Turkish Music

Evin Ilyasoglu
Bogazici University
Further Reading


Today, Turkish music is a fusion of classical art music, folk songs, Ottoman military music, Islamic hymns and the norms of western art music. Classical Turkish music is the courtly music of the Ottoman sultans that is an offspring of the Arabic and Persian traditions. This music is not written down in scores; with only the maquam, which is a similar pattern of major-minor scale system, being marked down. Improvisation (taksim) is a traditional variation technique, featuring the form. One of the characteristics of Turkish classical and folk music, as well as the military music and the hymns, is being monophonic. There are about 24 unequal intervals and almost numberless modes.
Aksak is the irregular meter typical to Turkish folk music. This metric pattern provides a rich texture to the doubles, triples and quadruples of time measures of the western music. The tradition of regional variations in the character of folk music prevails all around Anatolia and Thrace even today. The troubadour (singer-poets) contributed to this genre for ages anonymously.
Turkish military music of the Janissary Band influenced 18th and 19th century European music, with its percussive character, aksak rhythms and mystical tones. Inspired by the Janissary bands, both Mozart and Beethoven wrote Alla turca movements; Lully and Handel composed operas.
Western music became known in the 19th century because many foreign musicians visited Istanbul and performed concerts. Giusseppe Donizetti was one of them. He founded a band in 1831 after Sultan Mahmut II abolished the Guild of Janissaries in 1826.
The proclamation of the Republic in 1923 by Ataturk heralded a new era under his leadership. Turkey underwent such reforms that transformed her from an oriental empire to a western nation. In the early years, a group of talented young musicians was sent to European cultural centers for training. As they returned, they became the founders of modern Turkish art music. Conventional approach considers five of these composers, commonly called the Turkish Five as the first generation of the polyphonic school. Namely, Cemal Resit Rey (1904-1985); Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972), Hasan Ferit Alnar (1906-1978), Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991) and Necil Kazim Akses (1908-) are the members of this group. Their torch illuminated the way for successive generations. Their common aim was to use Turkish art and folk music tunes to compose in Western norms. Later compositions became more spontaneous in inspiration with each composer exhibiting the color and mysticism of folk tunes in his style. While direct inspiration becomes less and less obvious, the original tunes remain detectable nonetheless. The composition styles of some of the leading composers of polyphonic music can be explained in short such as:
Cemal Resit Rey (1904-1985) a pioneer among polyphonic Turkish composers, Rey is also known as a conductor, pianist and teacher. He is the founder of the Istanbul City Orchestra. He studied in Paris and Geneva becoming a student  to Gabriel Faure. His compositions are all in a modal structure, tonal and melodic.
Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991) is a hallmark in Turkish music as a pioneer in polyphonic composition, an ethnomusicologist and an instructor. Saygun studied on pre-modal and modal music. His compositions are all in a modal structure but sometimes with a pentatonic character.
Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972), a pioneer of modern Turkish music, he was a composer, pianist and teacher. His works are a blend of elements that were drawn from Turkish folk dances, traditional modes, mystical Islamic philosophy and the norms of western music.
Bulent Arel (1918-1991) installed the electronic music studios at the State University of New York at  Stony Brook. Most of his works are derived entirely from electronic sound material.
Ilhan Usmanbas (1921-) belongs to the second generation of Turkish polyphonic composers. His first international success came with FROMM Music Award in the in 1955. His composing method is a direct product of his eclecticism. His tools find a wide spectrum from neo-classicism to aleatory; 12-tone to serialism; blocs to minimalism.
Kamran Ince (1960), Aydin Esen(1962) and Fazil Say (1970) characterise the new generations of Turkish polyphonic music. Their compositions are quite eclectic with the traces of  traditional Turkish music as well as the modern western trends, including the pop and  jazz elements.
In Turkey, there are six state conservatories, four symphonic orchestras and three opera houses. Bilkent University has a private music school and a private symphonic orchestra in Ankara. Music festivals that are held yearly in Istanbul (for 25 years) and Ankara (for 14 years) are the members of European Festivals Associations.


The state conservatories can be listed as follows: Ankara Hacettepe
University; Istanbul University; Istanbul Mimar Sinan University; Izmir
Dokuz Eylül University; Mersin University; Edirne University. Çukurova
(Adana) University. The traditional Turkish music conservatories are as
follows: Istanbul Technical University; Izmir Ege University and Gaziantep
University. There are four state symphony orchestras (Ankara Presidetial,
Istanbul, Izmir and Adana) as well as opera and ballet houses. Bilkent
University has a private music school and a symphonic orchestra in Ankara.
Music festivals that are held yearly in Istanbul (for 25 years) and Ankara
(for 14 years) are the members of European Festivals Associations.

Further Reading

AKSOY, Bulent, Avrupali Gezginlerin Gozuyle Osmanllarda Musiki / Music in Ottomans, PanYayincilik, Istanbul, 1994
ALTAR, Cevad Memduh, Opera Tarihi / History of Opera Cilt 4, Kultur Eserleri Dizisi: 25,
BARTOK, Bela, Turkish Folk Music from Asia minor, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1976
ILYASOGLU, Evin, 25 Turk Bestecisi/25 Turkish Composers, Pan Yayincilik,Istanbul, 1989
ILYASOGLU, Evin, Muzigin Kanatlarinda Soylesiler, Pan Yayincilik, Istanbul,1992
ILYASOGLU, Evin, Ilhan Usmanbas'a Armagan, Sevda Cenap And Muzik Vakfi Yayinlari, Ankara, 1994
ILYASOGLU, Evin, Zaman Içinde Muzik, Yapi ve Kredi Yayinlari, Istanbul,1994 (4.baskI 1996)
ILYASOGLU, Evin, Cemal Resit Rey-Muzikten ibaret bir dunyada gezintiler, Yapi ve Kredi Yayinlari
SAY, Ahmet, Muzik Tarihi / History of Music, Muzik Ansiklopedisi Yayinlari, Ankara,1994,
SELANIK, Cavidan, Muzik Sanatinin Tarihsel Seruveni, Doruk Yayimcilik, Ankara, 1996.