The Violin In Traditional Turkish Music A General Outlook

String Tradition In Turkish Music
The Violin And Its Usage
Violin Education
Notable Violinists In Turkish Music

String Tradition In Turkish Music

There has been a string playing tradition in Turkish Music, long before the violin was brought in to the Ottoman Empire. The most used string instruments were; the Iklig, Gicek, Ki-yak, Kopuz and Kemence. In the late centuries only the Kemence became the main instrument. Like the kemence; Iklig, Gicek, Kiyak and bowed Kopuz was also played on the knee.
The kemençe consists of two words in Persian. Keman and Ce: Keman means violin and ce is small, then we can con-sider the Kemence as a small violin and it held the place of the violin in classical Turkish Music. The Kemençe has three strings and tuned in fourths and fifths. However there is an-other type of Kemence, which has four strings. This had been used by Kemenceci Vasilaki for the first time. Huseyin Saad-eddin Arel re-used the four stringed kemence as an alternative to the western violin and tuned it as same as violin which in-creases the possibilities of the instrument. But when the west-ern violin entered in to the classical Turkish Music, it was ri-valled by the kemence. Therefore there are stylistic differ-ences between the two instruments and must not be compared with each other because the kemence has a different playing technique and style. Some of the violin players of the late century has imitated the style of kemence in violin playing and established a kind of different violin sound.

Keman is a very old Persian word. It was used for the violin in Istanbul for the first time. The stem of word Keman in Per-sian is: Hemiden which means bowing or bending. In all western languages the meaning of the word Bow is the same as in Turkish: Yay. Bow means ok in Turkish. There is an instrument called Iklig in Anatolia.. The bow of Iklig was also called keman and the performer ke-manci in Anatolian Turkish. Today, keman refers to the European violin. But two centuries ago keman was not the same instrument which we know as an European violin. The old keman is called the Rebab today.

Before the violin was brought in to Turkey, the Sinekeman occupied the place of the violin. Rauf Yekta Bey suggests that Sinekeman together with the Ney and the Tambur estab-lished an excellent trio in the peak time of the Turkish Music at the time of the Sultan Selim III. Rauf Yekta suggests some claims such as Sinekeman being brought in to Turkey by Miron, a Moldavian violinist during the time of Sultan Selim III (1789-1807). But Sinekeman was played long be-fore 1789. Toderini who lived in Istanbul between 1781 till 1786 suggests that Sinekeman was already common among the Turks. Although Sinekeman is not a Turkish instrument, Rauf Yekta suggests that we do not know the exact date of the first time it was used. There was already a tradition of violin playing among the non-muslim musicians such as Ke-mani Yorgi Aga, Kemani Anastasios and Kemani Stefano.

Probably the oldest examples of the violins were found in cities such as, Istanbul and Trabzon as a result of being in commercial contact with Latin countries. Rauf Yekta Bey suggested that the violin was brought in to the Ottoman Em-pire from Austria- Hungary via Serbia and the Balkans. But It is not known exactly when the violin appeared in the Otto-man Empire. Although it did not appear in Turkish Music immediately, it was common among the people and in the Kahvehane-s (Cafe or Tea rooms). But it was Yorgi, a fa-mous violinist who introduced the modern violin to the bour-geoisie. Sixteen years after Fonton, another westerner Blain-ville mentioned Yorgi as the violinist of the Sultan. Aksoy claims that an older document than Fonton and Blainville ex-ists, which is the picture of ‘’Turkish Musicians playing the violin’ by a Swiss painter called Liotard. But the oldest document is Paralleles des Ancients et des Modernes a book by Perrault. Perrault mentioned an Iranian violinist who played the violin in the French ambassador’s residence in Is-tanbul. But we do not know if the violin was a western type or eastern.

