peachum’s avowal, in
Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, that so deep is her love for
Macheath she wouldn’t mind being a Caribbean plantation slave if only
Macheath could be there with her! Locke speculates, with characteristic and
persuasive impartiality, that the light-hearted allusion to a topical debate
might have eased theatregoers’ concerns about slavery; or, equally, may
have discomforted them with a reminder that their wealth was founded on
unsavoury practices.

Through copious exemplars, Locke is keen to show us how the West’s
approach to the ‘Other’ has evidenced both stereotype and sympathy.
Thus, Handel’s ‘playful vividness’ in his depiction of the
buzzing locusts which God inflicts upon the Egyptians ( Israel in
, 1739) is placed alongside Alessandro Scarlatti’s Agar et
Ismaele esiliati
(Hagar and Ishmael Sent into Exile) of 1683, in which the
title characters — biblical, but not ‘Us’ — are made
‘distinctly more sympathetic than their persecutors Abraham and
Sarah’. We see, too, how cultural works sometimes employed anachronistic
borrowing to comment on modern-day events, as in the case of Vivaldi’s
Latin-language oratorio Judith triumphans (1716), a depiction of the
Hebrew maiden Judith’s heroic slaying of the Assyrian leader Holofernes
which is subtitled ‘sacred military oratorio in these times of war’
— a startlingly explicit allusion to Venice’s armed conflict with
the Ottomans.

Locke visits both the unfamiliar and the well-known, and re-examines the
latter with a fresh eye revealing contemporary contexts and associations. The
musical devices which J.S. Bach uses to depict the Jews in his two
Passions are, suggests Locke, designed to ‘frighten and
disturb’. In Handel’s oratorios the implied identification of Old
Testament kings with the ruling monarch, George II, is countered by the
composer’s presentation of Israel’s enemies — the Canaanites,
the Amalekites — as representatives of the enemies of England’s
monarchy and Church, namely Catholic states and pretenders to the throne. Thus,
in Charles Jennens’ libretto the eponymous Belshazzar ‘stands as a
barely disguised example of specific complaints that Non-Jurors [who held that
the Stuarts and Hanoverians were not legitimate rulers] had about the
Hanoverian court’. In this way, the biblical ‘Other’ in
familiar oratorios is shown to resonate various cultural and political messages
relating to threats from outside the Christian community. Locke explores all
possible, and often contradictory, interpretations. So, the Philistine warrior
Harapha in Handel’s Samson may be ‘a New-Testament Jew
reviling a Christ-like figure’ or ‘a stand-in for various Ottoman
sultans’; both views are shown to be consistent with the attitudes of the

In the chapters exploring early operatic representations of
‘Elsewhere’, we travel across Europe, from Venice — where the
fascination with the exotic (often female) ‘Other’ is exemplified
by works such as Cavalli’s Giasone — to France, where the
‘Turkish scene’ in the Act 4 intermède of Lully and
Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme — ‘at once
hilarious, potentially disturbing, and, for its day, unusually
self-conscious’ — is seen to have profound and lasting cultural
influence. In England, Henry Purcell concludes The Fairy Queen (with
its roots in Shakespeare) with a celebratory masque in which Chinese dancers
perform a chaconne, while The Indian Queen is set entirely on exotic
terrain. Indeed, the French opera-ballet might consist of what Locke
describes as a ‘series of culturesque-éntrees one after
another in the manner of a travelogue’: André Campra’s
L’Europe galante of 1697 takes us on such a tour of France,
Spain, Italy and ‘Turkey’.

