Revolution in Turkish Classical Music: Turkish Fives



The Turkish army under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was successful and the War of Independence resulted in a great victory. Now the struggle for the future for the Turkish nation was beginning. In this direction, the first big step was taken and the Republic was proclaimed, and then the incessant revolution movements began. The main great desire of Atatürk, who made serious revolutions for political and economic life, was the revolutions he would realize in cultural life. Because he thought that the foundation of all his great revolutions would depend on these cultural revolutions. The most difficult revolution for Atatürk, who realized his reforms with great courage, was, in his own words, music. Atatürk, who wanted the Turks to have a national musical culture, wanted to not break away from historical folk melodies and to adapt to polyphonic western music, which has become a symbol of the modern world. Ziya Gökalp, who had a great influence on Turkish revolutions, also touched on the subject of music and stated that a national music culture should be formed instead of the Alaturka music from the Ottoman period. This view of Ziya Gökalp was also a source of inspiration for the revolution to be made in music.

If we look at the past, this issue was one of the main agenda items of the Ottoman Empire, especially since Mahmud II. During the reign of the great reformist Mahmud II, the traditional mehter band was abolished, and a marching band suitable for the modern era was formed. On the occasion of the marching band, a general wind of change began to blow in the understanding of music. In fact, the palace and its surroundings were the people who were most interested in Western Music during the imperial period. Western music, which was of special interest to many sultans, was highly valued in the Ottoman palaces. This value had become such that many sultans who came to the throne after the Tanzimat made compositions in the form of Western Music and these compositions were performed by specially established orchestras. In particular, the playing of the sultan's compositions during Sultan Abdulaziz's European travel stunned the European public. Factors such as Dede Efendi's challenge to famous European composers by composing the waltz, the staging of Çuhaciyan Operettas, and the appointment of great Italian music masters such as Giuseppe Donizetti and Callisto Guatelli to head the newly established Muzika-yi Hümayun were important steps in the adaptation of Turkish music to Western music. The world-famous pianist Franz Liszt, who has been traveling from city to city and giving concerts since his childhood, came to Istanbul with the special invitation of Sultan Abdülmecid and gave concerts, which further increased the passion for western music in the palace. Although this interest in Western Music increased from time to time and decreased from time to time, it had created a serious experience and knowledge until the proclamation of the Republic.

It was during the Republic period that Western Music, which could not spread to the general public during the Empire period and was limited to the palace and its surroundings, spread to the general public and became a state policy. While Atatürk took radical and decisive steps in music, which he described as the most difficult revolution, he also drew attention to the issue of music education so that western music techniques could be used in the most correct way. While the discussions on the applicability of Western music and increasing its impact on the public continued, what the new national music would be like was almost determined. According to the opinion of the Republicans, Classical Turkish Music was far from nationality as it was based on Byzantine and Greek music. According to this, polyphonic music, which is a blend of traditional folk music melodies and western music techniques, as pointed out by Ziya Gökalp, was accepted as the new national Turkish music. Thus, the people would adapt to Western music more quickly without moving away from familiar tunes and a national music culture would be built. This situation had become such that Classical Turkish Music from the imperial period was banned by the state. It was not even allowed to be played on the radio and in schools. Atatürk did not give up listening to Classical Turkish Music, which is his personal passion, but he never hesitated to show how determined he was about the music revolution by forbidding people to listen to it. Inspired by Montesquieu on this subject, Atatürk thought that all other revolutions could be accepted and comprehended if the public could accept and comprehend the changes to be made in music. For him, music was a criterion in this regard. Answering the question "What is the most difficult revolution is music," Atatürk said, "Because the music revolution requires a person to forget his inner world first, and then turn to a new world. It is very difficult for him. It is very difficult, but it will be done,'' he continued, expressing decisively that a new era has begun in Turkish music. It was time to start a radical change for Turkish music.


The first big step in the reform studies in music, which left its mark on the 1930s, came with the banning of Alaturka music in radio broadcasts. After this decision, which drew a great reaction from the public, no steps were taken back, on the contrary, the revolution in music continued with the understanding that a generation that makes revolution has to endure deprivation and sacrifices. Essentially, the aim was to make Turkish music understandable to Europeans. President Atatürk, saying to his childhood friend Nuri Conker, "We cannot broadcast weeping and groaning tunes on state radios," stated that the musical form in his mind should be in a moving and soul-invigorating style, like Western Music. This thought was not a new thought. During his time as an attaché in Sofia, he had the opportunity to listen to the Carmen Opera and was amazed by the development of Bulgarians in music and art. This admiration said, "We used to know Bulgarians as shepherds, how they progressed without realizing it. The ballet is Bulgarian, the conductors are Bulgarian. If we cannot reach this level of civilization, we do not have the right to live.”

