Music Composition In Contemporary Turkey

Prof. Ilhan Usmanbas
Mimar Sinan University

Around 1930s a handful of Turkish musicians formed the first generation of composers by their first creations to open a new path away from an old conception of art which lasted for many centuries. We may call this a daring step from one civilisation to another. Daring, because not only the external aspects of this music are different from the old one, but also the methods, of its conception and realization needed new approaches. Besides in each work, considering its form and category, a different technique and expression should be used. So this young generation of composers should take into consideration the whole contemporary musical secene instead of obeying, as in older times, to the ideas and feeelings of a limited musical circle and to the heavy restrictions of an immovable Ottoman tradition. In order to understand the musician of the Ottoman past entirely, it is necessary to comprehend his social and artistic milieu, his aims towards his own artistic creation, his personality, his self-imposed duties. To define the artist of the Ottoman period will illuminate the contemporary Turkish composer who is a new and fresh product of two disparate cultures.
The art in the Ottoman period is like an immense river, flowing steadily and uniformly, fixed in its course, without torrents, without cascades, nurished by small and modest streams; a river feeding all its surroundings but unaware of its own sources. This majestic eastern river, because of many important transformations of the new society in which it flows is beginning to change its direction, hence its own character, to gain a universal identity during 1930s.
What is the eastern world? Who is the eastern artist? East is a cocoon, completely coiled up in itself. The last thousand years of Anatolia, cradle of many civilisations, bears the very mark of an eastern society, with all its strengths and weaknesses. This is such an outlook of life that it combines the idea of an unquestionably immortal life with that of an easily forgotten past. The artist in the East sees himself as a poor, worthless drop in a big ocean. He even restrains himself from signing his own works. But he jealously conceals the secrets of his art, to reveal them only to his disciple in whom he believes they will take root. He is not wholly responsible to himself nor to his society. He believes his talent is a gift of God's grace. He does not want to explain, to judge, to criticize that gift donated to him. The secrets of the art can only be transmitted to those who are chosen like himself. This is why the artist of the East is reserved about himself. If he explains something, it is not more than tiny bits of his vast erudition. Analyzing, explaining, criticising are not part of the eastern thinking. To criticize his own art is to criticize the divine gift. By seeing himself out of the critical attitude the eastern artist secures himself an endless peace and to his own art a uniform course without disturbances. He is out of the society in which he lives. Not because he is against it or despises it, on the contrary, he is absolutely part of it, even a very humble part, humble but esteemed. He is out of the society simply because he does not try to change it neither by his behaivour nor by his art. He accepts the artist's duty as an obedience. As the divine order is once for all pronounced for him and for the society, it only remains for him to carry out to its best the details of it. Thus, his slight link of responsibility towards the society turns out to be more and more a mellow ball of threads, so soft that in the end it becomes imperceptible.
How much this old music lives in the new contemporary Turkish music; this old, stately, uniform river which unexpectedly changed its direction? Did it compeletely disspear?
Any tradition, unless unmistakably dead, is bound to tolerate new interpretations. Contemporary Turkish composers, as artists brought forth a different conception of being artist, but kept, surprisingly enough, many characteristics of the traditional music. Where were they seemed most remote to this music they caught the very core of it. At this point we witness the contemporary artist's individual approach to the tradition, his venture to change it, in a way to mould it to his own taste. It will be interesting to examine some of the works in order to grasp what is secretly but persistently continuous and what is alterable and subject to fantasy:
The slow movement of the String Quartet (1935) of Cemal Resit Rey (1904-1985) is a long single line melody; this melody retains the peculiarities of seemingly endles curves of our old music. It is supposedly a duplication of the original. But no! For this long melody is uninterruptedly echoed, like in an empty room; the music bears a totally different meaning from the old canon idea, because the melody repeatedly coils up by coming to its own beginning. The idea of catching in the canon is somewhat dissolved to become only an expansion of the time.
Another example of this sort comes also from the slow movement of the Ist String Quartet (1947) of A. Adnan Saygun (1907-1991). A triple canon but blurred because all three voices are sometimes on one another. To complete the atmosphere the violoncello imitates a darabukka.
The idea of a complete suspension of the time, possibly a general characteristic of our traditional music, is also seen in other composers (A topic to be treated: The time process in the western music developing by contrasts of the parts and harmonic processes securing for being aware where are we of the listening process, against, in the traditional eastern music, parts being not contrasting but complementary, makes the time dimension like being webs of tunnels one inside the other). Necil Kazim Akses (1908- ) in his orchestral work called "Ankara Castle" (1942), in his Ist Symphony (1966) and in his String Trio (1945) uses passages of different aksak rythms of small particles to give us a sensation of timelessness. In Ilhan Usmanbas's (the author of these lines, 1921- ) work called "Senlikname" (1970) it is attempted to draw a parallelism to the two-dimensional painting of the East. For Ilhan Berk's (1916- ) poem of the same title, the music (basso, women chorus, harp and percussion) tries to follow the curves of the speech, making some sort of ornaments around chorus' single tone D, to obtain just like an oriental miniature without special dimension. Everything, even the bass line seems glued to D sound. As the poem takes us somewhere in a fixed past, the music becomes exempt of any movement, of any development.
