x0x Ottoman music -- popular entertainment over the
- x0x Ottoman music -- popular entertainment over the
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Traditionally a master would perform a composition by
playing or singing for students who would then repeat
what they heard until they had memorized it. Thus
musical works were passed down from generation to
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
No one knows what early Ottoman music sounded like. Why
not? Because over the centuries, even those
compositions that remained popular changed. Many
collections of songs, hymns, etc., exist in Turkey's
libraries, unexamined or forgotten, with the style of
the pieces noted and even the composers' names given,
but notes and tempos there are not, at least not until
Perhaps this should be surprising since we know little
about ancient Greek or Roman music although Hollywood
movies would have you believe otherwise. In recent
years though scholar / musicians have made attempts to
recreate or approximate sounds taking, as examples,
wall paintings that show what instruments looked like.
Chants connected with the medieval Christian churches
have been more easily recovered and a wide repertoire
is now available on the market in record or CD form.
The famous Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist
Bela Bartok not only collected and categorized the folk
music in his country but also spent a few days in
Anatolia in 1936 attempting to record folk songs among
the Yörüks, a nomadic tribe located east of Adana near
Osmaniye. The conclusion was that there was a
connection between Old Hungarian and Old Turkish folk
music, but it was lost during the sixth or seventh
century once the groups that moved into Hungary and
those that migrated to Anatolia split from each other.
Similarities were, however, still quite striking
according to Bartok.
Does that mean that the origins of Ottoman music should
be sought in the folk music brought to Anatolia? There
are some who believe that Persian music and possibly
even Arabic music contributed to Ottoman music. When we
say Ottoman music, we mean music produced in the major
cities of Anatolia from the early 14th century and
later throughout the empire until the 20th century saw
the end of the Ottomans.
Although it can be shown historically that all the
societies of the Middle East had music, some would have
people believe that the only music in Persia for
example occurred at court. That cannot possibly have
been true. More likely that only music composed and
performed at the court was written about and therefore
has come down to us today. And for instance in Anatolia
under the Seljuk Turks, there was music performed at
the court in Konya while we know that mystics such as
the Mevlevis or Whirling Dervishes were teaching and
performing their circling ?dance? to bring them closer
Certainly, there was music at the Seljuk Turkish court
in Konya for we know that they had mehter music, the
band music that became known under the Ottomans and in
the West as Janissary music. It was a Seljuk sultan who
sent his band to Osman, the man who was the founder of
the Ottoman dynasty, when he was officially appointed
the head of a principality.
If later centuries are anything to go by, music was to
be found everywhere in Ottoman society. It was not just
in religious or military circles, but also throughout
the culture at the imperial court level and in lower
echelons of society. Individuals were involved in
composing and performing most of the music and were
basically amateurs who were independent and had their
own individual style and circles.
What is known is that when Sultan Murat I set up a
palace school for the first time in Edirne when that
city was made the Ottoman capital at the end of the
14th century, young men were educated there and trained
to serve in the palace or to become administrators
around the empire. Music formed part of that education,
both in terms of training musicians and teachers.
During this same period the growing success of the
Ottomans attracted artisans and musicians to the
Ottoman court from various cities and even from cities
further east like Baghdad.
Traditionally a master would perform a composition by
playing and/or singing for students who would then
repeat what they heard until they had memorized it.
Thus musical works were passed down from generation to
generation. The master could interpret the music as he
liked, of course leaving the student free to do
The music itself was monophonic, that is, there was a
single melody line using quartertones. This often makes
it difficult for westerners who are accustomed to
polyphonic music and whole tones to appreciate Ottoman
music or for that matter, modern Turkish music.
Musical theory books were plentiful in Persian and only
began to be translated into Turkish in the first part
of the 15th century so that the many musicians who did
not have sufficient command of Persian could understand
them. Along with the many theoretical books, there were
collections of songs but these did not have a
notational system. So that is why today we know little
about how Ottoman music sounded although scholars have
concluded that it was lighter and simpler in the 16th
and early 17th centuries than later.
At the end of the 17th century, however, two foreigners
arrived in Istanbul who were well acquainted with music
and thanks to their writing down compositions in the
notational system used in the West at the time and
which is still known, researchers have been able to get
some idea of what Ottoman music sounded like, well
around 1700 at least.
Additionally we are fortunate to possess books of
miniatures showing musicians and their instruments.
Some of the latter of course, which were popular at one
time would disappear over time or be modified. The main
instruments resembled what one could describe as a
fiddle, a lute, a reed instrument like a flute, a harp
and a zither. There were even what is known as pan
pipes, that get their name from the god Pan who is
supposed to have played them as one can see in early
When tuning pegs were added to the zither-like
instruments, for example the kanun, the musician had
greater flexibility in modulating the melody line. The
kanun is still played today in groups that specialize
in playing Ottoman music.
Western influence began to penetrate the Ottoman Empire
in the 18th century as more Ottomans were exposed to
western style music when traveling abroad and
westerners came east. Interestingly enough the foreign
community in Izmir was influential in introducing
high-ranking Turkish officials to concerts and even
opera. A regular circuit developed in the 19th century
whereby troupes and musicians would visit Alexandria in
Egypt and then come to Izmir before going on to
Istanbul. These performances were often under the
patronage of the grand vizier.
Following the dissolution of the Janissary mehter band,
the sultan invited Italian bandmaster Giuseppe
Donizetti to establish a new band along western lines.
He also taught music in the harem. It is thought that
his more famous brother, Gaetano Donizetti, who wrote
operas would send him his work to try out.
Theaters appeared whereby the general public became
acquainted with western music and plays. The famous
Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt visited
Istanbul at the invitation of the sultan in 1847 and
gave a number of performances. There were even people
who came to teach music -- piano, violin, etc., --
mostly in the Beyoglu area where most of the embassies
(today's consulates) were located.
The upper class Ottoman took to western music easily
because it was part of the mystique of western power
and superiority. The popularity of Ottoman music
dropped off and it wasn't until recent years that
people began to be interested again. Today there are
frequent concerts and groups often perform in
restaurants that specialize in serving Ottoman cuisine
and during music festivals. Similarly Turkish folk
music gained in popularity.
Growing interest in the music of previous centuries has
led to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism opening a
virtual music museum on the Internet. One can easily
find it by searching for Kadiköy Turkish Virtual Music
Center. The first stage of the project has been
completed with 200 videos and 50 pictures, starting
from the Stone Age, of instruments and documents. It is
expected that the second stage will take about a year
to complete. The hope is that Anatolian music will now
be able to take its place among the music of the world.
So all will not be lost.
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