The Contributions Of Multi-Nationality To Classical Ottoman Music

Bulent Aksoy

In Ottoman society, which was composed of various religious†and ethnic communities, several different cultures existed† side by side, each community having its own way of life, traditions, customs and mores. These cultures continued to†† exist for many centuries influencing each other and having been influenced by one another. This social structure is often described as a mosaic of cultures. Musical conventions†† of various ethnic and religious communities in the Ottoman† empire whose territory spread over three continents, also co-existed. Each community preserved its religious music in its place of worship and its folk music within its traditions as a product of the folk culture. All these musical genres formed the peripheral musical cultures of the empire, music of the Ottoman ‚elite constituting the central culture. Musicians of the ethnic and religious communities, namely those of non-Muslim and non-Turkish communities, who had already been functioning as musicians in their own milieu† --in church, in synagogue, etc.-- and also contributing to their local or folk music got in touch with classical Ottoman music if they wished to test and display their talents on a central level.† Hence, Ottoman music became, so to speak, an art† music which stood above all the local, ethnic, and religious musical conventions. Since this music created a sphere† assimilating the musical taste of all the Ottomans, it had a specific social and historical significance. This aspect of Ottoman music is comparable to that of classical Ottoman† architecture, which also created a sweeping style which stood outside the scope of local architectural conventions of various regions and districts. This supracommunal composition can be observed only in music and architecture.† We cannot find the same peculiarity in other branches of the fine arts such as literature, miniature painting, and calligraphy.† These arts came into being and developed within the framework of Islamic arts. Carpet-making, tile-making, carving, and blacksmithing, etc. are anonymous minor arts which do not belong to the fine arts, therefore lie outside the present frame of reference.

Ottoman music was a classical art appealing to the elite. Such distinguished traditions in art are often closed to a greater part of the population and peripheral conventions. They interact with traditions of their strain and tend to develop with their contribution. In fact, Ottoman music in its formative times had been influenced by pre-Ottoman elite Islamic musical traditions, the music schools active in the musical centres of the Islamic world like Herat, Baghdad, and† Samarkand. However, having assimilated what it received from outside, it composed a new style and set up a new tradition, put its own trademark on the musical genre it took over, and kept it up for five centuries. The focal point here is how this process became realised.

In principle, if a society developed a certain artistic style and taste and maintained it for five centuries, it must have added new elements to it out of its own resources, its† local conventions, altering the older style at least to some extent. The Ottoman musical tradition was not a closed one like the other elite traditions of the Middle-East. It was open not only to wealthy classes and people who could spare time for music but also to people of humble social background, non-Muslim communities, and various ethnic groups. It was also not indifferent to other musical genres prevalent in the empire. It was a high culture but it was never closed to peripheral and subcultural conventions. Thus, as the most prestigious genre in the Ottoman musical milieu it attracted the Greeks, Jews, Armenians, and others, and it is precisely this openness that made it a long-lived tradition. If considered in quantitative terms, since it developed only in the main urban areas of the empire, it did not represent the taste of the majority, but in qualitative terms, because it embraced many different sections of the population, it was sweeping in this sense.

The Ottoman musical tradition was based neither on ethnic conventions, nor was it limited to the liturgical functions of music. It was based on musical convention and taste. Due to this quality of the tradition, musicians from non-Turkish or non-Muslim communities were never regarded as strangers and never underestimated. They were always valued for their musical knowledge and talents. They gave music lessons to talented young people in their own community but also to the Turks, both in the imperial court and in the city. They taught many Turks how to play the tanbur, the violin, and masters like Oskiyan, the ney, an instrument peculiar to† Islamic culture. As for the Turks, they never felt that they learned music from non-Muslim or non-Turkish musicians, regarding their teachers as masters of music. The best-known† example of this reception is the traditionally related and very meaningful rumour that Sultan Selim III rose to his feet in respect whenever his tanbur teacher Izak, a Jewish musician who was considered at the time the greatest performer of the tanbur in its traditional style, came before his presence (See Ezgi I: 144).

As the tradition built this peculiar musical ground it caused a curious development which was not quite in anticipation: while the non-Muslim musicians were given the conditions to display their talents on the level of the† central musical culture, hence to realise their artistic identity, they ventured the possibility to exist only in this tradition. Thus the bulk of them existed not in the history of their respective communities but in the memory and records of the tradition they joined.

