The Creation of “Orientalism and Exoticism” in Western Music
Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, as well as other operas written in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, used “Orientalism” and “Exoticism” to help capture the hidden world of Eastern culture. In his opera, Saint-Saëns uses modal structure, rhythm, instrumentation and the exotic Delilah to captivate the Western world. Without Orientalism, Western composers would be unable to explore the social curiosities of Eastern cultures.
To the normal Western European ear, Samson et Delila conveys “Eastern” instrumentation at first listen, but with further in depth analysis, reveals use of mode mixture in an effort to distort Western compositional technique writing and make it seem like that of the “other.”
Orientalism was first employed by British and French intellectuals in the late eighteeth century. These intellectuals regarded Asians, North Africans and Middle Easterners as an unruly, barbaric populous that needed to be civilized. The British and French used Orientalism as a means of Imperialism. Anything that did not fit into the Western culture was thought of as taboo. Included in such taboos was freedom of expression for women. This severely bound Western European women to docile, submissive stations. The theater provided an outlet for exploration in repressed areas such as female sexuality and male fantasy. In Samson et Dalila, Delilah embodies the exotic in order to capture the essence of what Westerners termed the “other.”
The definition of Orientalism also encompasses Western scholarly study of the Orient. Its basis is the study of ancient languages other than Greek and Latin, as well as their modern descendents. Allen Douglas and Fedwa Malti-Douglas describe this as the study of, “Hebrew and the other Semitic languages, including Arabic, as well as Ancient Egyptian and Coptic (along with Assyriology) and eventually Persian and Turkish in their various historical manifestations.” It is...