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As an ancient nation, Turks occupied the region called Central Asia these days. They were totally nomadic people with great military skills. So their history is filled with friendly or not so friendly contacts with outside world, especially Chinese, Persian and Arabs during this time period before 10th Century AD. During this period of turmoil, they also developed a great cultural diversity. One of the world's first written history texts was created during this time, namely Orhun Inscriptions. Created by the Gokturk Turks these ruins today explains what was happening in Central Asia between 8th and 10th centuries.

Because of big droughts lasting for decades, Turks started moving to the West at the beginning of 10th century. This move created close contacts with Arabs and Persians and Turks became Muslims. However having the same religion did not prevented them from fighting with Arabs and Persians. Over the centuries these nations had many bloody wars costing millions of lives.

The most important even in the Turkish history took place in 1071 AD. , Malazgirt war in Eastern Anatolia. In this war, Turks defeated Byzantium Empire and open the doors of Anatolia to the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. During the following two hundred years, Turks progressed to the Mediterranean Sea in the South and Aegean Sea in the West. They established tens of small kingdoms all over Anatolia. These kingdoms were consolidated by the tribe of Ottoman creating the Ottoman Sultanate. The Ottomans were very fast in expanding their territories. In 1453 AD, they conquered Constantinopolis and named it as Istanbul. This was the beginning of the most glamorous part of the Ottoman Empire. Especially during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Empire was expanded from Algeria to Indian Ocean, from Vienna to Yemen. Such a big political power created a melting pot for many different cultures and peoples. However, like many other great powers, these developments also contained the seeds of decline. Especially with the changing political orientation of the rulers from East to West, the Ottoman Empire lost its power and became a semi-colony at the end of the 19th Century. Eventually, after the 1st World War, Turks were forced to live in a small territory in the middle of Anatolian peninsula. However with the Turkish Independence War between 1918 and 1923 Turks established themselves as an independent Turkish Republic in Anatolia and a small section in the Balkans. This new republic tried to distinguished itself from the legacy of the Ottoman Empire even though it inherited its identity from the Ottomans. Today Turkey is a land of contradictions and many great peoples such as Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Georgians, Bosnians etc.,.

Peter Manuel, in his remarkable book "Popular Musics of the Non-Western World" makes these observations about Turkish music: "Turkey's musical heritage -one of the richest of the non-Western world- is remarkable for its diversity and for the influence it has exerted on the cultures of its neighbors. The legacy of extended Ottoman rule is clear in the urban musics of Greece, Yugoslavia, and other Balkan countries, as in the art music of the Arab world, which developed hand-in-hand with Turkish classical music during the several centuries of Turkish rule. At present, Turkish popular music , although little known in the West , finds substantial audience in Greece, Israel, and elsewhere, and flourishes with great vitality in West Germany as well as Turkey." (Oxford University Press)

In Turkey at the present, a wide variety of music can be heard. This section describes these different styles and tries to give some ides about the instruments as well as the genre itself. To some extend, these categories overlap, yet each has its own style, forms and instruments.

Turkish Classical Music:
Also named as Turkish Art Music, this genre is clearly the product of the Ottoman civilization and a synthesis of many different styles over hundreds of years. The Ottoman Sultans brought the greatest musicians and composers from all over the world, including Iran, Egypt, India, Uzbekistan, Greece, France etc., in order to perform for the Sultans. These musicians were employed as State musicians. They created one of the worlds most distinguished art forms. The Ottoman Palace had many music schools to train a selected crop of musicians. So many people from many great nations created this uniquely Turkish musical tradition. Its vast repertoire includes compositions numbering in the thousands and spanning a period of at least five centuries.

The traditional classical repertoire performed in Turkey today is selected almost entirely from these three sources: compositions of the 20th century composers , transcriptions of compositions from the memory of older musicians, translation into Western notations from collections in Hamparsum or other historical Turkish notations.

The oldest piece which is occasionally performed today is attributed to Farabi ( 950 AD.). Actual heads of State figure prominently amongst Ottoman composers. More than twenty instrumental pieces from the current repertoire are attributed to Gazi Giray Han , a 16th century general, ruler of Crimea, composer, poet, scholar and musician. The 17-18th century governor of Moldavia, Prince Cantemir ( Kantemiroglu in Turkish) provides us with a priceless collection of almost 350 instrumental pieces of the time, 36 of which are his own. Several Ottoman Sultans were also known for their musical abilities, the most notable being Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807). An accomplished poet, musician and composer, Selim was also a great patron of music; his reign is considered the Golden Age of Turkish Classical music. Religious minorities, ethnic minorities and women are also well represented in Turkish Classical music. The best known examples are the Polish Ali Ufki and the Rumanian Cantemir. A Greek fur merchant of the 18th century Zaharya, contributed songs suffused with Christian mysticism. An instrumentalist and composer of the court of Selim III, Tanburi Isak was a Jew; Hamparsum was an Armenian. An 18th century woman of the Harem, Dilhayat Hanim left instrumental works often heard today.

