Her Excellency the wife of Omer Pasha
By Emre Aracı
EMRE ARACI discovers a female composer in Ottoman times
Musical relations between the Turks and the rest of Europe can be traced back many centuries. The influence exerted by the janissary bands on European composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is well-known, The Military Symphony, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Abduction from the Seraglio) and "Rondo a la Turca" being good examples.
The European military bands of the 18th century not only introduced the percussion instruments of the Ottoman janissary bands, but also their musicians were dressed in Turkish costume. A similar development in the opposite direction, that is the Europeanisation of the Ottoman army band, began in the 19th century. It was also during this period that the famous opera composer Gaetano Donizetti's brother, Giuseppe Donizetti, was invited to become Master of Music to Sultan Mahmud II in 1827.
He was later given the title of pasha, thus becoming known in Turkey as Donizetti Paşa marches.
His arrival also marks the beginnings of a taste for European style music at the Ottoman court, later manifested in works composed by members of the imperial family, including reigning sultans like Abdulaziz, and more prominently Sultan Murad V, who left behind a corpus of unpublished works in autograph, mainly in European dance forms of the period, and all composed for the pianoforte.
The story of an Ottoman woman composer is a fascinating aspect of this interest in European music. Her works were published in British newspapers and in France in the 19th century, yet her identity and the fact that she existed at all only came to light very recently.
I discovered this mysterious lady when by sheer chance, about ten years ago, I found and bought an original copy of a march composed by her published in The Illustrated London News dated 13 January 1855. I bought this copy from the stall of the late George Jeffery, a famous second-hand book dealer in Farringdon in London.
Unfortunately no biographical information was given about this lady composer in the magazine. Indeed, not even her name appeared. She was introduced solely as "Her Excellency the wife of Ömer Pasha", in keeping with the etiquette of the period. Ömer Pasa was the famous commander-in-chief of the Ottoman armies at this time, a man of mixed Hungarian and Croatian extraction whose original name was Mahalya Lattas. He was a leading figure during the Crimean War, when Britain and France allied with Turkey against the Russians, and thus received a lot of coverage in European press of the period.
As a result of an article which I had written on this topic, a biographical novel by Ivo Andric, entitled Ömer Pacha - Latas, was brought to my attention by a reader, and by means of further research I have at last been able to put together the life of this forgotten composer. According to Andric she was from a Hungarian family and came to Istanbul to give piano lessons to the children of Ömer Paşa, later marrying him and entering his harem.
Her original name was Ida, but she took the name Saide in accordance with Turkish custom. Of her musicianship Andric tells us that Ida had been a pupil of Karl Czerny in Vienna, the celebrated piano teacher of his time who taught Franz Liszt and whose piano exercises are still played to this day by many pianists. It appears that her husband's military career was the reason for her composing military marches. Another important piece of evidence regarding Ida's life comes from an article which was published in the The Musical Gazette dated 5 December 1857, which is reproduced here in full:
'Several French journals having announced the presence in Paris of the divorced wife of Ömer Pasa, the following details of her career are given by the Patrie: - "She was born at Reps, in Transylvania, and was sent at the age of eleven to one of the best boarding schools in Bucharest. Some lessons on the piano developed wonderful musical powers, and at the age of fifteen she possessed a remarkable talent on that instrument. It was at that period that Ömer Pacha, who was then the military commandant of Wallachia, met the young lady at a soirée, and being very fond of music, fell in love with her, and subsequently married her. She became quite a Khanoum (Turkish woman), never left the house except veiled and attended, but, contrary to Oriental habits, accompanied her husband in his warlike expeditions. She was greatly delighted with the glory of his arms, and composed triumphal marches, which were played by the Turkish regiments when in battle.'
Other marches by Ida were also published in Europe at this time, such as Cinq Marches Militaires pour Piano, (five military marches for the pianoforte) published in Paris, and a march which also appeared in The Illustrated London News of 27 May 1854.
Musical works connected with Ömer Paşa are not restricted to his wife's own compositions. It seems that some other European composers of dance music of this period also composed works named after him. Stephen Glover's "Omar Pasha's March", Charles Wels' "Omar Pasha's March", published in New York in 1853, Henry William West's "The Omar Pacha Polka" and Henry W. Goodban's "Omar Pacha Waltzes" are some of these works, which also feature beautiful illustrations of the Ottoman commander-in-chief on their front covers.
Unfortunately this is all the information I have been able to gather so far on the composer wife of Ömer Paşa.
I have not been able to find a picture of her either. Even though her music falls into the category of popular music of its period, Ida must have been a pioneering lady at a time when women composers were scarce in Europe, let alone in Turkey, and she certainly must have been unique in having her marches performed when her husband was busy charging the enemy on the battlefield.
I have no doubt that we will continue to find traces of this energetic, stubborn and independent lady in many corners of Europe.
About Emre Aracı
Dr Emre Aracı was born in Ankara in 1968. He is one of Turkey's leading younger generation of musicologists. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, he was a Research Associate at the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies, Newnham College, University of Cambridge, England. He is founder director of the London Academy of Ottoman Court Music Ensemble, a specialist group performing European music composed in Ottoman Turkey. His critically acclaimed two CDs with this ensemble, European Music at the Ottoman Court (Kalan Records) and War and Peace: Crimea 1853-56 (Kalan Records) have both been received with much enthusiasm in Turkey and abroad, and excerpts were broadcast on many international radio networks including Classic FM and BBC World Service. As a composer, his works include "The Turkish Ambassador's Grand March" (1998) and "In Search of Lost Time" (2002), a privately commissioned symphonic poem, to mark the Golden Jubilee of HM Elizabeth II.