( by Ersu Pekin )

In addition to the musicians trained within the palace itself, musicians trained outside the palace were sometimes given permanent employment at court or invited to take part now and again in musical activities. The term "küme fasil" was employed to refer to an ensemble composed of court musicians combined with musicians from outside the palace. A good example of this type activity is given by the invitation to Hamamizade Ismail Dede Efendi to take part in performances at court. Greatly impressed by the song in buselik makam (mode) beginning "Zülfündedir benim baht-i siyahim" which Hamamizade had composed when still a novice in the Mevlevi dervish lodge and which had quickly won great popularity in Istanbul, Selim III send Vardakosta Ahmet Agha, on of the court accountants, to the lodge to summon Dervish Ismail to the palace. Later, Dede Efendi was to come and go many times between the dervish lodge and the royal court but, altough at one time he was appointed müezzinbasi (head müezzin) he was never permanently attached to the court. This shows that the Ottoman Court followed musical activities in Istanbul very closely, that it made further musical progress possible by accepting successful musicians into its own organization and that it played role in providing them with cultural nourishment.

The same sort of set-up is to be found under Sultan Abdülhamid II, who had a great love of Western music and arranged for his daughter Ayse Sultan to be given piano lessons. On hearing of the fame of Tanburi Cemil Bey, who had become identified with music in Istanbul from the great mansions to the street musicians, he invited him to the palace so as to at least hear him.

In the Ottoman tradition, the terms State, Court and Sultan consisted one integral whole as regards both place and concept. The word State suggested the Sultan who represented it, as well as both the residence of the Sultan and the Court as the place from which the state was governed. Whether the "Court" referred to a palace or to the otagh (state tent) used by the Sultan when campaign, it remained, together with the Sultan, a symbol of the State. At the time of the foundation of the Ottoman State, music occupied an important place among the symbols representing hegemony, the state and rule (beylik). The banner, tabl (drum) and tug (horsetail) symbolising rule and hegemony sent to Osman Gazi by Giyaseddin Mesud, the Seljuk Sultan in Konya, led to the foundation of the Tabl ü Alem Mehterleri or Ottoman military bands. These Tabl ü Alem Mehterleri connected with the court consisted of the standardbearers entrustad with the protection of the imperial standard (sancak) and of musicians. The mehter would play every day in the afternoon in front of either the palace or the royal tent, whichever the Sultan happened to be at the time.

The preparation of music books for the court during the reign of Murat II, before the transfer of the capital to Istanbul, and the dedication to Murad II of a work entitled Makasidü'l-Elhan by Maragali Abdülkadir in Semerkand are both of great importance as evidence af the interest taken in music by the Ottoman Court. Books such as the Risâle-i Ilmü'l-Musiki by Ahmedoglu, Sükrullah, translated with additions by Safiüddin Abdülmumin, Makasidü'l-Elhan, Nekavetü'l-Edvar (Nuruosmaniye Library 3646) written during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror by Abdülaziz, son of Maragali Abdülkadir, Risale-i Ilmü'l Musiki (Topkapi Saray Museum Library, a 3449), an Arabic book on musical rules written by Fethullah Mü'min, Sirvâni and dedicated to Mehmet the Conqueror, ehow that Eastern Islamic cultural sources were used in the formation of a basis of Ottoman musical cultur in the 15th century or, it might be more accurate to say, ensured an accumulation of knowledge that made it possible for Ottoman music to acquire a ceratin individual identity.

The Classical Period

A description of the musical entertainment at the circumcision festivities held in tentn erected on an island in the Maritza river at Edirne in 1457 for the princess Bayezit and Mustafa, the sons of Mehmed I the Conqueror, is given by Dursun Bey in his history of the reign of Mehmet II entitled Tarih-i Ebü'l Feth. Dursun Bey's use of the term "kânun-u padiseh" implies that this type of musical entertainment at the court itself and that music was composed in accordance with this custom.From Dursun Bey's mention of ensembles composed of, instruments such as the ud, sestar, tanbur, rebab and barbut, and particularly the sestar and barbut, it would appear that this music still displayed a puraly Islamic character and had not yet acquired an Ottoman identity. It is doubtful if the tanbur mentioned here is the tanbur in use today, while the rebate is certainly not the stringed instrument we know and is much more likely to be the, striged instrument played with a plectrum described by Ahmedoglu, Sükrullah.

From extant documents we learn of the presence at the court of the Conqueror of an ud player by the name of, Simerd and of a kanun player by the name of Ishak. Among the instruments makers mentioned in a craftsman tegister dated Rebiyülahir 932 (January 1526) (Topkapi Palace Museum Archives D.9306/3) we find a tanbura player by the name of Muslihiddin, who had been engaged by the palace at a daily wage of 12 akçe during the reign of Mehmet II. This entry shpws that during the reign of th Conqueror there were a number of musicians and instrument makers empolyed at the court on a daily basis. From Dursun Bey's history of time, we also learn that in the ceremonies held on the occaison of Beyazid II's accession to throne after the Mehmet II period, one of great vitality in both science and atr, cushions were spread out on the floor and music performed on the, çeng and barbut.

The work entitled Hazâ el-Matla'fi Beyanü'l-Edvar ve'l Makâmat ve fi Ilmü'l Esrâr ve'r-Riyâzat, also known as "Seydî'nin el Matla'i" (Topkapi Palace Museum A 3459) was copied in 1504 during the reign of Bayezid II. This book contains an interesting section tracing the musical policy Adopted at the Ottoman Court at the end of the 15th century and the beginning af the 16th.the writer explains that both musical and mathematical theory was ultimately based on the work of Farabi and that the sounds were later determined by Safiüddin Abdülmümin on a mathematical basis. After starting that during the time of Safiüddin scholar were prohibited from engaging in music, the writer produces various pieces of evidence showing that musical studies were never abandoned.