Turkish Folk Music:
Originally, folk music meant village music. The archetypal examples are the shepherd on the mountain playing his kaval (flute), the farm wife singing a lullaby to her child, and the gypsy musician performing at a wedding. A quasi-improvisatory epic form for solo voice is called Uzun Hava, a dance tune is called Oyun Havasi, and a folk song is called Turku. Each region of Turkey has its own variants on these forms. The Black Sea region in the North , Kurdish region in the Southeast, Turkoman region of Taurus Mountains in the South and many other distinctive regions provides an incredible amounts of folk music traditions with regional instruments. Folk music has a variety of musical instruments, of which the most common are: davul and zurna (bass drum and shawm), baglama sazi (long-necked lute), kemence (Black Sea fiddle), darbukka (vase drum), gayda (back-pipe), kaval (flute).

Turkish Popular Music:
"Popular music" is used here as a catchall category for music one might hear on the street in front of a record shop, in a dolmus (jitney taxi) from the driver's cassette recorder, or in a night club. As a result of the urbanization in Turkey, this type of music can include harmonized Turkish Folk songs, imported Arabic music, and various hybrid styles. The main themes in this music is similar to those in the Country Western music in the States such as complaints about life and feelings coming from adjustment to the city life. Some of this type of songs gained great recognition in the neighboring countries. For example, singer Ibrahim Tatlises finds very enthusiastic audiences from Uzbekistan to Germany, from Egypt to Greece with his bright tenor voice.

Turkish Protest Music:
This style of music is a reflection of political developments of the last 30 years. They definitely use the folk music forms with heavily politicized lyrics concerning the daily struggles of the ordinary people. This genre can be considered as a part of the world-wide New Song movement, like Victor Jara in Chile or Inti Illimani. The most prominent musicians of this style are Zulfu Livaneli, Group Yorum and Ahmet Kaya. These musicians often collaborate with Greek or Latin musicians for universal sound. For example Zulfu Livaneli had many concerts with great Greek composer Mikis Teodorakis and singer Maria Faranduri in the old Greek theater in Ephesus. Some 30 thousand people attended these concerts each time.

The Fasil Music:
This semi-classical genre can be described as a nightclub version of classical Turkish music. There is distinctly gypsy quality in fasil groups, not solely due to the dark-complexioned artists, but also clearly recognizable in form (e.g., ciftetelli improvisations), intonation, ornamentation, and instruments. Predominant instruments are: klarnet (clarinet), keman (violin), ud (lute) or cumbus (modern banjo-lute), kanun (zither), darbuka (drum), and yayli-tanbur (bowed, long necked cumbus). The fasil as a form is a vocal suite of light classical pieces; in fact the fasil tradition is close to the classical one, differing mainly in balance of program, style and atmosphere. The musician who specializes in this music is fond of filling in short rests in the melody with his own keriz (improvisation), a practice currently frowned on in strictly classical circles. The best known artists today in the fasil genre are; Mustafa Kandirali (clarinet), Ahmet Yatman (kanun), Kadri Sencalar (Ud) and Nurettin Celik (Vocals).

Turkish Religious Music:
There is a formidable music tradition in Turkey for the Islamic liturgy which can be called "mosque music". Entirely vocal and mostly improvised, this tradition has received scant attention from scholars so far. Forms like ezan (call-to-worship), salat (prayer), and Ilahi (hymn) are recited in daily worship. The Mevlit (Nativity poem) on the other hand , is chanted (musically improvised) on special occasions, such as on the fortieth-day memorial service for the deceased. On the "Night of Lights" the Miraciye is recited in celebration of the Mirac, or Ascension of the Prophet Mohammed. The Koran is often chanted , both in the mosque and at private gatherings on important occasions. Mosque music can be considered a sub-genre of classical music, but is distinguished by a separate repertoire, a more limited use of mode and rhythm, and a strictly non-instrumental medium.

