4. Modernist musicology 1: Ottomanist monumentalism

Yilmaz Öztuna, whose politics are explicitly stated in the biographical note at the end of his Türk Musikisi: Teknik ve Tarih (1987), clearly represents the convergence of Islamism and laissez faire economics that have dominated, with interruptions, Turkish politics since 1950. This date marked the election of the explicitly anti-secularist Adalet Partisi, for whom Öztuna was later elected as MP in the home of radical Islamism, Konya, in 1969. Öztuna later became a member of the influential TRT supervisory committee (denetleme kurulu) in which he militated against what he continues to see as the sterile folklore promoted by Kemalist intellectuals of the 1930s and 40s. He used his influential position in the TRT and the Ministry of Education to promote Turkish art music on radio and television, and to ensure the presence of an art music teaching programme at the State Conservatory in Istanbul, when it opened in 1976. Öztuna's characteristic stance is one of a Turkish nationalism that is rooted in, rather than opposed to, the achievements of the Ottomans.

It is not difficult to understand why Öztuna chooses Arel as his particular hero; the following is an attempt to summarise the argument and material of his recent biography. Huseyin Sadeddin Arel (1880-1955) was, to follow Nettl's useful distinction (1978), a classic moderniser. In Öztuna's words, from a cultural point of view he was Turkish , but methodologically speaking he was in the most profound sense, and in the full meanig of the word, 'western' (6) (1986:71). Fluent in Arabic and Persian, Arel's teaching, theoretical and historical writing were much influenced by the work of musicologists associated with modernist reform projects in neighbouring states, such as, for example, the 1932 Egyptian congress (see Racy 1992). Arel's outlook was, in many ways, that of the late Ottoman bureaucratic elite. His father was an ulema official in Izmir (kadi), and he studied in a Catholic school in that city, later being sent to study (as was Öztuna) in Paris. Arel worked as a private lawyer when the modern state was established, and his expertise in matters pertaining to commercial law, accumulated during his Ottoman bureaucratic career, was much in demand. His musical life was therefore a part time activity, but it was prolific in the extreme.

He taught in the much reduced Turkish art music section at the Darulelhan, and then the Municipal conservatory, from which he resigned in 1948. Öztuna suggests that Arel felt unable to reconcile the demands of professional musicians on one hand and conservative academics on the other, and in addition was depressed by his failure to initiate a similar exercise in Ankara. He founded the so-called 'Progressive Music Conservatory', occupying the current ferry terminal building in Besiktas, which he ran with one of his protegés, Laika Karabey. Soon after, however, the centre of operations shifted from Besiktas to his Bomonti house in Istanbul on Saturday afternoons, where Arel conducted discussions which gathered together many of the leading Turkish art music modernists: Adnan Saygun, Mesut Cemil, Fahri Kopuz, Rusen Kam, Kemal Batanay, Ferit Alnar, Kemal Ilerici, and Yilmaz Öztuna himself. The Musiki Mecmuasi, which was the official voice of Arel's conservatory, published from 1948 to his death, reflects the tone of these gatherings.

The Arel project can be summarised under four headings: Firstly the notational systematisation of the makam system, and the notation of the Turkish art music repertory. The system used today is indeed the result of Arel's collaboration with Suphi Ezgi and the physicist/mathematician Murad Uzdilek. Secondly a historical project which was designed to assert, contrary to Kemalist theory, the essential Turkishness of the art music repertory. In Turk Musikisi Kimindir?, (1969) Arel argued that the art music repertory should be seen not as a music which represented a debased pan-Islamic civilisation, but as something which the Turks had both contributed to and transformed. Thirdly, Arel perceived the need to teach western techniques of composition, in particular harmony and counterpoint to add a lacking dimension to Turkish art music. He lead the way with a large number of marches (including a setting of the national anthem), duets, trios, quartets and quintets in various makam. Almost as if to counter the accusation from conservatives, Arel was also a prolific composer in the most conservative monophonic styles, including no less than fifty-one settings of the Mevlevi Ayin-i Serif.

Huseyin Sadettin Arel's 'Mini Mini Nihavent Pesrevi'

This piece is a standard and widely performed instrumental opening pesrev for suites in Nihavent makami. Uzelli's recording of these standard instrumental pieces is accompanied by a nostalgic view (adapted, presumably from a western orientalist print) of 'Ottoman' Istanbul. In view of the remorseless modernism of Arel's project, described in the article, this subsequent 'nostalgisation' is somewhat ironic.


Cover of Saz Eserleri

Many of these compositions were published in Musiki Mecmuasi. Finally he was concerned with modernising performance, struggling with the invention of families of Turkish instruments (along western lines) and a Turkish keyboard, and putting together performances which involved large orchestras for the first time at his conservatory in the 1940s. Arel's 'Turk Musikisi Büyük Senfoni Orkestrasi' contained 15 violins, and groups of four to five (each) kanun, ney, violin, ud and tanbur. This was a significant advance on numbers of instrumentalists which had anyway been growing due, as Behar argues, to the increasing significance of public concert venues during the second and third decades of the century (Behar 1993:124-6).

[Editor's suggestion: look for photos and information on Turkish instruments]

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