The Ottoman Heritage

The Ottoman Heritage

Ensemble Kudsi Erguner

Classical Ottoman music gave a magnificent new impulse to the concept of the makam, or modes. Their resulting proliferation, the complexity of their range, and the development of suitably adapted instruments provided a wealth of musical material offering endless possibilities for expanding the repertoire.
Kudsi Erguner and his ensemble set out to rediscover this rich national treasure. Here they perform some of the most interesting pieces from the fasil, suites of several works in the same mode, but with different rhythmic patterns: some pesrev, instrumental preludes that open both fasil and whirling dervish ceremonies, and some saz semai, that conclude the suites.


1 Huseyni Peshrev – 5’16
2 Hayal/Dream- 2’36
3 Muhayyer Kurdî Saz-Semaï – 7’42
4 Fezâ/Sky- 3’47
5 Ferahfezâ Peshrev – 3’37
6 Sûz-i ashk/Consuming love – 1’ 52
7 Sûzidil Saz-Semaï – 7’14
8 Seddiarabân Saz-Semaï – 7’21
9 – Pierre Loti – 5’25
10 Dilnigâr – 1’44
11 Nevrûz/New Year – 8’02
12 Üsküdar/Scutari – 7’37
13 Muhabbet/Harmony- 3’27
14 Çeçen kızı/The young girl from Chechnya – 3’06

Interpreters and instruments

Kudsi Erguner (nây)
Hakan Gungör (kanun)
Derya Turkan (fiddle)
Mehmet Emin Bitmez (oud)
Necip Gülses (tanbour)
Vahid Anadol (percussion)


Classical Art and Popular Music

The culture of the Ottoman Empire, especially “classical” or “erudite” music, is a synthesis of different cultures amplified since the 18th century by an elite of literate town-dwellers from many different backgrounds, all vectors of their own culture. Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Slavs and Jews not only shared a common culture, they also contributed to shaping its form and special lustre. Over the centuries, a huge divide grew up between urban classical music on one hand, particularly that centred on Istanbul, and popular music on the other, often rural, and very much alive throughout the many different areas of the Empire.

Two distinct traditions have therefore existed side by side, particularly in music and poetry, with a different language for each: firstly, that of the elite, expressed in the Ottoman language, a mixture of Turkish, Arabic and Persian, or in one or other of these, and then the great diversity of popular cultures expressed in various dialects, Turkish, Arab, Armenian, Jewish, Kurdish, Chaldaean…

In this context, classical music stands out by its highly developed system of makams, or modes, whose possibilities were explored in every way, giving rise to an extremely sophisticated, codified theory. In the 14th century there were about twenty modes in use, whereas by the end of the 17th century, up to nine hundred and sixty two were clearly defined. The new modes and intervals required suitably adapted musical instruments, but also provided a wealth of musical material offering endless possibilities for expanding the repertoire.

The makams and their intervals

The word makam means a “place”. In the early stages of the development of this vast system, the degree on which the melody was based, its “ground note”, was its makam or place. A particular makam is defined by a scale of notes with a hierarchy of unequal intervals between them, and includes certain melodic patterns enabling different makams in the same family to be distinguished from each other.

The early makams mainly used the “natural” intervals, corresponding to the relationships in harmonics, as found on all stringed instruments (a harmonic tone, a third, a fourth and a fifth). These intervals constitute scales of notes, with a low and a high part, and it’s the play of transpositions and the mixtures of high and low notes of the different makam that enabled new makam to be created, a system still exploited today.

At this point it should be clear that the intervals concerned are not those of the tempered scale that appeared later in Europe, and which has only twelve semitones to an octave, whilst the system of makams ended up with fifty-two unequally spaced notes on the same octave…

The system of makams and their intervals meant all forms of musical expression using them were bound to be monophonic, with no harmonization between different parts of the orchestra, and all the musicians playing the same melody. What makes this music so inexhaustibly rich is the vast number of intervals, the potential mixtures of modes and the wide range of rhythms. Nowadays, improvisation is not only an integral part of a musician’s training and practice, even the way pieces are performed allows for marked differences in playing either between musicians, or from one orchestra to another.

With the arrival of the colonial period, whole generations of intellectuals and musicians from the Middle East became convinced that western music and western culture were superior to their own, some even going so far as to abandon their own heritage in order to fall in with the rules of harmony and counterpoint… With this in mind, the 1932 Cairo Congress was an attempt to simplify the ever-increasing multitude of possibilities, in favour of a scale that would hopefully allow compositions from the Middle Eastern classical repertoire to use harmony, and thus constitute a new type of music. The answer was simple – the tempered scale of European music should be divided by two to create twenty-four quarter-tones. Attempts to put this solution into practice only succeeded in varying degrees, so today there’s still a tendency to present concerts where the prevailing aesthetics and musical environment recall those of European symphony concerts.

