Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Turkish Delight

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Turkish Delight

Article excerpt

AS WE BEGIN VOLUME 72 OF the Journal of Singing, I beg the reader's permission to depart from my customary academic approach to writing about art song, and embark on a more specific, ethnomusical journey during this publication cycle. Many fine articles on the songs of world cultures other than those of Germany, France, and Italy have been submitted recently to the Journal, and I requested that our editor, Dr. Richard Sjoerdsma, allow me to highlight these in this column. He has agreed, and in this cycle you will find excellent articles on little known Norwegian songs by Dr. Anna Hersey, a two-part series on Irish art song suitable for the beginning singer by Dr. Conor Angell, and the rich heritage of Brazilian song by Dr. Marcía Porter. Because I was invited by the Atlantic Institute/Istanbul Cultural Center to tour Turkey in June 2014, this first article will deal with the past and present musical environment of the former Ottoman Empire. The more I learned about modern-day Turkey, the more enthused I became about delving into the rich musical traditions of this ancient culture, which some musicologists claim dates back at least 6,000 years.

LEGACY OF BYZANTIUM

Istanbul, Turkey's principal city, is a metropolis of some 16 million inhabitants that sits divided between Europe and Asia on the Bosporus, the strait connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and beyond it through the Dardanelles to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. The western termination of the Silk Road lies south of the Asian side of Istanbul in the Aegean port city of Izmir, the biblical Smyrna, which dates back to at least 475 BC, according to the Greek historian Herodotus. The city of Byzantium, itself dating to 657 BC, was renamed Constantinople in 330 AD by the Christian emperor Constantine, and finally named Istanbul with the subjugation of the area by the Islamic conqueror Mehmed II in 1453. Biblical literati will note that several Old Testament peoples-Mesopotamians, Hittites, and Assyrians-all originated from ancient Anatolia, today's modern Turkey. Because of Turkey's strategic location on the Silk Road, its music is imbued with the ethnic influence of many culturally diverse peoples. Original Turkish musical instruments were of necessity small and portable; the most portable instrument of all, the human voice, therefore took on immense importance. Most musicologists describe pre-Islamic Turkish music as "lyrical," which here means that its primary focus was to unite literature with music. The role of instrumental music was to accompany the telling of epic tales in order to make them more moving and emotionally accessible to the listener. Ancient Turkish tribes had a vast repertoire of oral literature at their disposal, and even when they had a written language, these traditions persisted, helping to inculcate social unity among heterogeneous peoples and establishing a tie between generations.

Classical Turkish compositions (before a great deal of Western influence) usually included seven sections: instrumental prelude-song-interlude-song-interlude-song-instrumental postlude. The music took on its own structure, without a formal theory system, and was modal in nature, reflecting the "natural" tones the instruments themselves could produce. (Remember that the Phrygian mode was named for that eponymous ancient region of Anatolia.) These modes are called makams. An extremely interesting sidebar: the Sufi Turks were among the first known music therapists. According to Dr. Pinar Somakçi in her online article "Music Therapy in Islamic Culture," during the 10th-11th centuries, Islamic doctors established scientific principles concerning musical treatment for various disorders, particularly psychological disorders. They assigned each makam an inherent mood, usually the mood induced by hearing it; a time of day to best hear it; and the condition it was meant to relieve. As an example, the Isfahan makam (remember Fauré's beautiful setting of "Les roses d'Ispahan"? …

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