Composer Sultans of the Ottoman Empire


After the Republic declared in 1923, a great revolution movement started under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and one of these reform movements was art and therefore music. Although Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's personal fondness for Alaturka, or in other words, Turkish Classical Music, is legendary, he wanted to integrate Turkish music into Western music as part of his modernization efforts.

During this period, classical music concerts, operas, special invitations increased day by day, and the first times of the revolution took on a Vienna atmosphere.

Today, there is a misconception that the influence of Western music on Turkish culture, as a majority perception, started in the Republican era. Considering that the biggest breakthroughs in Western music were made during the Republican period and the impact of these breakthroughs on popular culture, this misconception is not wrong at all.

So when did Turkish art actually meet with Western music? To find the answer to this, we need to go back a little bit, namely to the Ottoman period. Because most of us do not know that most of the sultans, whom we know only through wars, treaties or intrigues, were fans of Western music or even composers.

During the period of the Ottoman Empire, which left its mark on a period of approximately 600 years, music was of great importance in social and palace life. In this process, which is divided into various periods by some sources, it would take the 19th century for the empire to fully meet with Western music.

Music life, which started with Folk Music, which expressed the feelings and thoughts of the society and had a very simple style, became a part of the daily life of the rural areas in the Ottoman period and became a means of communication for the poor people by expressing the disorders in social life.

Classical Turkish Music, or in other words, music, was the type of music that fell into the interest of the relatively noble people, excluding the rural areas. It was a genre that was disconnected from the public and the problems of social life. Even though Sufism took a religious form with the influence of divan poets, it became the representative of urban music life with its genres such as song, ghazal, taksim, peşrev, composition and fasil.

Military music was one of the most important musical genres in the Ottoman period. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that thanks to military music, we met and established relations with Western music. Military music, which has been an important part of Turkish culture throughout history, had the same importance in the Ottoman period, but also became an important actor in state life.

Mehterhane ensembles played an important role in the army with their extraordinary sound power, rhythms and instruments in the wars, while at the same time drawing attention from the Westerners. Especially during the siege of Vienna in 1683, this attraction started to turn into admiration and over time, a music genre called "Alla Turca" began to become popular in the west.

While famous composers such as Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms were composing in the Alla Turca style, Turkish music was beginning to fuse with Western music thanks to military music. This fusion brought with it a new process and traditional Turkish music gradually lost its popularity. Now the elites of the Ottoman Empire were discovering a new music genre they were not familiar with: Western Music...

According to a claim, which is still a historical gossip, although it is included in some sources, the meeting of Turkish music with Western music dates back to the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent. The king of France, François, sent an orchestra to Istanbul to thank Suleiman the Magnificent, who helped him, but after Sultan Suleiman had the musical instruments of this orchestra burned, he sent them back by giving valuable gifts to the members of the orchestra.

Although it is a dramatic claim, it would not be surprising to have a positive meeting, since the period of Suleiman the Magnificent was a very bright and magnificent period in terms of Ottoman history. With this reaction of Sultan Süleyman, the process of merging with Western music was delayed a bit.

From the beginning of the 15th century until almost the end of the 4th Murad period, Turkish music was under the influence of the east and the musicians brought from the Middle East were active. From the 1640s onwards, Classical Turkish Music was slowly beginning to fuse with Western music. The greatest Turkish composer of that century, Buhurizade Mustafa Itri Efendi, would leave his mark on a period when Baroque and Rococo styles began to influence Turkish music and an east-west synthesis was formed.

While trying to recognize and solve the Turkish classical music represented by Mustafa Itri, Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest European composer of that century, would leave his mark on the west. Of course, just like us, they were trying to get to know and understand Turkish music. In this century, the Russian Tsarina Anna established her own mehter band, Vienna kept a mehter band in the city, Polish King Augustus II requested that a mehter band be sent for him. An unpredictable Alla Turca movement was beginning in the European palaces.

The breaking point of the modernization process of Turkish music took place in the Tulip Era. During this peaceful and extravagant period, Turkish music also got its share from westernization efforts and works in western forms were started to be made. İsmail Dede Efendi would leave his mark on the period after the Tulip Era, which ended sadly.

Now the situation had become such that classical Western music and classical Turkish music were both influenced by each other and were in a state of internal competition. Again, according to a claim that appears as a historical gossip, Dede Efendi composed a very successful work in waltz format, Gülnihal, in response to westerners who said that Turks cannot waltz. This is perhaps the best example that will make you feel the sweet rivalry.

With the changing world conditions and political balances, the Ottoman Empire would enter a period of reform from beginning to end. Turkish music was the most affected by these reform efforts. But this time they were radical changes, not reforms that did not transcend traditional dimensions. An era in Turkish music was about to end.

During the reign of Sultan Mahmud II, these radical reforms began to take effect. The first to benefit from these changes was the mehteran team, which became a symbol of the janissary corps. This historical music ensemble, which had once become fashionable in European palaces, was giving way to military bands, a modern and contemporary style.

Sultan Mahmud II, who was fond of music like his ancestors, played tambur and ney. Mahmud II, who was also very keen on western music, would bring Italian musician Giuseppe Donizetti to head the band he was going to establish. Known as Don İzzet Pasha, Donizetti rose to the rank of general and started teaching flute, piano, harmony and instrumentation in the schools he reformed.

Various instructors and musical instruments had come from Europe. All these developments were causing irreversible changes in the field of music. Starting from Sultan Mahmud II, who attracted attention especially with his reforms, the Ottoman dynasty received classical music training in western style and started to compose. Concerts, operas, theaters and hosting foreign musicians had become the fashion of the new era.