The Violin And Its Usage

The violin took its place in Turkish Music even in the Der-vishes convent. It was also used to perform in groups at the palace. The number of violins in these groups increased gradually. One of the writers of the 19th Century says (Ozalp Derleme)
‘...There were cafe’s in different places of Istanbul that were like concert halls. In those places occasionally performers such as the kemençe players Vasilaki, the violinists Tatyos, Memduh and Tanburi Ovakim.... who were well known, would give concerts on Fridays and Sundays. in day time and at night. Towards the end of the 19th Century these cafes were called Semai Cafes. The mu-sic which was performed in those places had different motives from Turkish Folk Music and classical Turkish Music. At the same time, performing in casinos became a profes-sion. The most magnificent month for these places was the Ramadan. People who wanted to listen to Poem and Music recitals used to visit these places..’

The violin brought its own culture when it came to the Otto-man Empire. The most important factor of that culture was the Gypsy players. When the Ottoman army gained a new ter-ritory, Gypsies were moving and re-establishing themselves in there. Gypsies spread Turkish culture over Europe and took the European culture in to the new Turkish territories. An Hungarian writer made following explanation. (A.H.Tanpinar: Ismail Dede, Musiki ve Niota , Vol. 32

" ... It is a known fact that, our musicians play with Turkish instruments and in Turkish style... Our violinists were mostly from among Turkish prisoners of war.... Our peo-ple were used to having Turkish singers and players... It is clear that, there was a close relationship between Turkish and Hungarian players. In those days, Gypsies were settled down in the places where the army had been. Therefore those Gypsies had an important role as Turkish Music became known widely in the Balkans... Generally, Gypsy players walked around in pairs. One used to play the violin, the other used to play ‘the‘Saz’ ( and instru-ment also called ‘ Baglama’)... During the war, it was much easier to find Gypsy play-ers. Once captured they were not released be-cause it was difficult to find good violinist and Zurna (a wind instrument) players, thus there were Turkish singers in Hungarian castles and Hungarian singers and players in Turkish cas-tles". REFERENCES

Violin Education

The violin was not taught in schools. The style was unique. Violinists, singers, kemence players etc. performed in the same style because composers did not write any music for particular instruments. They did of course compose music with or without words, but instrumental music was played by every instrument. Every instrument performed the same pieces, but in a different way. Turkish Music was not devel-oped as the polyphonic music was. They all played in unison. They did not bother to sing the works in different keys. Male or female voices performed the same works. Therefore par-ticular techniques of the instruments or voices were not de-veloped in an academic way. There was no work written es-pecially for the violin so it was not expected to have an edu-cational method for the instrument. Violinists, always stud-ied learned and performed from memory. Many of them be-came violinists from studying on their own. They sometimes listened to other players and sometimes imitated them. When one looks at the life story of many Turkish violinists, one sees that usually, they had learned to play the violin from their father. There were innumerable Gypsy, Armenian, Turkish and Greek violinists in the late Ottoman Empire. This was one of the great examples of the mixed culture.


Players did nor use the western tuning system although they changed the chanterelle to one tone lower. When we look at the past, before the violin and Sinekeman were used, the first strings of the Kemence and the Rebab were tuned to D. When the keman first appeared in Istanbul the tuning did not suit the players and they changed the first string to one tone lower which nowadays is still the case, although some Turk-ish Music players use the international tuning system today. Another opinion is that, before they were met with the mod-ern violin, they were using the Sinekeman and the first string of it, was tuned to D. When the violin was introduced, they had some difficulty to play it with the chanterelle E and they changed it into D.
I have heard personally the following opinion from a famous Kemence player Cuneyd Orhon. He said that some of the makams in Turkish Music are very difficult to perform on the violin. These makams in the high pitches have got critical in-tervals especially on Gerdaniye (D) Therefore it was easier to play with them on the open string and they usually played with the same tuning.