Zaharya, for instance, an eighteenth century Greek musician, has become immortalised as one of the greatest composers of Ottoman music. His very few religious compositions are not considered important at all for Greek church music and are very rarely performed (Personal information from Mr. Leonidas Asteris, Protopsaltis of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate at Fener, Istanbul, and a member of the State Opera in Istanbul). Fresko Romano of Ortakoy (1745-1814), known as Tanburi Izak in Ottoman music, was not recorded in the history as a synagogue cantor but as one of the remarkable composers of Ottoman music and the greatest representative of the traditional tanbur style and also the tanbur teacher of Sultan Selim III.† Oskiyan the Jeweller of Samatya (18th c.), whose name is now not even remembered by the Armenian community, occupies a prestigious place in the history of Ottoman music as one of the greatest masters of the tanbur. The Greek composer Ilya (18th c.) has an unshakable place in the repertoire with his few but† outstanding† compositions. It is impossible to list the names of all good non-Muslim musicians here.

Ottoman music owes the bulk of its written authentic repertoire to three non-Muslim musicians: Ali Ufki (17th c.), a Pole taken captive in war, known as Albert Bobowski in Western sources, Demetrius Cantemir (1773-1723), prince of Moldavia, and Hampartzum Limonciyan (1768-1839), chief musician of the Armenian Church in Istanbul. Ali Ufki, Cantemir, and Hampartzum have notated much of the repertoire of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries respectively and prevented numerous compositions from falling into oblivion. Indubitably, all three musicians will have made a precious contribution to the history of Ottoman music when its history is completed in the future.

Within the present context I do not mean by "peripheral cultures" solely the cultures of non-Turkish elements. As is known, the Ottomans did not discriminate between religious† and ethnic cultures. For the Ottoman central culture, even the Turkish provincial cultures or the Turkish peasant culture, which expressed basicly a rural or nomadic way of life, were also peripheral. This view of the Turkish culture in the Ottoman milieu explains more clearly the formation of Ottoman supracommunal culture.

As Ottoman music carried out its own composition it welcomed the contributions of those peripheral cultures. It did not find alien any influence it could assimilate. Interestingly enough, it could not adopt those Persian and Arabic elements which lay in its structure and gained its identity as it eliminated them. Now let us try to understand the relationship between the peripheral cultures and central† culture, starting from the more apparent phenomena.

Today we are able to determine the place of the musical instruments within the tradition of Ottoman music more clearly than we did at the beginning of this century. In the formation of the tradition the ud (a short-necked lute) was the most prestigious instrument in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (see Neubauer: 523). However, the Turkish convention, which was accustomed to long-necked stringed instruments, could not use the ud for a longer period of time. Eventually, the long-necked tanbur was developed to replace the ud.† According to Evliya Celebi, in the seventeenth century there were only six ud players left in† Istanbul (Ozergin: 6032). In the mid-sixteenth century, or at the latest at the beginning of the seventeenth century the tanbur was developed in Istanbul, which seems to be inspired by Turkish folk music instruments like the kopuz,† the cogur, and the tanbura, and became the most prestigious instrument of Ottoman music, together with the ney. Here we observe that† the baglama, which is an instrument of the peripheral culture, was cultivated and assimilated into the central culture. It must be noted that the tanbur has never been played in less prestigious and lower or commercial genres of music although I assume it to be a transformed version of the baglama. It has never been used in urban folk and light music, never aroused interest outside the main centres of Ottoman music and has always remained the instrument of the genres appealing to the elite. Even today one can hardly find musicians who play the tanbur in the provincial towns of Anatolia, both the teachers and makers of this instrument live in Istanbul.

The second important instrument in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was the ceng, a small harp (see Neubauer, 523). The ceng was used both by court musicians and itinerant musicians in the city. The players of the ceng in the city were mainly Gypsy women. Guillaume Postel, who was sent by†† Francoise I of France in the 1530s as the scientific attache to Ambassador La Forest in Istanbul, saw Gypsy women in places of entertainment, and they were all playing the ceng,†† the def (tambourine), and the calpara (a pair of wooden clappers of castanets) (pp. 18-19). The Danish painter Melchior Lorichs, who visited Istanbul in the sixteenth century, made engravings representing Gypsy women playing the ceng (see the collection of paintings published by Ward-Jackson). The French traveller De Loir, who spent eighteen months in Istanbul in 1639-1640, states that the word cengi derives from the ceng and that meaning of the cengi is both a ceng player and dancer who dances to the ceng music† (173-174). This etymological information refers to the relation between the ceng and Cingene (Gypsy) because all the cengis were Gypsy women.