Discussing opera seria by Lully and Handel, Locke asks, ‘What
makes a serious opera exotic?’, and answers the question by considering
musical style and practice, generic traits and traditions, the locales and
subjects of Metastasian libretti, and the influence of myth, history and
contemporary context. For example, did the commercial interests of
investor’s in Handel’s London opera company explain the
predominance of ‘the East’ in the composer’s works? Locke is
always concerned to consider the way that exotic elements interact with other
forces and factors, and his discussions and arguments are thus both diverse and

Similarly, ‘serious’ engagement with the ‘not Us’ is
shown to have been complemented by more comedic — often fanastical,
magical or just downright ‘silly’ — cultural commentary on
‘exotic peoples’ as in the commedia and buffa
representations of the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Because comic
forms presented not distant lands and the mythical or historical past, but were
understood to be located in the ‘here and now’, they enacted the
social life of the day; and thus could ‘work out anxieties regarding such
matters as gender, class … and — crucially — the exoticness
of various peoples. Moreover, Locke suggests that, ironically, a tone of levity
could be conducive to allusion to sensitive issues. They also allowed a wider
range of contemporary peoples to be represented on stage, and a recurring
object of fascination, across Europe, were Native Americans as evident in
operas such as Inkle and Yarico by Samuel Arnold (1787), Andre
Grétry’s Le Huron (The Man from the Huron Tribe, based on
Voltaire’s L’ingénu, 1768) and Nicolas
Dalayrac’s Azémia; ou, le nouveau Robinson (Azémia, or
The New Robinson [Crusoe]; 1786). Locke takes us succinctly and swiftly through
many such little-known and rarely performed works, making his points

Eventually we reach Gluck and Mozart, but even when we are on familiar
ground Locke draws our eye to the unusual or overlooked. Gluck’s
Cinesi, composed in 1754 for performance in the presence of Maria
Theresa, Holy Roman Empress, and set in the ‘present’, is a good
example of how the exotic could be conjured through both the concrete (the
overture makes use of an imaginative array of percussion) and the inferred.
Locke suggests that beyond the artifice of the visual chinoiserie, the
opera, by depicting Chinese courtiers as being no different from their Western
counterparts, may have encouraged its audience to reflect upon the Other in a
more positive way.

Locke uncovers manifold manifestations of cultural representation of the
exotic which highlight both the ubiquity and diversity of such depictions. The
journey through Elsewhere leads ultimately to Mozart, but it is not the more
obvious candidates, the Pasha and Osmin of Die Entführung aus dem
, to whom most attention is given, but rather the
scharzer Stummer(mute man who is black) who is
introduced in Act 3, and whose hand-signs inform Osmin of the Europeans’
escape. He is a character who reminds us of stereotypes such as the mute
assassin, enslaved by Turkish rulers, whose dumbness protected his master from
betrayal, and he also embodies the long tradition of portraying exotic
foreigners through dance or mime. In Die Zauberflöte we have a
quasi-Egyptian locale and priest, a princely hero who wears a Javanese cloak,
and a Moorish henchman, Monostasos, whose exoticism is made apparent both by
his black skin and alla turca style.

Locke’s research has been both meticulous and exhaustive; the notes
and bibliography run to almost 120 pages, and the latter includes online
resources and audio- and video-recordings. His prose is lucid and despite the
density of information presented, it’s a fluent read. Moreover, handily
for students perhaps, in the opening Parts, boxes are occasionally inserted
into the text in order to highlight principal ideas, establishing threads. What
might seem rather ‘dry’ and didactic is in fact extremely

Musical terminology is kept to a minimum and analytical observations are
unfussy. Every theory or observation is supported by specific reference; the
musical features of the alla turca style are exemplified by reference
to two choruses from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem
; the way text can colour music is exemplified by the conjunction of
the familiar (and ethnicity-neutral) descending tetrachord of the Baroque with
the Egyptian Hagar’s complaint that the blazing desert sun is causing her
son to grow faint. Such examples illuminate convincingly.

This is a fascinating study which argues compellingly that exoticism —
a troublesome term! — resides in relationships, which are formed within
and between cultural contexts and practices. Locke identifies and evaluates the
fruits of such cultural transferences during the years 1500-1800, which were
based variously upon ignorance, assumption, knowledge, caricature,
indifference, curiosity and admiration — and often a mix of many such
perspectives. And, as he has previously shown in his companion work,
Musical Exoticism, images of Otherness have been continually revived
and developed in the years since — images of ‘Them’ which can
help us to understand ‘Us’.

Claire Seymour

image_description=Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart
product_title=Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart
product_by=By Ralph P. Locke
product_id=Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-107-01237-0