The violin entered and being used in Turkey as a result of the entrance of western tradition and music. We find out that, earliest relationship between Turkish and Western Music has started in the 16th Century. François I, then the king of France, had sent an ensemble to the Suleyman II as early as 1543. Elizabeth I had also sent an organ as a present to the Sultan Murat III in 1599. But the real occupation of the western music started in 1826. When the Sultan Mahmut II abandoned the old Jannisary army, he founded a modern army called Nizam-_ Cedid. Therefore the old mehter band as a part of the old military tradition was also disbanded, a new western style brass team was established. In two years time (1828) Giuseppe Donizetti was invited and he founded the first western style military band. The band became the Sultan’s Music Ensemble so called Muzika-i Humayun. Support for western Music increased. Opera and Theatre companies appeared and there were performances at the Pal-ace in Istanbul that was then the capital of the Ottoman Em-pire. Great virtuosos came from Europe to give concerts, in-cluding Franz Liszt and Henry Vieuxtemps. Mesut Cemil Tel who is the son of Tamburi Cemil Bey, writes in his book called ‘Tanburi Cemil Bey’ in Hayati’,
‘...When Vieuxtemps visited Istanbul, Tan-buri Cemil Bey played for him. Vieuxtemps was impressed with his playing and marvel-lous bow technique. REFERENCE

Even violinists such as Wieniawsky composed works influ-enced by Turkish Music. The best example is his Oriental Fantasy for violin and piano Op.24.

Notable Violinists In Turkish Music

According to a pamphlet written by Suleyman Faik Efendi, Musahip Hizir Aga and Kemani Ali Aga were famous in the second half of the 18th century. It was written by Evliya Celebi that there were about 80 professional Kemence players in the middle of the 18th century. They were called Kemani because the Rebab was called keman. Evliya Celebi also mentioned Ahmed Celebi ( ?-1720) who was the favourite pupil of Kemani Mustafa Aga. He also mentions the names of two other players, Kursuncuzade and Murad Celebi. Unfortunately we do not have any information about the style of the older violinists, as we do not know if they played Re-bab, Sinekeman or the western violin.

Kemani Ali Aga was born in Istanbul and studied in Enderun. After his graduation, he became sergeant of the treasury, companion of Selim III. Afterwards he became chief muezzin and was given a nickname Ali Efendi. He died at the age of 60. He played the oriental violin (Rebab) at the palace with well known musicians such as Dede Efendi, Dellalzade Shakir Aga etc. Kemani Yorgi Aga (18th Century) as mentioned above was one of the first violinist to use the western violin in Turkish Music. He was a violinist and composer of the palace also worked in Enderun, during the time of Sultan Selim III and Mahmud I. Another pioneer violinist along with Yorgi, was Miron (18th Century), he was from Moldovia. Yorgi, Miron and Todori influenced each other. However, Yorgi had played the oriental violin (as we call it Rebab today.) before he played the western violin. His teacher was Kemani Ali Aga. Kemani Hizir Aga (18th Century) and Sadik Aga (1757-1815) were also important violinists of the 18th century.

Avram Barzilay was a violinist of Jewish origin. Towards the end of the 18th century he lived in Thessaloniki. Among the famous compositions there are two pesrevs in Cargah and Pencgah modes. His grandson Barzilay also continued to perform in the same tradition. Hamparsum Limonciyan was born in Istanbul in 1768. He was a composer and violin-ist of Armenian origin. He attended churches and dervishes convents to make music. He also took lessons from Ismail Dede Efendi. He invented a new notation system with en-couragement from Selim III. He died in 1839. Hamza Aga ( died in 1830s) and Bedros Comlekciyan (1785-1840) were among the well known violinists of the 18th century as well.
Kemani Riza Efendi lived between 1780 and 1852. His style was very classical and dominated the Turkish Music un-til Tanburi Cemil’s style became popular. He also taught the violin in Harem-i Humayun Music Performance Group.
In the 19th Century the art of violin playing developed. In the first half of the 19th Century Sinekemani Agop and a gypsy player Denizoglu Kemani Ali Bey were important influ-ences to its development and in the 2nd half of the 19th Cen-tury, there were many violinists who were exposed to the new recording medium of that era.

