LEADING NEWS SOURCE FOR TURKEY AND THE REGION

ARTS-CULTURE

The Court Music and The Ottoman Sultans

HDN | 3/28/2003 12:00:00 AM |

On the occasion of his lecture at the State Guest House organized by the MFA Association, DMEDD on Thursday, March 20, 2003 presented by professor Talat Halman and attended by a large crowd of music lovers. Ottoman court music is the monophonic

  • On the occasion of his lecture at the State Guest House organized by the MFA Association, DMEDD on Thursday, March 20, 2003 presented by professor Talat Halman and attended by a large crowd of music lovers.

  • Ottoman court music is the monophonic makam-based tradition which evolved and flourished at the Imperial court in Istanbul for centuries. But I should like to point out straight away that the field I am interested in covers a hitherto unknown, un-researched area, the European musical tradition at the Ottoman court which became prominent in the nineteenth century.

  • I discovered a march for the Ottoman Ambassador Yusuf Agah Efendi as I was researching in the British Library. Dated 1794, the march was highly original. I arranged it for orchestra and we performed it at the sumptuous Turkish Embassy in London before a large group of ambassadors and dignitaries. It was a splendid way of reliving a grand past.

  • Yuksel Soylemez

    Soylemez- How can you describe the Ottoman court music to us?

    Dr. Araci- First of all I must thank you Ambassador for this interview. Ottoman court music is the monophonic makam-based tradition which evolved and flourished at the Imperial court in Istanbul for centuries. But I should like to point out straight away that the field I am interested in covers a hitherto unknown, un-researched area, the European musical tradition at the Ottoman court which became prominent in the nineteenth century. Some members of the Ottoman royal family composed music in European idiom, hosted celebrated artists from the West including Franz Liszt and Henri Vieuxtemps, played musical instruments such as the pianoforte, the violin and patronized opera so much so that Sultan Abdulaziz was even a subscriber to Wagner's grand opera house and the Ring cycle project in Bayreuth along with the rest of the European nobility. Sultan Abdulaziz also composed music himself, albeit popular dance items, such as polkas and waltzes. But some of his works were even published in Italy by a very reputable publishing house, Lucca of Milan. So H.I.M. The Grand Sultan's latest polka could be found sitting on the shelf of an 1860's music shop in Europe. Unusual though it might sound to us now, this was quite normal in those days. When Abdulaziz visited London in 1867 on a state visit, Queen Victoria's military bands performed the sultan's own composition, Gondole Barcarolle as an act of kindness. A kindness which could only take place in the 19th century; sadly an age of elegance we seem to have lost forever.

    Soylemez- Were there other sultan composers who wrote music and how did this tradition start?

    Dr. Araci- Yes and most prominently Sultan Murad V who was deposed after a three-month sultanate in 1876 for his alleged madness. His compositions run into thousands of pages and rather blatantly show that Murad was far too a sensitive man for the post and clearly not mad. He spent nearly thirty years of his life under house arrest in Ciragan Palace where he seems to have composed music to keep his sanity. Polkas, mazurkas flowed from his pen at a phenomenal speed. Some people criticise the sultans' compositions for being naive, simple and shallow indicating their popular line of thought. In my view these critics cannot see the woods for the trees. We cannot criticise them for not being Beethoven or Mozart. This is quite absurd. We must see the whole topic in a historic context and do our best to preserve it as part of our history and heritage. So I quite simply dismiss such views.

    As for the second part of your question; it was after the abolition of the janissaries in 1826 that the path for the Europeanization of Ottoman military music opened. Giuseppe Donizetti, elder brother of the famous opera composer, was invited to become Mahmud's Master of Music and duly arrived in Istanbul in 1828 to become Director General of all the Ottoman Military bands. His arrival marks an important stage in the beginning of the Ottoman court's sojourn with the music of the West. Giuseppe Donizetti was followed by other fellow Italians. He must have loved the Levant so much so that he remained in Ottoman employment until his death in 1856. He is still buried in Istanbul.

    Soylemez- How did you find your way to music in the UK?

