Blue Rondo a la Turk

Shawna Kennedy left a comment on my previous post on music in odd meters that made something click. She pointed out that in Turkish and Romany music, 9/8 is often divided as 2+2+2+3, unlike the Western triple-triple feel (3+3+3). That style of 9/8 music would be an “odd meter” while other 9/8 music would not. When I read her comment about “1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3,” Dave Brubeck’s tune Blue Rondo à la Turk started playing in my head. I love that song. I first heard it over 20 years ago and I still whistle it fairly often. My kids probably recognize the tune even though they haven’t heard the recording.

Now I finally get what “à la Turk” means. It must be a reference to the Turkish rhythm of the 9/8 theme. You can hear a short excerpt of Blue Rondo à la Turk at here.

Update: The article on Blue Rondo in Wikipedia says that it was based on Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. I listened to Mozart’s rondo. It’s a famous tune — you’d probably recognize it — but I didn’t know it by name. I would never have drawn a connection between the Mozart rondo and Brubeck’s rondo. Maybe the Wikipedia article is wrong, or maybe Brubeck’s imagination moved pretty far from his inspiration.

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5 comments on “Blue Rondo a la Turk
  1. Similarly music in ‘even time’ (such as 8/8), can be divided ‘oddly’ (e.g as 3+3+2/8). I’ve tried to play Bartok’s Bulgarian dances, not very successfully. (Bartok studied eastern European music as well as being a composer in his own right.)

    See also Cuban Clave rhythms. And then samba, bossa, etc – all get their individual feels from the way they divide up the bars.

  2. Zac says:

    I also love Dave Brubeck’s stuff – it can be exhausting to listen to (especially if you analyze all the beats, which you almost HAVE to), but must have been a buzz to play.

    Thanks also for the music in LaTeX article (that was a new application of LaTeX for me). Do you really have to tell it that B is flat or can you just put B by itself? It seems that the resulting manuscript doesn’t have an extra flat symbol anyway.

  3. John says:

    Zac, yes, LilyPond goes make you specify that B’s are flat in the key of F even though it doesn’t add an explicit flat sign. See my update to the LilyPond post. I agree it’s strange.

  4. Scott says:

    THANK YOU! I am just a guy who has always loved Brubeck’s music and recently got Blue Rondo for a ring tone! The title has always mystified me and I finally found your commentary and link to Mozart’s Rondo alla Turka. Isn’t the web wonderful… small pleasures in learning. Thank you again.

  5. Christian Page says:

    In Ken Burn’s “Jazz”, Dave Brubeck says that the inspiration for BRALT came from a trip to Turkey and talking with Turkish musicians….
    So much for Wikipedia…