One of the famous violinists was Kemani Aleksan Aga (1850?-1910?). He was usually known as Kemani Aga, lived in Istanbul. When Darulmusiki-i Osmani was established un-der the patronage of Shehzade Ziyaeddin Efendi in Istanbul, he had worked there as a teacher. He was the teacher of Ke-mani Serkis and Kemani Mustafa Sunar. He also gave private lessons to the children of wealthy families. Kemani Aleksan Aga’s style left an important mark on the other violinists. After his death, the other musicians continued to play in his style.
Necabeddin, who played the violin in the Turkish Music State Ensemble, was one of Aleksan Aga’s followers. Through out his life he was known as the master of the violin. He made records of Taksims, Yegah, Segah and Saba makams and made compositions as vocal and instrumental pieces. According to Öztuna, he improved his art by imitating the others before him. Öztuna PAGE NUMBER Unfortu-nately, no recorded example of his work survives today.
Another famous violinist was Kemani Sebuh. He was also called Kör Sebuh because of his blindness. He played the violin in Muzika-i Humayun for a while and worked at night clubs for a long time. His lively and characteristic playing style can be seen in his compositions ‘ Oyun Havalari’. Vio-linist Tatyos Efendi was one of his students.
Another violinists of Armenian descent was Melekzet Efendi. He was born in Istanbul in 1857. He was also known as a singer. He went to Egypt and established a Music Society in Cairo and taught in several Armenian Schools. He died in Cairo, in 1937.
One of the pupils of Kemani Sebuh was Tatyos Efendi and he was also of Armenian descent. Tatyos Efendi was born in Istanbul in 1858. He studied with Kemani Sebuh. He worked as a performer in Pirinççi Night Club for a while, he was an alcoholic and died of cirrhosis at the age of 55 in 1913. He was one of the teachers of Mustafa Sunar.
Kemani Bulbuli Salih Efendi was born in the second half of the 19th century and died in 1923.
He was of Gypsy origin and became very famous in the night clubs and because of he imitated the nightingale and was called Bulbuli. He was one of the teachers of Mustafa Sunar. He often played with Tanburi Cemil Bey and left some re-cordings.
We can find out from his recordings that his style is very plain and does not use ornaments as much as the others. His vibrato is an arm and wrist vibrato as we can perceive from the recording. He does not use finger vibrato very often. Much of the time he uses continuous vibrato. Sometimes he does not use any vibrato. He defines the differences between the notes clearly. He has a small but musical, non-creamy and sweet tone. His intonation is always correct even in the high pitches. He alternates the amount of bow he uses for the characteristics of the melodies.
Kemani Andon ( ?-1915) and Kemani Dikran ( ?-1924) were the important violinists of the second half of the 19th century. Another violinist Kemani Kirkor was born in Is-tanbul in 1868, he was of Armenian origin and also studied religious music. He worked in different churches as a singer and he even wrote the notes of the traditional Jewish rites for the chief Rabbi. He joined Darul Musiki-i Osmani as a per-former. He also made some records. He died in 1938.
Kemani Memduh lived between 1868 and1938. He was of a gypsy origin and was born in Istanbul. He played in the pres-ence of Abdulhamid II several times. He also made records and he was one of the first users of western tuning system.
Sinekemani Mehmet Nuri Duyguer (1877-1963) was born in Istanbul. He learnt the Kanun from his sister and he took music lessons from Enderuni Ali Bey. He composed songs and was admitted into conservatory performing ensemble by Arel. He taught many students. He both played the violin and Sinekeman.
Kemani Serkis (1885-1944) was of Armenian origin and was born in Istanbul. His teacher was Kemani Aleksan Aga. He played the violin in the school of Muallim Ismail Hakki Bey in Laleli, Istanbul, later on he emigrated to Paris and died there.
Haydar Tatliyay was a violinist of Gypsy origin. He was born in Draman in 1890, started to play the violin at the age of eight. In 1914, he emigrated to Canakkale and worked in the clubs in Izmir region. In 1928, he went to Egypt and stayed there for 4 years. He also stayed in Haleppo for three years and came back to Istanbul. His style was arabesque and his compositions display the influence of Arab Music. He used to practice regularly. In a short time, he was called the Paganini of Turkish Music. His instrumental works were a revolution for the instrumental Turkish Music. But nobody was able to play them because of the difficulties of the tech-nical passages. However, he was a great technician but was poor musically. His musical taste was far away from the style of Turkish Music. He used some Arabic tunes in his taksims that affected his position in Turkish Music Society. He did not know to read the music, always played by memory. In his playing, he played very long phrases which were full of or-naments. He used finger vibrato when he needed. He did not need to use the vibrato much of the time because the orna-ments did the same job. His playing was far from classical Turkish music, but there is technical brilliancy in his record-ings.
