Posted on: 07-03-2019

Turkish Music Culture

Turkey’s cultural fabric is made up of a rich combination of diverse cultures rooted deeply in history. By virtue of its geographical position, Turkey lies at the axis of the cultures of the East, the West, the Middle Eastern, the Mediterranean and Islam. Anatolia is one of the world’s oldest human habitats – hosts of civilizations have called it home – and it enjoys a unique cultural richness with its thousands of years of history. Anatolia’s cultural variety is so rich that we can see great cultural differences even in areas geographically quite close to each other.

This colorful portrait holds just as true for Turkey’s music.

We can categorize the types of music heard through the years of Anatolia’s long history into three groups:


Traditional/Local Music

Modern Turkish Classical Music

Popular Music


Traditional/Local Music

The Concept of Traditional Music: This is generally music that is created in a common manner, has continued from the time of its production right down to the present day, is popular and frequently played and recited in its region and by local people, and is usually anonymous.

In Turkey, music that conforms to the above definition, which is produced by and located in a settled culture and which has thereby become traditional, can be classified as either ‘religious’ or ‘secular.’ These can also be considered under the headings ‘Folk/Local Music’ and ‘Ottoman Music.’ These two groups have many features in common, and can be classified as either ‘instrumental’ or ‘with lyrics.’

Folk/Local Music

 Ottoman Music

 Janissary (Mehter) Music

 Religious Music

 Traditional/Local Musical Instruments


Modern Turkish Classical Music

Western influence had already begun to be felt in Ottoman music towards the middle of the 19th century. These increased towards the end of the century, and led to efforts to change Ottoman music from monodic to polyphonic.

With the declaration of the republic in 1923, Cemal Reşid (REY), who was then studying music in Europe, returned to Turkey and began to teach at a music school established in Istanbul. At the same time, a number of talented young people were sent by the republic to various cities in Europe to study music. After they returned to Turkey, the group that would later be called ‘Türk Beşleri’ (the Turkish Five) and which prepared the groundwork for Modern Polyphonic Turkish Music, emerged. The common aim of the group was to use the traditional themes of traditional Turkish music together with the values of Western classical music that they had studied to produce a new polyphonic structure. In later stages, every composer who amed at a more contempoırary sound interpreted the colours and mystery of popular melody in his own way, and instead of merely treating well-known popular melodies they began to achieve syntheses by means of abstraction.

The Turkish Five consisted of; Cemal Reşit REY, Ulvi Cemal ERKİN, Hasan Ferit ALNAR, Ahmet Adnan SAYGUN and Necil Kazım AKSES. Later, others produced and are still producing works in the same field, including; Nuri Sami KORAL, Kemal İLERİCİ, Ekrem Zeki ÜN and Bülent TARCAN of the second generation, Sabahattin KALENDER, Nevit KODALLI, Ferit TÜZÜN, İlhan USMANBAŞ, Bülent AREL and İlhan MİMAROĞLU of the third, and Muammer SUN, Cenan AKIN, Cengiz TANÇ, Kemal SÜNDER, İlhan BARAN, Yalçın TURA and Ali Doğan SİNANGİL of the fourth. An ıncreasing number of other composers after that last generation continue to write works. The current number has now reached around 60.


Popular Music

Popular music is to a large extent produced by the consumer generation, or even if not later came on to take on many of those characteristics, and takes its form from the criteria of its own particular sectoral features, in such a way that the values that comprise those criteria are not based on the preferences of the culture of any one section of society, and thus is a form that to a large extent brings together different cultures. In the same way that Europe has seen an industrialised society, the increase in artistic products related to popular culture and their increasing spread in all sections of society, and the efforts towards industrialisation in Turkey and the concomittant rise in urbanisation, have all led to an independent popular cultural atmosphere in society. The basic values that the wide community in which popular culture is influential expects from artistic endeavours can be summed up as easy to understand and comprehend and requiring no great depth, thus calling for no great debate. In Turkey, the products of popular culture have lent colour to the last quarter of the 20th century in particular, and as objects, or from the visual point of view, have called to a wide constituency.

Rapidly changing and progressing cultural formations lead to a suitable environment for the emergence of such products as the artistic works of popular culture. In Turkey, popular culture and the music belonging to it are spreading in this environment with great rapidity in all sections of community. By 2000 it had become powerful enough to respond to the musical tastes of just about all of society.

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