A Short History Of Polyphonic Music In Turkey

Evin Ilyasoglu
Bogazici University

A Short History Of Polyphonic Music In Turkey
The Spreading Of Polyphonic Music After The Declaration Of The Republic
Further Reading


A short history of polyphonic music in Turkey

Contemporary Turkish music is rooted in traditional Turkish music, which, in turn, takes form after the Shamanistic traditions of Central Asia as well as those of the lands Turks travelled through on their way to Anatolia. Pre- and post-Islam, Arabic, Iranian and the traditions of the Ottomans all have had their say. This musical tradition is made of a peculiar structure of modes and rhythms. It is monophonic and it deals with the intervals less than whole tones and half tones. Traditional Turkish music is a unification of Art Music and Folk Music. Art Music was performed in the Court and at the religious centers. Its lyrics are drived from Divan (Court) literature. Folk Music used the lyrics of folk literature and that was the music of the common folk as enjoyed by the people. The differences between the two are minimal.
Polyphonic music, which developed in the West over many centuries, is alien to traditional Turkish music. Polyphony finally entered Turkey with light music such as operettas, tangos and kantos in the Nineteenth Century; for it to become acceptable in the more serious circles with polyphonic Turkish music works took until the first quarter of the Twentieth.
Visiting European companies introduced polyphonic music to the Ottoman Court with musical plays, orchestra concerts, opera- ballet and choir performances. Francois I of France sent an orchestra to Suleiman the Magnificent after the treaty between France and the Ottoman Empire was signed in 1543; this orchestra gave three performances in the Court. Selim III invited a Western opera troupe in 1797 whose performances were met with great delight around the Court. The first steps in polyphonic music training were taken by Mahmud II: He abolished the Janissaries in 1826 and founded the Asakir-i Mansurei Muhammediye (the Reformed Soldiers of Mahmud). This new army needed something more than the habitual tunes of the Mehteran, and the winds band of Muzika-i Humayun were formed. This music group also functioned as court musicians. Giuseppe Donizetti (1788-1856), brother of the famous Italian opera composer, became its director. Donizetti Pasha (General Donizetti) added the string instruments to this band in 1846, thus forming the core of an orchestra from what was essentially a military court band. He trained the musicians on the Hamparsum notes and composed new tunes to ever increase the band’s repertoire. He ordered new instruments form Italy and invited the teachers along with them. The band did not limit its performances to the Court but went out into the streets also. Thus did Donizetti’s band introduce polyphonic music to the public.
Along with the Tanzimat (Reformation) came the French Theatre (opened 1839) where musical plays and operas were performed. Western artists added to the polyphonic music world. From the 1840s onwards, Italian opera companies started visiting the NaumTheatre. This theatre contributed in a major way to the acceptance of the Italian operatic tradition for twenty-eight years.. Abdulmecid had a small th