Writing Music History

By Şule Bilgin | November 27, 2011

On November 14 the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall welcomed Ege University State Conservatory of Turkish Music for a tribute concert to celebrate the 101st anniversary of Reşat Aysu, a revolutionary Turkish composer who is only now gaining the recognition he deserves. The concert was conducted by the critically-acclaimed Halil İbrahim Yüksel, who led the orchestra in a beautiful selection of Aysu's instrumental compositions such as “Kürdîli Hicazkâr Saz Semâîsi” and “Muhayyerkürdî Saz Semâîsi” in the first part. The choir joined the orchestra to perform vocal compositions the second half.
 Aysu stands out among other composers for his mature amalgamation of Turkish and Western music. Born in Tekirdağ in 1910, he was the last representative of a tradition begun by the likes of Kemal Niyazi Seyhun, Refik Talat Alpman and Refik Fersan, who aimed to transform traditional Turkish musical forms via their personal interpretation and contribution, rather than attempting the modernization of Turkish Classical Music by extracting Western melodies. By contrast, Reis Mahmut Efendi, a composer of an earlier generation who was also the Ottoman Ambassador in London, composed a piece in cooperation with Dede Efendi - a Kâr-ı müşterek - the terennüm of which was actually taken from a quadrille which had previously been played in the British Court.  Aysu received music lessons from Hafız Ahmed Irsoy, son of the famous Zekai Dede in Darüşşafaka - a long-established school in Istanbul for orphans and poor children. He composed his first song at the age of nine and throughout his education he not only specialized in traditional forms such as makams and tavırs, but also trained himself in Western music. His musical genius lay in his ability to preserve the essence of “Türk Musikisi” while using Western musical expression techniques at a virtuoso level. 
Reşat Aysu brought about a revolution on instrumental compositions, yet his work as a composer has remained little-known for a long time. He could be described as a rather lonely composer and instead of living in Istanbul, the centre of music, he chose to stay in İzmir. In one of his letters written in 1977 he prophetically stated: “I chose the music of the young. I’ve been working on developing such music since 1922. Perhaps only after my death, you will lend me a hand and herald me as a talented musician.”
The good news is that there will be two more concerts, to be held in April at the Darüşşafaka High School and at Maltepe University in May. The exact dates are to be announced in the following months.
  • The Turkish Cultural Foundation has recently completed a dictionary of Turkish Music, available free online here.
  • A conference 'Writing The History of Ottoman Music' is being held in Istanbul 25- 26 November 2011 at Istanbul Teknik Üniversite's Maçka Campus. The programme can be found here.
  • A wide variety of Turkish music CD's are available from the [music store] (/store/music).


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