Mustafa Sunar was also born in Draman. In spite of his family reservations he studied music. He taught in schools for a while. After 1945 he worked as a performer in the Istanbul Conservatory. He also taught in Eyub Music Society. He died in Ankara in 1961. He had improved his playing by taking private tuition from Kemani Aleksan Aga, Kemani Tatyos Efendi, Kemani Memduh and Bulbuli Salih Efendi. At the same time he was a very good performer of the Sinekeman and Rebab.
Resad Erer was born in Istanbul in 1899. He began to play the violin when he was a child and soon became famous. He was one of the founders of Darulelhan and Darultalim-i Mu-siki. Although he took lessons from some tutors, he was largely self-taught. He was influenced by Tanburi Cemil Bey. When we listened to his violin playing, it is obvious to see this influence. His style was much more close to that of the Kemence. He died in 1940 in Ankara.
Sadi Isilay was born in Istanbul in 1899. He first studied with his father. Later he attended the Darul Musiki-i Osmani Music Society. He was taken to a tour to Thessaloniki when he was just at twelve. After Erer’s death he took his place in the Municipal Conservatory Performing Ensemble. He was one of the most important violinist of traditional Turkish Mu-sic. His virtuosity was not satisfying but his musical quality was extraordinary. He used very long bows and did not play any false notes. He played with a musical and strong sound but the sound quality itself was not satisfying. He died in Is-tanbul, 1969.
Cevdet Çagla was born in Istanbul in 1900 and was one of the most precocious violinists. His parents were fond of mu-sic. His father was an amateur violinist and his mother was a pianist. Çagla gained his first musical knowledge throughout his childhood in his musical environment. Although his par-ents dealt with classical Turkish music, they wanted him to study western music. As a matter of fact he began to take his first lessons from Ama Hafiz Osman. When he was at the age of six, he started to take private lessons from Antoniyadis, who was an expert tutor of western music. Çagla soon im-proved and was sent to Germany where he stayed for two and a half years and completed his music and high school educa-tion. Having returned to Turkey, he attended Istanbul Econ-omy and Trade College. Meanwhile, he joined in Darultalim-i Musical Society and worked there for 15 years. Within this period he took part in many concerts both in Istanbul and abroad. He worked in radio broadcasting when Istanbul Radio was established in 1927. Then in 1938 he was appointed to the chief performer post. In those years, he belonged to the Ankara Music Society which was established by the composer Fehmi Tokay.
Between 1950-1956 he worked as a chief of Istanbul Radio Music Broadcasting. Later on, he was appointed to Baghdad Conservatory as a violin teacher in accordance with the cul-tural relations between Turkish and Iraqi governments in 1956 for three years. Çagla gained here a well deserved fame all around the Arab world, giving concerts on radio and televi-sion. When he came back to Istanbul he continued to work as a chief of music broadcasts. He also taught in the Turkish Music State Conservatory until his death in 1988.
Hakki Derman was born in Istanbul in 1907. He began to play the violin at the age of ten. When he was twelve, he joined in Besiktas Musical Society where he met Serif Icli and studied with him for a long time. He graduated from Be-siktas Gazi Osman Pasha High School and in 1926 graduated with a degree in Pharmacology. He worked as a performer for a while and then he was accepted to Istanbul Radio. In 1931 he took part in a tour to Greece for three months. In 1936 he was transferred to Ankara Radio. Between 1937 and 1940 he studied chemistry and became a chemist in the Municipality. Then he came to Istanbul and worked there in the radio and in many clubs as a performer. In 1966 he was chosen as a sec-ond president of the control commission in Istanbul Radio. In 1967 he joined in repertoire commission. He never dealt the art of composition and remained as a performer.
He played in an extraordinary way with his own very dex-trous and frisky bow technique. His style influenced many musicians. He made various recordings. When his style is ob-served, one can see his quick and lively bow style. He gener-ally uses short bows and plays at the tip most of the time. He does not use long bows and his phrases are not long like that of Haydar Tatliyay’s. His intonation is impeccable and tone is very sweet. He often uses the bowing effect of Ponticello. In his playing, very fast notes can be observed. He does not use his technique for virtuosity as Haydar Tatliyay does. The technique helps him to have a better musical sound and he uses this very well.
Nobar Tekyay was born in Istanbul, in 1906. He was of Armenian origin and his real name was Nobar Çomlekçiyan. When he was six, he started to learn music from his father who was a well-known Ud player. First he learned western music but later performed Turkish music. He worked in some clubs and the Istanbul Radio for a while and then went to Paris where he stayed for a few years. On his return he worked in Istanbul Radio again. He died in 1955.
Nobar Tekyay opened a new age in violin playing in Turkish music by making a synthesis of western technique and Turk-ish music. He produced a smooth sound on the violin. He had a sweet tone and used arm vibrato. He used both long and short bows. He also used double stops in his performances. He used his technique purely for musical purposes.