Another popular instrument of the Gypsies in the sixteenth century was the davul (drum) and the zurna (shawm). The Gypsies have brought up countless good davul and zurna players throughout the centuries. The zurna made its way both to the Mehterhane (Ottoman military band) and the incesaz (classical music). One should note here the well-known miniature of Levni, representing the Harem's musical ensemble, which consisted of four instruments: the tanbur, the miskal (the Ottoman panflute), the zurna, and the daire (tambourine). The rule did not change even in the nineteenth century when the zurna was replaced by the clarinet, which was akin to the zurna. All the clarinet players emerged from among the Gypsies. Like other instruments, the clarinet was introduced into the incesaz music after it was used in commercial music and cultivated in performance. All the clarinet players in Turkish music are of Gypsy origin.

The miskal, which was one the leading instruments of Ottoman music until the nineteenth century, is an instrument that has been used in the Balkan musical genres for many† centuries. It is supposed that it was developed from the panpipe of the antiquity. It is of greater possibility that this musical instrument came to Istanbul from the Balkans. But wherever it came from it is obvious that it is a folk music which was subsequently introduced into classical Ottoman music. It was used in Istanbul both in court music and urban light music. It was so popular an instrument that in the sixteenth century one could see miskal players on the streets in Istanbul (see Belon, 75). The iklig and the rebap are almost similar instruments.

In fact, the iklig is the folk music version of the rebap. Both instruments were used in the Ottoman court as well as in the city. The rebap was still a favourite instrument in the first half of the eighteenth century (see Fonton, 89), but it was replaced by the sinekemani (viola d'amore) and the Western violin in the second half of the same century (see Toderini, 237).

The Western violin also became a member of the classical ensemble after it was used on peripheral levels. At the outset it was played in commercial music in coffee-houses and taverns. Most of the performers of the violin were again Gypsies and the violinists who cultivated the violin until the twentieth century were Gypsy, Greek, Armenian, and Jewish musicians. In classical music the first master of the violin was kemani ¬ma Yorgi (Violinist Yorgi the Blind), who was active in the court of Sultan Mahmud I (1730-1754). Yorgi was followed by Kemani (subsequently Tanburi) Izak, and Kemani Miron of Romania. Violinist and composer Denizoglu Ali Bey (Gypsy), Sebuh (Armenian), Sinekemani Kapril (Armenian), the brother of famous composer Nikogos, Tatyos (Armenian) were other well-known violinists of the last century.

The other favourite bowed instrument is the kemence known as the lyra or lira‚ in the Balkans and Aegean islands. Kemani†† Hizir Agha, a musician and writer on music of Mahmud I's period, illustrated a similar instrument as a single-stringed instrument, referring it to as "keman-i kipti" (Gypsy violin) (see Tefhimu'l-Mekaamat† pages unnumbered). Actually, it was the Gypsies, the Greeks, and the Greeks of Gypsy origin who introduced this instrument into classical music. Until the beginning of the twentieth century the kemence was used only in urban light music. The great kemence player Vasil (1845-1907), who was a Greek musician of Gypsy origin, cultivated the performance of this instrument and for the first time used it in classical concerts. Tanburi Cemil Bey (1873-1916), who is now considered the greatest instrumentalist of Ottoman music, actually followed Vasil and played the kemence with equal mastery. These two musicians made the kemence a permanent member of classical music ensembles. But† even from then on the Greek and Gypsy tradition in the kemence has been carried on by other Greek, Gypsy, and "Gypsy-Greek" kemence players.

The only instrument that has not come from "outside", from the periphery, is the ney. It has always been the instrument of the most serious musical circles. The instrument itself has almost been sanctified in Ottoman music and many legendary stories have been told to explain how it was invented. It has been observed in the past centuries that even pious and devout people who believed that they would be dishonoured by learning or listening to music excepted the music with the ney and furthermore, there have been ney players among the ranks of the ulema (doctors of the Islamic canonical law) (see Toderini, 229). In brief, the ney and the tanbur are the† genuine instruments of this music.


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