x0x In search of Liszt Turkey's Hungarian Virtuosos
- x0x In search of Liszt, Turkey's Hungarian Virtuosos
By Taha Toros
When the celebrated Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt came to
Istanbul, a city he had dreamed of visiting, he gave a concert at the
palace for the sultan and another at a venue on the shores of the
Bosphorus. These concerts were the start of what was to become a
growing interest in western music in Ottoman Turkey. He arrived in
1847 and although he remained just forty days this splendid city more
than fulfilled his expectations. Following his recital for the sultan,
Liszt was presented with an order of merit, a jewelled tobacco case
and a silver water pipe.
Two other Hungarian musicians who listened to Liszt as children and
followed in his footsteps in their musical careers were drawn by
Liszt's reminiscences of Istanbul to settle in Turkey and remained
there for the rest of their lives. Both made major contributions to
Turkish music culture and trained musicians in western musical
The first of these was Liszt's student, the pianist and composer
Alexandro Voltan of Venice (1846-1941). It is said that Voltan was the
nephew of Mehmed Ali Pasa, who was of Hungarian extraction and rose to
the rank of field marshal in the Ottoman army, and that his father was
Turkish. In Turkey Voltan took the name Tevfik and settled in Izmir,
where he related the following biographical details to a local
journalist: 'My mother, Countess Allegri, was a pianist. I took my
first lessons from her at the age of six. She endeavoured to give me a
good training as a composer. Since she was an outstanding musician,
famous musicians visited our house every evening. Liszt, Wagner and
Holbert were the most regular visitors. I began to give concerts at a
young age. I studied at the Austrian Naval College, graduating as an
Known in Turkey as Hungarian Tevfik or Tevfik of Venice, Voltan was
invited to Bucharest at a young age and stayed at the palace as a
guest of Queen Maria Elizabeth of Romania. During the two years he
spent in Bucharest he gave piano lessons and concerts and conducted
operas. He came to Istanbul in 1877 and later settled in Izmir. He
converted to Islam and married the daughter of an eminent family.
Tevfik's compositions were published in Italy, Austria, Hungary and
France, and thanks to him musical life in Izmir flourished. Many of
his pupils went on to become eminent musicians, among them the famous
composers Ismail Zuhtu Bey and Ahmet Adnan Saygun. Tevfik recognised
Saygun's great talent while he was still a boy, and became his first
teacher. In old age he was reduced to poverty and spent the last years
of his life in a home for the old and infirm, where he died in April
1941. He was buried in a cemetery for the destitute.
Gez de Hegyei (1863-1926), another of Liszt's students, decided to see
Istanbul for himself after listening to Liszt's account of his visit,
and liked it so much that he too settled in Turkey. He was a Hungarian
Catholic, and made a living giving music lessons to Catholic pupils
and at the imperial palace, where his favourite pupil was $ehzade
Abdulmecid Efendi, who was an accomplished artist as well as musician.
Hegyei became close friends with Abdulmecid Efendi and also gave music
lessons to his wife Sadiye Sultan and Princess Iffet of Egypt.
When Hegyei first began giving music lessons in Istanbul, one of his
pupils was a young Greek girl who displayed great talent. Hegyei
determined that she should be his wife, but had to wait until she
reached marriageable age in 1906. When he died in 1926 a memorial
concert was held by the State Conservatory of Music, then known as
Nimet Vahit Hanim, granddaughter of Osman Hamdi Bey the celebrated
Ottoman Turkish painter and founder of the Archaeological Museum, and
the first Turkish girl to graduate with a first degree from the
conservatory in Berlin, sang at this concert.
A third Hungarian musician who settled in Turkey was Charles Berger
(1894-1947). He had never met Liszt, who died before he was born, but
he is known to have been an enthusiastic admirer of his music. As a
child his music teachers told him about Liszt's life, including his
brief but memorable stay in Istanbul, and he too was drawn to the
city. Berger began taking violin lessons at the age of five and was
awarded a scholarship to Vienna Conservatory, where he graduated as
first in his class. He played solo violin with famous orchestras and
gave recitals in many European countries. He came to Istanbul in 1920
and was received as the guest of the last caliph Abdulmecid Efendi. He
gave lessons to both the caliph and his wife Sabiha Sultan.
Concerts which he gave at the Union Francaise in Galatasaray enchanted
Istanbul audiences, and he was also invited to give concerts in Iran
by the Shah.
Berger can be said to have pioneered violin teaching in Turkey, and
his greatest gift to our country were a brother and sister who both
became celebrated virtuosos: Necdet Azak, who later became a professor
at the conservatory, and Ferhunde Erkin. Another of his pupils was
Ayla Erduran, a musician of worldwide repute. In 1946 Berger married
the Turkish painter Aliye Berger, and before his death became a Muslim
and took the name Omer Baki. He is buried in the Muslim cemetery on
Buyukada, next to his father-in-law Sakir Pasa.
* Taha Toros is a historian.