Today younger generations do not know about the musical personalities of their recent heritage. They do not even search for them. The style of performing traditional Turkish Music is close to extinction as there is no link between the younger and the older generations. It is no longer traditional. Musicians are creating a degenerate industrial music. No one is listening to Tekyays, Caglas and Cemils.



AKSOY, Bulent: Avrupali Gezginlerin Gozuyle Osmanlilarda Musiki, / Music in the Ottoman in the Eyes of European Travellers, Pan Publications, Istanbul 1994

ASKIN, Cihat: The Violin in Turkey, Master Thesis, City University of London, 1992

FARMER, Georg Henry: A History of Arabian Music to the 13th Century, Luzac & Company Ltd., 1973

FARMER, Georg Henry: Historical Facts of the Arabian Mu-sical Influence, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim, 1970

FARMER, Georg Henry: The Music of Islam, Oxford Uni-versity Press, London, 1975

FONTON, Charles: 18. Yuzyilda Turk Muzigi / Turkish Mu-sic in the 18th Century, Ed. Cem Behar, Pan Publications, Is-tanbul 1987

KALAYCIOGLU, Rahmi: Turk Musikisi Bestekarlari Kulli-yati, Favori Print House, Istanbul, 1978

KUTAHYALI, Onder: Çagdas Muzik Tarihi / Contemporary Music History, Varol Press, Ankara 1981

NEUMAN, Frederick: Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1978

OGEL, Bahaeddin: Turk Kultur ve Medeniyet Tarihi / His-tory of Turkish Culture and Civilization, Milli Egitim Print House

OZALP, Dr. Nazmi: TRT Turk Musikisi Tarihi / History of Turkish Music of Turkish Radio Television, Collection, vol. 1

RAUF YEKTA BEY: Turk Musikisi / Turkish Music, Trans-lator: Orhan Nasuhioglu, Pan Publications, Istanbul 1986

TANPINAR, Ahmet Hamdi: Ismail Dede, Musiki ve Nota Mecmuasi, vol. 32

TEL, Mesut Cemil: Tanburi Cemil Bey’ in Hayati / Life of Tanburi Cemil Bey, Istanbul

WELLESZ, Egon: A History of Byzantine Music and Hym-nography, Oxford, 1961

ZONIS, Ella: Classical Persian Music- An Introduction, Har-vard University Press, 1973