Although harmonizing traditional melodies has gone out of fashion nowadays, the notion of the quarter-tone did catch on to a certain extent in the Middle East, mainly in the Arab countries, and there are many musicians who play quarter-tones instead of the original intervals; the principle has been taught in the main music schools in the East since the 1940s.

In fact, the twenty-four quarter-tones make it impossible to play an authentic version of classical and popular music of Arab, Turkish and Persian origin. If a musician uses these simplified scales, it’s impossible to hear the difference between the makams that used to be played on scales with different notes, because each makam had its own intervals…

The very idea of an equal temperament that offered new perspectives to Western thought and Western music, because it led to the development of harmony, actually had a disastrous effect on modal music, used to tapping sources found in quite different material. The result was a sort of hybrid culture, made up of borrowed ideas often misunderstood or badly assimilated, and borrowed techniques badly adapted in order to suit local “new ideas”. Parallel to this movement that mainly affected mass market productions, musicians of the new generation playing classical and popular music are now actively looking for a more authentic aesthetic approach.

For the last ten years or so, reissues of old 78s onto the CD format has meant that musicians are able to listen to their colleagues from the early 20th century, paying particular attention to their different styles, far removed indeed from those generally heard all over the Middle East on radio or TV, and which pass everywhere, especially in Turkey, as being part of the national heritage.

These old styles had only survived thanks to a handful of special personalities, and Kudsi Erguner’s ensemble aims to restore the emotion (tarab), the style (tavir), and the precise intervals of former times, in repertoires both old and new.

The fasil

The fasil is a suite of several works within a single makam, each one with its own distinct rhythmic pattern. A fasil includes instrumental and vocal pieces, as well as improvised solos, again either instrumental or vocal.

Vocal forms of the fasil

Kar: The word means “work” in Persian. In order to ensure a smooth passage into the first vocal work in his suite, a musician would choose the pesrev corresponding to the rhythmic pattern of the kar. This was the most sophisticated form and gave rise to each composer’s masterpiece. It’s been completely abandoned nowadays because neither its majestic nature nor its musical language suit contemporary Turkish taste. 

Karce and beste: The former is a little kar, and follows its longer counterpart; it’s succeeded in turn by some beste, composed on different rhythmic patterns (ika). In Persian, the word beste means link, liaison, and refers to the refrain that’s repeated as the link between each line of a quatrain.

Vocal semai: Sama-i means part of the recital. The structure is similar to that of the beste, with its own distinctive rhythmic cycle, from amongst aghir aksak semai (10/4), aksak semai (10/8), aghir senghin semai (6/2), senghin semai (6/4), yuruk semai (6/8).

Taksim and gazel: The taksim is an improvisation on a makam, played by one or more instruments. The vocal equivalent for a singer who improvises freely on a poem is known as a gazel or kasida, according to the type of poem.

Instrumental forms of the fasil 

This CD presents some of the most interesting pieces in the different forms that make up the fasil, i.e. the pesrev and the saz semai.

The pesrev, literally “the one that goes ahead”, is an instrumental prelude that opens the fasil, just as it opens the whirling dervishes’ ceremonies. The pesrev used in the latter has a distinct character, because it will have been composed by members of the Mevlevi community (the disciples of Jalaluddin Rumi), and will be performed with sobre majesty.  

The pesrev in a fasil are more dynamic and offer many opportunities for ornamentation. 

The pesrev consists of four couplets (hane) and a refrain (teslim), and is composed in large rhythmic patterns such as tchenber (24/4), or pesrev devr-i kebir (28/8), muzaaf devr-i kebir (56/4), hafif (32/8), sakil (48/2). A composer may even have created new rhythmic patterns by combining two existing ones, in which case the new formulae are known as darbeyn.

The saz semai or instrumental semai completes the fasil, in contrast to the prelude or pesrev. Saz semai are often composed in an aksak semai rhythm (10/8), as for the last vocal work of the fasil. The main feature of saz semai is the way the rhythm changes on the fourth hane, with most composers opting for a yuruk semai (6/8) to follow.

The pesrev and the saz semai are the most widely used instrumental forms.

  • Reference : 321.060
  • Ean : 794 881 747 122
  • Main artist : Ensemble Kudsi Erguner (قدسي إرجونر)
  • Year of recording : 2002
  • Year of publishing : 2004
  • Music style: Classical instrumental
  • Country : Turkey
  • City of recording : Paris
  • Main language :
  • Composers : Andon Efendi ; Kudsi Erguner ; Dernya Turkan ; Hakan Güngpor ; Kemanî Sâdî Isilay ; Zeki Mehmed Aga ; Tanburî Ali Efendi ; Tanburî Cemil Bey ; Necip Gülses ; Mehmet Emin Bitmez
  • Lyricists :
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe