Munir Nurettin Selcuk
Ottoman Empire 14th-20th Centuries)

Munir Nurettin Selcuk
Munip Utand

Munir Nurettin Selcuk
Tatyos Efendi


The form of music today generally known as Türk Sanat Müziği, or Ottoman Classical Music, matured, developed in form and aesthetics and came to assume the identity of a form of classical music in parallel to the establishment, growth and increasing strength of the Ottoman state itself. This variety of music furnished products dealing with many subjects, such as religion, love and war. Each of these then came to develop its own varieties, styles and communities. Ottoman music was influenced by other musical cultures as new nations became absorbed into the empire, giving and receiving various elements. From the beginning of the 19th century, however, as the empire began to recede and collapse, increasing shallowness and laxness can be seen in Ottoman music. While rich modes and styles had been employed in the past, this concept gradually faded and turned into metropolitan entertainment music. That process has continued to the present day, and the ‘popular song’ has become increasingly popular and popularised, effectively taking the place of the other forms.

A great number of works were actually forgotten and disappeared as less importance was attached to notation in the middle of the 19th century. The number of works that were written down and have survived down to the present day is some 3,000 for works composed between the 15th century and the end of the 18th. The number produced during the 19th century is around 5,000, giving a total of 8,000. A number of works from the first quarter of the 20th century can also be added to those works, which from the point of view of mode, style, means and methods of vocalisation go back to the very earliest times within a framework of their own distinct rules. Ever since then, the music that has continued to be produced under the name of ‘Turkish Classical Music,’ and which has grown ever more popular, can be seen as an extension of Ottoman music adapted to present-day norms.

Ottoman music is a synthesis, carrying within it a great many historical riches. It emerged as the result of a sharing process between the Turks and the minorities living alongside them, the Byzantines, Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Jews, Armenians etc. It reached its golden age in the private school in the Ottoman palace. No country that employed that system was able to reach the level of artistry attained by the Ottomans.

Ottoman music was formed and given voice in the ‘Fasıl,’ itself based on unity of mode.

Fasıl; Works composed within the same melodic structure (makam) , or mode, set out and played in a particular order. In a genuine fasıl, there will be works for voice and for saz. The basis of the fasıl is that the works should have the same melodic structure, and they are then ordered according to shape or form. There must generally be two ‘Beste’ (poetic forms) and five ‘Semai’ composed to count as a complete fasıl. These are accompanied by lyrics. The compositions are in the form of ‘Murabba’ (a poem composed of quatrains) or ‘Nakış’ (a form of song). Murabbas are composed for two rhyming couplets of a ‘Gazel,’ and may be with or without ‘Terennüm,’ which are words that complement the verses that make up the formal lyric of the song, and may either have a meaning or else be just a string of syllables, for example ‘ten, tenen, tenenen, ten nen ni.’ Lines 1, 2 and 4 of the poem are tied to the same melody, with line 3 having a different melody. This latter section is known as ‘Miyan Hane,’ wherein the makam is either widened or changed. Murabbas with terennüm repeat it at the end of each line. The terennüm of the miyan hane may be different, however. In the nakış, on the other hand, two verses are read together, followed by a lengthy terennüm.

Semai with lyrics and the same structure as the murabba or nakış (but composed in the semai style) are known as ‘Ağır’ and ‘Yürük’ Semai respectively. In the fasıl, lyrical works such as the ‘Kar’ or ‘Şarkı’ and instrumental pieces such as ‘Taksim,’ ‘Peşrev,’ ‘Saz Semaisi’ and ‘Oyun Havası’ may be added. In this way, the structure of a complete fasıl is as follows;

a) Any introductory Taksim with saz.
b) Peşrev
c) The first beste or kar.
d) Second beste.
e) Ağır semai
f) Şarkıs (in order from major rhythmic pattern and slow character, to minor and fast)
g) Yürük Semai
h) Saz Semai

The ‘Kar’ gives considerable space to the terennüm component, and is a work with lyrics requiring considerable expertise. It is one of the most developed forms. The ‘Şarkı’ in Turkish literature is a form that emerged under the influence of the folk song. The şarkı consists of lines of verse, its name depending on the number of verses involved. It is composed with a minor rhythmic pattern (usul) and take can take various forms. It was particularly popular after the 19th century, and left the other forms which included lyrics in the shade. It went from strength to strength in the 20th century, going beyond the previously established frontiers and eventually turning into the ‘Fantezi’ form as it grew more and more popular. Apart from a few outstanding examples, it played a major role in restricting the sphere of traditional classical music.

The following are the form of instrumental pieces employed in Ottoman music;

Peşrev: Generally composed in major rhythmic patterns, such as ‘Darb-ı Fetih,’ ‘Sakil,’ ‘Muhammes’ and ‘Devr-i Kebir,’ or sometimes in minor ones, such as ‘Düyek.’ It is a saz work that emerged from the sections called ‘Hane’ and the ‘Mulazime’ section that comes between and is repeated with little change.

Saz Semaisi: Although they have the same structure as the peşrev, the saz compositions falling in the semai (six-time), ‘aksak semai’ (10-time) and yürük semai (six-time) categories are known as ‘Saz Semaisi.’ These come at the end of the fasıl, following the yürük semai.

Taksim: Intended to introduce, prepare the way or warm up for the makam, these are played with a single instrument, within the makam, yet not linked to any rhythmic pattern, and are either free-form or improvised.

Oyun Havası: Instrumental pieces composed for dancing.

Usul: Up to 15-time these are known as ‘Küçük Usul’ (minor pattern), and after 15-time as ‘Büyük Usul’ (major pattern). When the two are employed together, this is known as ‘Darbeyn.’ There are also strings that use one usul after another. One of these consists of five usul, either 60 or 120-time, depending on which view one adopts, and this is known as ‘Zencir.’ Kücük usul in 5, 7, 9-time etc. or 10-time works such as the aksak semai, are known as ‘Aksak Usul.’ The true times that bear the name ‘aksak’ are usul in 2+2+2+3 form.

Link about Turkish music.