According to Cemal Reşit Rey, Atatürk did not like western music very much, he listened to it forcibly. Even though this feeling increased his admiration for Atatürk, he must not have liked these thoughts that were said behind Atatürk, as he never put Cemal Reşit Rey at the head of the Presidential Philharmonic Orchestra. Of course, this situation, which is only a claim, is a good example of the determination of the period about the music revolution. Atatürk had planned to open music education institutions by taking the first serious step to reach the level of civilization he dreamed of. As a matter of fact, a conservatory was opened in Ankara in 1934 and trainings on Western Music began to be given there. In this process, domestic and foreign sources were scanned, students were sent to Europe to study music, and consultations were held at dinner with young people returning from Europe. So much so that sometimes these meals took place in an academy atmosphere. In an interview with German writer Emil Ludwig, Atatürk stated that the realization of the music revolution in Europe took about 400 years and that he did not have 400 years for the development of Turkish Music, and shared his revolution with the European public.

The modernization process in music, which started with the disapproval of the "Music and Representation Academy" law brought to the parliament in 1924 by Atatürk, continued with the performance of Özsoy Opera, the name of the Presidential Philharmonic Orchestra of Mızıka-yı Hümayun, the opening of the Music Teachers' School. Immediately after, it was decided to establish the National Music and Representation Academy, but it could not be realized. During this period, the development process of Turkish Music accelerated with the return of Turkish Fives and soloists such as Necdet Remzi Atak and Ferhunde Erkin from abroad. One of the first violin virtuosos of the Republic, Prof. Dr. According to Remzi Atak's memoirs, the main leap forward in the musical revolution initiated by Atatürk, who was in Puccini's Tosca Opera, admired Cavaradossi's aria named "E Lucevan Le Stelle" and listened to it at every opportunity from the artists he trained meticulously. was about to begin. A congress was held on 26 November 1934 under the presidency of Abidin Özmen, the Minister of National Education of the time, in order for Turkish Music to have a polyphonic structure without moving away from folk melodies and to produce works in the style of Western Music. Cemal Reşit Rey, Ahmet Adnan Saygun, Hasan Ferit Alnar, Necil Kazım Akses and Ulvi Cemal Erkin, who will later appear on the stage of history as the "Turkish Five", as well as Cevat Memduh Altar, Bedii Management, Nurullah Şevket Taşkıran and Ferhunde, attended this congress. There were names such as Ulvi. In this meeting, where the changes to be made in Turkish music were discussed, the main lines of the Turkish State Music and Theater Academy were determined, together with the discussion of music education, the principles of music education and copyrights. Accordingly, it was decided to establish the General Directorate of Fine Arts, to open the State Music and Theater Academy and the Music Pedagogy branch.

In the process after the First Music Congress, the opinions of Western experts were sought, and the opinions of names such as Licco Amar, Joseph Marx, Paul Hindemith and Carl Ebert were sought. Famous western musicians such as Paul Hindemith and Eduard Zuckmayer were invited to Ankara to provide consultancy, and with the law enacted on 6 May 1936, it was decided to establish the Ankara Conservatory. Founded under the leadership of Paul Hindemith, this conservatory was later managed by Carl Ebert and the organization of the conservatory was completed. This breakthrough process, which started right after the First Music Congress, made the process of adapting Turkish Music to Western Music institutional. State-of-the-art recording devices and equipment were purchased from Europe, and folk music compilation studies had begun. The famous Hungarian pianist and musicologist Bela Bartok's coming to Turkey contributed greatly to this compilation work. Bela Bartok, accompanied by Adnan Saygun on his trips in Turkey, was the only person with the knowledge and equipment to work on Anatolia's rich folk culture. According to Bartok, the composer who would make the compilation had to know the language, know sociology, have a deep knowledge of history and be a good observer. Turkish Fives would meet these criteria, outlined by Bartok, and would break new ground in the way of universalization of Turkish Music.