    Dr. Araci- I am a late beginner in music. I adored classical music from a very young age. I remember listening to Beethoven's fifth symphony at the age of six passionately and feeling much moved by it with tears in my eyes. Aged 13, I became most possibly the youngest member of the Turkish Philharmonic Society and started going to concerts of the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra. I also had piano lessons from a young age but later gave it up. It was towards the end of my years at high school when I began to entertain serious thoughts of a career in music. And by that stage I was too late according to our Turkish music education system and most professionals in the field here misinterpreted my genuine passion and thought I wanted to become a performer and so ill-advised me to stay well away from such thoughts except for my mother and father who bravely told me to pursue what I really wanted to do in life since life was not a rehearsal for a play, but the play itself. Looking back 15 years I am grateful for their vision. I was attracted to the English landscape and architecture from a young age. I was a student at what used to be the old English High School in Nisantasi. On the advice of my friend Cem Mansur I left for London in 1987 to study music.

    Soylemez- Can you tell us about your education and doctorate in music?

    Dr. Araci- My adventurous action was eventually well paid back. I started playing the viola aged 19 and joined the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. In six months I was on stage with them at venues like the Barbican, the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. I did not want to become a great viola player; I could not. But it was this stimulating atmosphere, the positive approach I found in people around me which fired my imagination. I had a chance to work with good musicians and more importantly was taking part in the magical act of making live music in a symphony orchestra of a hundred strong members. I never forget the experience of playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 to cannon effects at the Royal Albert Hall. I was eventually accepted to read music at Edinburgh University.

    The Scottish capital was where I was to live for eight years. Athens of the north as it is known; this magical and mystical city became a second home for me in its attractive Georgian architecture and romantic cobbled streets in such dramatic weather. I immediately set about to form a student string orchestra; which found much support from my professors. The orchestra incidentally is still running, now an established group within the university. I also met a Scottish aristocrat, Lady Lucinda Mackay, a painter whose work hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland and who generously supported the orchestra and sponsored my Ph.d., which brings me to the second half of your question. At Edinburgh I wrote a Ph.d. thesis on the life and works of our great composer Adnan Saygun. You might find it strange that I should do this in Scotland, but I am happy to have written the book which was published by Yapi Kredi Yayinlari last year. You see, even though I live in the United Kingdom Turkish culture, musical history is very important to me. Building a cultural bridge along two countries is what matters to me most. So in all my musical output you shall find something from Turkey, not in a nationalistic but more of a universal sense, if I may add.

    Soylemez- Tell us about your musical activities in the UK, past, present and future plans?

    Dr. Araci- Following Edinburgh I became a research associate at Cambridge University for three years, where I wrote a biography of Giuseppe Donizetti Pasha, which at present awaits publication. My work there was sponsored by Turk Ekonomi Bankasi and I am grateful to them for their vision. I also founded the music ensemble made up of 20 British players called the London Academy of Ottoman Court Music. This is not a teaching establishment as the name might lead some people to assume, but rather a performing group which meets from concert to concert and plays music of the Ottoman sultans and other related composers of the period.

    We have so far recorded two CDs with this group in London, entitled European Music at the Ottoman Court and War and Peace: Crimea 1853-56 both released by Kalan Records in Turkey. At present I am working on a third CD which will be recorded in Prague at the famous Dvorak Hall this summer. It will also feature music by the sultans and also my violin concerto entitled Bosphorus by Moonlight played by Cihat Askin. The project is commissioned by Sabri Carmikli and Nurol Holding. These generous sponsorships do really set a magnificent example in preserving our culture, for which I am most indebted. I am also preparing a special concert for the Istanbul Festival this summer on the theme of the city of Istanbul and also advising the Turkish Armed Forces Military Band on a special historic concert to take place in Ankara this May on the request of the music-lover General Aytac Yalman, the Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish Land Forces, who has been a great supporter of my research interests.

    Soylemez- I understand you also compose don't you? What are your compositions? How do you describe them to those who have never heard them?

    Dr. Araci- Yes, I am also active as a composer. My music follows my emotions closely and is set in a romantic/melancholic vein. I find experimental or serial music very frosty and quite distant to my philosophy. I also like writing music for occasions and to inspire people. For example I discovered a march for the Ottoman Ambassador Yusuf Agah Efendi as I was researching in the British Library. Dated 1794, the march was highly original. I arranged it for orchestra and we performed it at the sumptuous Turkish Embassy in London before a large group of ambassadors and dignitaries. It was a splendid way of reliving a grand past. And for the occasion, I also composed a ceremonial march for the then Turkish Ambassador Ozdem Sanberk. This march has since been recorded and broadcast on a number of British radio and Turkish TV stations. I was also commissioned privately to write a Symphonic Poem for the Golden Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. I finished the score and sent it to Buckingham Palace. It was very exciting to receive a letter of acknowledgement from Her Majesty last month. I am now looking for sponsorship to turn this work into a grand symphony and make a recording of it. An artist's life is sadly a constant search for funding, unless one undermines their work for the sake of popularity, a path which I never hope to embark on.