Turkish Sufi Music:
Although all dervish activity in Turkey has been outlawed since 1925, some sects have continued to meet clandestinely. A dervish is one who follows the Tarikat (way) of Tasavvuf (mysticism). Dervishes meet at a Tekke (dervish lodge) and perform their ritual Zikr of ecstatic communal dancing and singing. As in mosque music, composed hymns on mystical texts are called Ilahi. Two of the most influential and well-known Sufi sects are Bektasi and Mevlevi (whirling dervishes). Mevlevi sect was founded be Celaleddin Rumi in 13th century and is the outstanding example, grew up chiefly in urban centers, as aristocratic, intellectual fraternity, especially attracting members from the upper classes on grounds largely of aesthetic appeal. Bektasis on the other hand developed directly out of the life of the people. They were more secular and egalitarian and due to such political ideas they were prosecuted by the ruling circles in every step of the Turkish history. Their musical instruments also reflect this difference, they use saz (long-necked lute) as their main musical instrument.

Turkish Janissary Music:
This is a historical type of Turkish Military music. The Janissaries were the formidable Ottoman fighters between 15 and 20 centuries. Their music affected European musical circles in a way that Mozart and Beethoven composed several compositions based on Janissary music.

Turkish Gypsy Music:
Regardless of the ambivalence many Turks may feel for gypsies in general, Turks hold gypsy musicians in greet esteem. Aside from performing in various Turkish music genres, gypsies specialize in a number of genres in their own musical domain. These include, on an informal level, groups of from two to seven instrumentalists, playing clarinet, violin, djumbus, ud, and darbuka, who perform for tips at urban cafes (for example in Istanbul's Cicek Pasaji). Other groups, which may also incorporate kanun, ney, and other instruments, play at nightclubs and private parties. Gypsy violinists, kanun players, and clarinetists (such as Mustafa Kandirali) are especially renowned for their expressive taksims (improvisations). A third, not unrelated category of gypsy urban music is that which accompanies dancing-girls in the Sulukule gypsy entertainment district of Istanbul. Gypsies exert a strong influence on mainstream popular music of Turkey.


The main method for transmitting one's musical knowledge was something called MESHK during the Ottoman period in Turkey. In this method, the master musician and the apprentice relationship was the main idea. The teacher would not accept everybody as student. They would be very selective when somebody wanted to be their student. Once this relationship is established, the teacher would pass his/her repertory to the student by individual or class meshk. MESHK is the musical gathering that most of us do today. The teacher and the student(s) get together regularly.

Teacher sings or plays a piece, the student(s) repeat it until they learn the melody or the song(Sharki in Turkish). Normally this repetition would be maximum of 15 times. If a student cannot learn a piece in 15 repetition, the teacher would advise him/her to go and find another teacher. With this, they assure that they get the best musicians to transmit their knowledge to the next generation. That's how we still have great many pieces from 16th Century Istanbul. The most important benefit of this MESHK tradition was to pass not only the technical aspects of the music but also artistic side of the tradition. So when you learn a piece you don't just learn the mechanical notation of the song but also you absorb the teacher's experience in playing/singing this particular song. Once you establish your repertory, by repeating them in your lifetime, you memorize and transmit them to the next generation. In 15th Century, one of the greatest Turkish composers found a way to keep his repertory alive : Even though the distance between his home and work was more than an hour walk, he refused to take horse carriage to travel. Every day he would pick a particular mode (makam) and sing all the songs in this makam along the way when he was walking to/from work.

There were some attempts to use some notation systems during the Ottomans. One of the Ottoman governors, Moldovian Prince Dimitri Kantemiroglu tried to insert western notation into the music environment of the time, but he was not successful. However because of his persuasion, he transcribed approximately 300 pieces from those days. Than around 18th Century an Armenian musician Humparsum invented a brand new notation system upon the Sultan's request, but his notation was never widely used either. Finally in 19th century, due to increasing Western influence during the decline of the Ottomans, the Western notation made its way into Turkish music scene. Still, the main music teaching method remained as MESHK until today. Today in Istanbul, The State Turkish Music Conservatory holds MESHK twice a week so every student can absorb the traditional way of performing.

The western notation is used as a skeleton ad reminder. As far as Turkish Folk music goes, this is even a more valid argument. Even today almost nobody learns Turkish folk tunes from written material, actually there does not exist too many written material in this field. In my own repertory, I don't have a single Turkish folk tune (turku) that I learned from written material. So the MESHK tradition of music transmission is still alive and valid in most part.

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