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.

12 thoughts 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. 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. 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. 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. 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…

  6. I too love Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo”, but even better is Cleo Laine’s signature piece, “Turkish Delight”, with husband the late John Dankworth on sax.

  7. The information on Karsilama is very interesting and appears to be spot on. If you look at the sheet music for the piano, the time signature is written like this:
    9/8 (2+2+2+3/8). Chris Aldrich’s comment on DB’s interest in different time signatures is very good to keep in mind. Take Five, as just one additional example, is in 5/4 time.

  8. Hello, I just found your very interesting article. One issue that you may want to revisit…. “based on Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca.” You may want to review that Wiki article. It says differently now.

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