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Harmonie & Turcherie: around the year 1800, Western music was experiencing a merging of two phenomena. On one hand was the success of a particular ensemble of wind instruments, boosted by the foundation of the royal and imperial Harmonie by Emperor Joseph himself in Vienna in 1782, the core of its repertoire being arrangements of famous opera arias; on the other, the fashion for orientalism, reflected in different expressions of the arts: painting, sculpture, architecture and music. The typical octet of the Harmonie, consisting of pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, was therefore reinforced by louder wind instruments such as trumpets, trombones, a contrabassoon or a cimbasso, as well as an array of percussion instruments – together, they could evoke the military bands of the highly feared Janissaries.
That sound fascinated the most eminent composers of the time, including Haydn (Joseph and his younger brother Michael), Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti (Gaetano and his elder brother Giuseppe, active at the Ottoman court), Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Spohr, all of whom wrote small, little-known masterpieces for this particular band. Zefiro presents us with a varied programme by these composers, alternating Turkish marches with chamber music works in a more operatic and deeper vein, thus revealing the versatility and colours of period wind instruments.