The fact that ensembles such as the Russian Five or the French Six were very famous, led Halil Bedii Yönetimken to call the group consisting of Cemal Reşit Rey, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Ahmet Adnan Saygun, Hasan Ferit Alnar and Necil Kazım Akses the Turkish Fives. Thus, like the Russians and the French, the Turks would be a pioneering musical ensemble, and the Turkish Five would appear on the stage of history. These five names were sent abroad to receive music education by the order of Atatürk in the first years of the Republic. These names, who were educated in Paris, Vienna and Prague, would be the pioneers of the music revolution when they returned to Turkey. Ultimately, these five names, who had various successes in Europe, returned to their countries and started to take active roles in the musical revolution studies carried out under the leadership of Atatürk. The common goal of the quintet was to create a new Turkish music by blending Turkish folk melodies with Western music techniques. Hungarian musicologist Bela Bartok was their biggest guide for this purpose. An Anatolian movement in music started under the leadership of Bartok, and the Turkish quintet returning from Europe was amazed when they met Anatolian and Folk melodies with which they were not very close. It was impossible not to be amazed. The Anatolian culture, which was formed with the accumulation of thousands of years, was also reflected in the local art understanding and became quite original. The task of the Turkish quintet was to modernize this unique art and introduce it to the world. The revolution gave its first fruit with the performance of Cemal Reşit Rey's composition titled “12 Anatolian Folk Songs” in the Playel Hall of Paris. This composition, which caused a great sensation, would also inspire further works. This group was traveling around Anatolia, composing and giving trainings in academies and conservatories.

Atatürk, who also had great admiration for opera, ordered one of Turkey's first composers to perform opera works. Especially during the Iranian Shah Pahlavi's visit to Turkey, he wanted the first opera to be staged, and he gave this task to Adnan Saygun. The Özsoy Opera, composed by Saygun, was the first opera in Turkish history, but it was a great success. Taş Bebek opera, also composed by Saygun, was staged many times with Özsoy. While the efforts of the Turks to become universal in art continued at full speed, the composition of polyphonic works blended with Anatolian melodies continued. Major works such as Snapshots, Five Drops, Book of İnci, Miniatures, Cem Sultan Opera, Zeybek Opera, Lüküs Hayat, Yunus Emre Oratorio, A Forest Tale, Turkish Suite, Istanbul Suite, Keloğlan and Itri's Scherzo on Neva Snow While leaving their mark on this period, the Turkish Five were gaining a great success both at home and abroad. The melodic, modal and rhythmic measures of Turkish Folk Music and Traditional Turkish Art Music were used successfully in these works, and they were performed in a polyphonic structure in Western Music forms. These works, which started to be adopted by the public, were performed many times in halls and parties. In particular, the activities of the Presidential Symphony Orchestra played a major role in the recognition of the new Turkish Music.

Since the reforms of the Ottoman Empire on music in various periods were limited to the palace and its surroundings, there was no legacy left to the Republic. Turkish Music, which was built from scratch by the order of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, gained a completely different dimension thanks to the Turkish Fives. The success of the quintet was appreciated not only in Turkey but also in the world. This success continued after Atatürk's death. This ensemble, in which each of its members took Atatürk's principles and reforms as a task, unfortunately went to its first concert in 1939 without Atatürk. The Presidential Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Cemal Reşit Rey, Hasan Ferit Alnar, Ahmet Adnan Saygun, Ulvi Cemal Erkin and Necil Kazım Akses, respectively, and sang their own compositions.

The contributions of the Turkish Fives to the musical revolution and the integration of Turkish Music into Western Music are obvious, but were they fully successful? Although this question caused various discussions, the general opinion was that the Turkish Five could not contribute at the desired level. Maybe they suffered from being the first, but they were accused of not being able to form a school after themselves. As a matter of fact, when we look at the general process, we see that the most successful group in Turkish Classical Music is the Turkish Five. After the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the determination about the music revolution came to an end. It is not known whether this end is reflected in the works of the Turkish Fives, but it is also very clear that Turkish Music tends to decline day by day, independent of the Turkish Fives. Today, there is no trace of the music revolution led by Atatürk. Few artists remained who took over the flag of the Turkish Five. Perhaps the biggest reason for the heavy criticism of the Turkish Five was that they failed to demonstrate a strong will for the continuation of this revolution they pioneered. On the occasion of this article, we commemorate the great revolutionaries of Turkish Music and these five great artists, who are milestones, with love and respect, free from all discussions.


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  5. ALTAR Cevad Memduh, The Years of Music Reform in Atatürk's Turkey, Philharmonic Society Publications
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