Turkish Music

Brief History of Turkish Music


The Turks  are a numerous and widespread people, living today in Central Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Europe. Though Turkic peoples living over this vast geographical area are different from each other, they come from the same roots. As the Turks have quickly integrated with the local peoples in the areas they live, their folk music has also become differentiated in the same way. The Turkish music that we will address in this article is that of the Turks living within the borders of today's Turkey and its immediate surroundings.

The Turks have lived in Anatolia and Thrace for nearly 2000 years. Along with the musical culture they brought with them from Asia, they have participated in cultural exchange with the local people in these regions. Consequently Turkish folk music in Anatolia displays a special structure comprised of several independent musical regions.

As opposed to the urban elite environment in which Turkish classical music emerged and developed, folk music shows the local characteristics of the rural population. As a different social product, it takes as its subjects all the natural and social events experienced by the people. The variety in its musical structure, instruments used, those who perform the music, and their social positions, are direct reflections of the people's lives.

Turkish folk music is fed by two main sources: türkü singers (those who create local music via anonymous songs) and âsiks. Türkü singers sing the songs that are performed in all sorts of celebrations, special rituals, certain religious gatherings and funerals throughout Anatolia. As they sing them over and over, they add different words, and create new songs with new names. The musical patterns as well as the lyrics they use are anonymous. Asiks on the other hand, are people who mostly create music with their own lyrics or the lyrics of other asiks. As they are outside the local music culture and sing and play in their own unique styles, the personal quality of their music is more obvious. (See: Music Among the Asiks.)


 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
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. 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 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 scoll and a symphonic orchestra in Ankara. Music festival that are held yearly in Istanbul (for 25 years) and Ankara (for 14 years) are the members of European Festivals Associations.

Evin Ilyasoglu-Bogazici University



Arabesk music dominates the Turkish pop scene. It is largely Arabic in origin, which led to condemnation from some Turkish nationalists. Arabesk stems from Raks Sharki (more often known as belly-dancing music) and was popularized beginning in the 1940s by Kaydar Tatliyay and other performers, leading to a 1948 ban on Arabic language music. The effort was largely unsuccessful, as most Turks listened to Radio Cairo and Arabic music continued to be popular. In the middle of the 1960s, Turkish urban and folk styles were incorporated into Arabesk by musicians like Ahmet Sezgin, Abdullah Yüce and Hafiz Burhan Sesiyilmaz. This was followed by performers like Orhan Gencebay who added Anglo-American rock and roll to Arabesk music.

Orhan Gencebay

Classical music


clasical turkish musicturkish clasic music

Most Turkish music share the makam, a system of modes or scales and other rules of composition, as well improvisatory pieces called taksim. Taksim are part of a suite of music consisting of a prelude, postlude and a primary section which begins with and is punctuated by taksim. Songs are a part of this tradition, many of them extremely old, dating back to the 14th century; many are newer, however, with late 19th century songwriter Haci Arif Bey being especially popular. Commonly used instruments in Turkish classical music are the oud, tanbur, ney, kanun, and darbuka.

Turkish classical music is taught in conservatoires, the most respected of which is Istanbul's Üsküdar Musiki Cemiyeti. The most popular Turkish classical singer is Münir Nurettin Selçuk, who was the first to establish a lead singer position. Other performers include Bülent Ersoy, Zeki Müren, and Zekai Tunca.

20th century classical history


Kurdish music


Kurdish music in Turkey:

Traditionally, there are three types of Kurdish performers -- storytellers (chirokbej), minstrels (stranbej) and bards (dengbej). Many songs are epic in nature, recounting the tales of Kurdish heroes like Saladin. Love songs, dance music, wedding and other celebratory songs, erotic poetry and work songs are also popular. Musical instruments include the bloor (flute), ghol (drum), duduk (oboe), tenbur (saz), kamanche (spike fiddle) and zurna (wooden shawm).

The most frequently used song form has two verses with ten syllable lines. Kurdish music is characterized by simple melodies, with a range of only three or four notes, and strophic songs, in which an identical line of poetry and music occur at the end of each stanza. Music is modal, with its maqam (or mode in Arabic music) is called Kurdi and is known throughout the Arab world.

For most of the 20th century, Kurdish language songs were banned in Turkey. Some Turkish Kurdish singers, like Ibrahim Tatlises, sang in Turkish, while others violated the ban and fled to various countries, especially France. A black market, however, has long existed in Turkey, and pirate radio stations and underground recordings have always been available. Sivan Perwer, the most famous Kurdish musician, came from the Kurdish-Turk community. He came to fame in 1972 during a Kurdish revolt in Iraq, and became a superstar before fleeing to Germany in 1976.

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Ibrahim Tatlises

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