    Soylemez- How do you compose? Where do you get your inspirations?

    Dr. Araci- I find the past most stimulating. In England I occupy a suite of rooms in an old Grand Edwardian Hotel overlooking the sea and steeped in history. Called "The Grand", it is a brick and terracotta pile which sits on top of a cliff in Folkestone. In its hey days the hotel, not unlike Pera Palas in Istanbul, welcomed a number of distinguished visitors among whom were Agatha Christie and King Edward VII. In fact the King's coat of arms still grace the griffin which sits on the principal staircase at the entrance. I find all these most exciting and stimulating. I often take long walks by the sea and watch sunsets. It can be lonely at times. But this is true solitary artistic existence, which all creative people need at times. Poetry and literature also fuel my creativity. Margaret Yourcenar, E.M. Forster, Proust and Lord Byron I admire greatly. Yahya Kemal and Abdulhak Sinasi Hisar are also my heros. Musically Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Puccini I find most inspiring.

    Soylemez- Apart from your compositions you also research and write books about music, don't you?

    Dr. Araci- Yes, I also publish articles and give lectures on topics relating to Turkish-European musical exchange. I find this complements my musical activities most satisfactorily, since all my concerts and compositions have thematic contents. Researching enables me to excavate material for use in concerts. You can admire a painting, but you need to hear a musical work to enjoy it. So I always try to perform or record any new pieces I happen to discover in archives. I think both my CDs show that clearly.

    Soylemez- How much media interest is there about you in Turkey as a Turkish musician creating wonders and living in the UK?

    Dr. Araci- There is some interest, of course. An artist naturally expects to share his creations with the public. But I must say at times I find it most frustrating when basic lines of communication fail, when your CDs do not appear in shops or newspapers only take an interest in the popular side of the stories. I find generally in our country that we keep laying foundation stones, but there is limited action to put more stones on top of it. I am anxious to serve my country's musical life, of course, and I feel so far I have succeeded to an extent abroad; but at the same time there must be a demand for it at home. Concerts are momentary; my satisfaction at present comes from CDs, articles and books which clearly have eternal life spans unlike the life of the mortal artist.

    Ankara - Turkish Daily News
    Who is Emre Araci? Emre Araci is one of Turkey's leading younger generation of musicologists. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, he completed a doctorate on the life and works of the seminal 20th century Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun. He is the founder and director of the London Academy of Ottoman Court Music Ensemble, a specialist group performing European music composed in Ottoman Turkey.

    His critically acclaimed two CDs with this ensemble (released by Kalan Records), European Music at the Ottoman Court and War and Peace: Crimea 1853-56 have both been received with much enthusiasm in Turkey and abroad, and excerpts were broadcast on many international radio networks including Classic FM and BBC World Service. As a composer, his works include Elegy for Erkel (1993), Farewell to Haluk (1994), Marche funebre et triomphale (1995), a violin concerto (1997), premiered in London in November 1999, The Turkish Ambassador's Grand March (1998) and In Search of Lost Time (2002), a privately commissioned symphonic poem, to mark the Golden Jubilee of H.M. the Queen.

    Dr. Araci is also active as a public speaker on topics relating to Turkish-European musical exchange and to this day has lectured at venues which ranged from the Boston Public Library and New York University to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Universities of Cambridge, Sarajevo and Vienna, as well as numerous appearances on a variety of TV and radio programs. He also contributes regularly to Turkish newspapers and journals, as well as English-language periodicals including The Musical Times, International Piano Quarterly and Cornucopia. He recently completed his studies as postdoctoral research associate at the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies, University of Cambridge, where his research into the life and times of Giuseppe Donizetti Pasha was sponsored by the Turk Ekonomi Bankasi (TEB).

    Dr. Araci is also the author of a book, Ahmed Adnan Saygun -- Dogu Bati Arasi Muzik Koprusu, which was published by Yapi Kredi Yayinlari in Turkey in September 2001. His second book, on the life of Giuseppe Donizetti, is shortly due for publication. At present he is preparing a third CD, sponsored by Nurol Holding, which covers music from the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid.

    MOST POPULAR

    MOST COMMENTED

    AcerPro S.I.P.A HTML & CSS Agency