All these retrospective revaluations by the new generations of Turkish composers signify particularly an important fact that it existed through ages a continuous conception and practice of composition in Turkish culture. Although during the Ottoman period, the music subsisted only orally, the idea of separate and completed work, of opus number was always present for the composers. That makes a considerable difference from the music practice of other eastern cultures where the music lives only by improvisations on fixed rules (Persia and India). For this reason, the composition practice of four hundred years was easily adapted by new generations. Where in other eastern cultures composition is an inseperable part of virtuoso playing, the contemporary Turkish composers, although some of them remarkably fine instrumentalists, made their career only by composing (of course by teaching).
The new Turkish culture period brought us also a conception of national music. One of the eminent composers of the new generation Prof. Cengiz Tanc (1933- ) explains this with the following terms:
"If we want to establish certain stages in our contemporary music such as passing from monody to polyphony, than to a conception of nationality and from that, to the common contemporary scene, we must say that all these were realised  step by step by passing from restricted local thought to worldwide all embracing music arena. Only then the conception of a national music has for me any meaning."
To reach such a state of universal thought which will embrace also local hence national idiom, the education and training in the field of composition must have very strong and appropriate roots. In fact, the composition teaching which began in 1940s in the Ankara State Conservatory, which continues today (1977) together in the Istanbul State Conservatory have unmistakably universal standarts like in any other country. But what is, first of all, teaching composition?
Teaching composition is a dilemma. Painstaking acquisition of the past techniques..equally hard study up to the minor details of the 20th century composition..then, to say, very naively, to the poor student: "Now you can write what you wish, you can write as you wish! Nobody can dare to stop you". A true example of education for freedom! A very bewildering freedom, indeed. Because after the graduation the student will endure so much different pressures: From music institutions, to write for them easily understandable small pieces if he/she wants that his/her music to be played; pressures of not being played, not being edited, not being listened to. As a member of a society, as an artist, the composer will not forget his/her art's ethics. But after being educated in a free society as a free artist, just at the threshold for using this freedom, the composer will realize the cost that has to be paid. He/she will renounce to offer his/her works to the public to carry out other jobs, like teaching, conducting, coaching, newspaper reviewing, piano tuning, copying notation.. There are indeed many suitable jobs for the composer! If by any chance he/she finds the right company who accepts hartily his/her works and pay for it. Then the composer's honor is saved. Otherwise this profession is no more than a delightful hobby.
That is why the teaching of composition must embrace all the ages, all the regions. For, what is instructed is not a profession, it is the history of humanity, the history of its brain and heart. Only with this new method in teaching versus our old one directional art conception the modern student can reach a better development. The artist in the old Ottoman civilization did not differ his own art from that of his master, not even from himself.  Eastern society never doubted the validity of this identification. That is why they never existed any controversy among conceptions, not even intrigues. The ageing generation left quitely his place while the new one came to take peacefully its own. No argument, no defence, no dispute.  A permanent continuiety. Nevertheless it is not at all possible today to live without time consciousness. Time is either our friend or our enemy. In both cases it must be mastered. If an eastern country with its social, economic and cultural standarts is on the way to adopt universal values, in other terms: Changing its dogmatic beliefs on human, cultural, scientific realities, it must undergo strong changes, together with its music. Thus the new generations of Turkish composers caught, in a very short time lapse, the universal language. This language is no means a limited one. Those unlimited possibilites carries in makes its foremost difference form the old traditional music. Now every generation of ten or fifteen years of period offers new conceptions, new sounds, new resources.
In the forthcoming years, we do not know what will be the influences, the problems and their solutions for the new generations. What is sure, is that in music the multiplicity of techniques, of expressions will be greater than ever. In spite of the phenomenal expansion of the information resources which will possibly create more uniform standarts than diversities, the individual creations however will be more and more privately carried out and confined in small circles. All these conjectures are equally valid for any country accepting a universal language in music. This adoption includes no doubt the adoption of all the working conditions in the musical field: Those are, besides musical creation, scientific research, education, publicity, strong institutions, a media of higher artistic standarts, an efficient intercommunication among artists, a better policy to encourage creation.. In short, all what we artists expect for a better world.

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