Sultan Mahmud II, who uses his judicial pseudonym, has about 21 compositions he composed in various maqams. However, since almost all of these compositions are in classical forms, we will see the original compositions in the western sense during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz.

After Sultan Mahmud's difficult years of reign and his dramatic death, his son Abdülmecid I took the throne. During the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid, who was a reformist like his father, Western music became more and more dominant in the palace. He institutionalized the Mızıka-yı Hümayun and brought Guatelli Pasha to its head. Again at that time, the obligation for all composers to receive training in Mızıka-yı Hümayun caused great composers such as Dede Efendi to react.

He made a great theatrical breakthrough and turned Istanbul and Izmir into art centers. Theater, opera and ballet ensembles came from places such as Italy, France, Germany and Vienna to give representations. Operas such as Lucrezia Borgia, Rossini's The Barber of Seville, Parisina, Giselda and Silistin were widely staged during this period.

Sultan Abdülmecid, who is very fond of western music, brought the famous composer and pianist Franz List to the palace upon invitation, where he received training for five weeks and listened to recitals from him. He did not neglect to order the best brand piano of the period specially for Franz List.

His brother, Sultan Abdülaziz, who ascended the throne upon the death of Abdülmecid, was perhaps the most musical and well-equipped name among the Ottoman sultans up to that time. Sultan Abdulaziz, who was not as interested in Western music as his brother and father, took private lessons from Guatelli Pasha for a very long time. Abdülaziz, who is especially proficient in playing the piano, personally composed many classical music works that are played even today.

In addition to his famous works such as Valse Davet and Hicaz Sirto, his work La Gondolle Barcarolle was played by the British Royal Band during his visit to London, which made a great impression in Europe. Çuhaciyan operettas, which became famous in this period, also set a good example for the next generations by synthesizing eastern and western music.

However, in the period of a sultan who was so talented in Western music, the process of integrating Western music into Turkish music interestingly entered a period of hesitation. Sultan Abdulaziz, who was loyal to the eastern culture and traditions, did not reflect his personal merits and relevance in music to the culture of the society.

His brother, V. Murad, who the last sultan Vahdettin said, put him on one side of the scale and seven brothers on the other, his side would outweigh, was a character with a different mentality and artistic personality than his ancestors and brothers. Rather than his brief reign of three months, this interesting sultan is known for his character and contributions to Western music.

Murad V, who took private lessons from high-level names such as Guatelli Pasha and Augusto Lombardi during his princedom, adopted Western music rather than traditional classical Turkish music. During his travel to Europe with his brother, Sultan Abdulaziz, he was greatly influenced by Europe and began to lead a European life like the westerners in the palace.

After he was announced as the crown prince, he hosted intellectual names such as Young Turks, local and foreign intellectuals, intellectuals and artists in his mansion in Göztepe and exchanged ideas. V.Murad, who played the piano very well, went back to his cage life after his three-month sultanate. During this period, he devoted himself entirely to art and Western music, and became the most composing person among the sultans. But the most important thing that distinguishes Murad V from others was that almost all of his compositions were in Western music forms.

V.Murad, who created dance-type works in the western style, composed compositions that he dedicated to his grandchildren. He composed a polka for his grandson, Celile Sultan, and is known to have hundreds of works in the style of waltz, polka, polka-mazurka, quadrille, scottische, as well as Scottische and Waltz compositions.

Another composer sultan who was fond of western music was Sultan Abdulhamid. Sultan Abdulhamid, who received music education from European teachers, played the piano very well and composed small pieces. In addition to giving great importance to Western music, he had a theater built in the palace and staged many operas and operettas. Yıldız Palace theater had almost become a conservatory.

The last sultan, Mehmed Vahdettin, was interested in both Turkish and Western music. He has been noted to sing well, as well as playing the piano and zither. Most of the works of Sultan Vahdettin, who had a large musical note collection, were in the form of songs.

As stated at the beginning of the article, we are far from the personal characteristics, hobbies and artistic personalities of most Ottoman sultans, whom we consider to consist of wars, treaties and intrigues. In fact, the values ​​and works that each of them personally added to Turkish music and therefore to Turkish art are also available in the sources, but have been left to us as a historical heritage.

In this article, which started as the Composer Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, we have seen a little bit how classical Turkish music, which took place in the Ottoman period, merged with Western music, which has become the modern music of the new world.

This whole historical process should be evaluated as a necessary modernization initiative, which is the result of the effort to adapt to the modern world from the perception of trying to destroy classical Turkish music, because neither Western music was an opponent of Turkish music, nor Turkish music was the opposite of Western music.

Many works of composer sultans and composers of the period are unfortunately lost today. But the existing ones will always remain in the memories and records as a memory of this historical process. Unfortunately, the future of Turkish music, or in other words Turkish Classical Music, is a matter of great debate today as it was in the Ottoman period.

On this occasion, let's end this article, which deals with the historical process of Turkish music in the context of the composer sultans of the Ottoman Empire, with a word from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: A nation cannot have a full life if it is deprived of art and artists.


Evren Kutlay Baydar, Sections from the Music Policies of the 19th Century Ottoman Sultans, Journal of Social Sciences, 2011

Hüseyin Bülent Akdeniz, Ottoman/Turkish Representatives of Western Music, Journal of Ottoman Heritage Studies, 2017

Selçuk Alimdar, Western Music in the Ottoman Empire, Türkiye İş Bankası Cultural Publications, 2016

Ünüşan Kuloğlu, Süreyya Gülmemed, Ministry of Culture and Tourism Culture Portal of Turkey, Ottoman Music Culture

TDV Encyclopedia of Islam


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