There were a number of musicians at the court of Bayezid engaged on a daily basis. A list of musicians to be found in a register dating from the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (Topkapi palace Museum 7643) the kopuzcu Saban and Husrev, mentioned as having been musicians at the court of Bayezid II, the two kanuni Sadi and Muhiddinand a kemençeci by the name of Nasuh. The nota "içerden çikmistir" to be found against the name of kopuzcu Husrev indicates that he was one of the musicians trained in the Enderun during thereign of Bayezid II.

Two miniatures in the Suleymannâme of 1588 preserved in the Topkapi Palace Museum which Esin Atil entitles, "Entertainment af Süleyman the Magnificent" depict, musicians performing in the precense of Sultan, who is seen seated in a pavilion. The same type of musical entertainment can be seen in miniatures depicting the festivities held in Topkapi Palace on the occasion of the circumcision of Suleyman's sons, Bayezid and Cihangir. Singers are to be seen in this miniatures, as well as musicians playing instruments such as çeng, kanun, ud, rebab (kemençe), ney, miskal and daire (def). One of the miniatures shows two çengi dancing with çalpara (castanets) in their hands.

The group of musicians known as cemaat-i mutribân referred to in the sources as being employed on a daily basis at the Ottoman Court during the reign of Süleyman the magnificent included singers known as gûyende (hânende) in addition to avvad (udi), kobuzi, kemançeci, kanuni, çengi and nâyi. Names of musicians and instrument makers are to be found in the ehl-i hiref registers containing a list of the artistand others employed in the Court. The notes added to the names indicate that custom of bringing musicians from Iran that was prevalent at the court of Mehmet the conqueror was continued under Selim I. Naturally enough, these musicians brought with them the music they knew and were in the habit of performing.

Ottoman court music of the 15th and 16th centuries, while, on the one hand, keeping in constant and close touch with both the theory and practice of the music of the Eastern Islamic cultural environment, was also strongly characterized by local cultural features. At that period, the State was on its way to becoming a global empire, an Ottoman art, and Ottoman music in particular, was preparing for itself a very special identity in Islamic Art. In doing so, it aimed at a synthesis of what it had created itself or discovered in local sources with Islamic culture in general.

Evliya Çelebi relates how, on his reception into the presence of Murad IV in 1635, he performed Works in the varsagi, segâh, mây and bestenigâr makams (modes) with words by Murad IV and music by Dervish Ömer, a member of the Gülseni sect and Evliya Çelebi's former teacher of music. Altough a commoner, Evliya Çelebi formed a variety of relations with the court, even according to his own account, being admitted to Kiler Odasi (Office of the Palace Pantry). That a poem written by the sultan should be set to music and performed in the presence of the Sultan, along with other works, by an ordinary man on the relations between the court and the community. Evliya Çelebi also relates how on Saturday nights the Sultan would gather singers and musicians, including those who performed ilahi and nast, (hymns and eulogies) and engage in a conversation with them. He also informs us that the saray meskhanesi (Palace school of music) was located beside the has hamam (royal bath) in the third courtyard of Topkapi Sarayi.

A sketch plan of Topkapi Sarayi drawn at this same period by Ali Ufkî Bey (Albert Bobovski) an inmate of the Topkapi Sarayi Enderun, shows the meskhane in the third courtyard. According to this sketch, the meskhane is located, not in the positions it occupies today, but on the right hand side of the Arzodasi (Throne Room), in front of the building which the garments of the Sultans are now exhibited. In a stil extant work entitled Hazâ Mecmua-i Saz ü Söz containing a large number of works of the period together with examples of popular music such as varsagi. Ali Ufkî Bey writes that the "meskhane" remained open all day long , being closed only at night, and that it was here that the musicians received lessons from their teachers. These teachers lived outside the palace, and would arrive at the palace each day after the first meeting of the divan ( council of state), while the içoglan (pages) engaged in musical activities would live their own rooms in the Enderun. Ali Ufkî Bey mentions a concert presented in accordance with Western musical technique by an Italian musician attached to the court during the reign of Sultan Murad, and lists the instruments used as kemençe, tanbur (or sestar), santur, miskal, ney and ud, together with instruments used in the performance of folk music such as çagana, çögür, tanbura, tel tanburasi and çesde.

The most important source material for a study of Ottoman music at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th is to be found in the book written by the historian and composer Prince Kantemiroglu of Moldavia. After referring to the much greater vitality and maturity with which Ottoman music during the reign of Sultan Mehmed was endowed as a result of the efforts of Osman Efendi, a member of a noble Istanbul family, Prince Kantemioglu gives the names of distinguished musicians in the court circles. He also refers to the saray Baskesedar (Head Keper of The Royal Purse) Davul Ismail Efendi and the haznedar ( treasurer) Latif Çelebi as being lovers of music with whose encouregment he had written his book on the theory of Ottoman music, and states that the Ottoman sultans, who, in the earlier years of the empire, had been engaged for most of their time in consinuous warfare, were now able to devote themselves to music and the fine arts.


In the 18th century of the Ottoman court found itself in a period characterized by the rapid decline of the State and it was towards the end of the century that preferences in the cultural field began to be directed towards the West. In the years preceding his accession to the throne, Selim III had taken an active interest in the literature, music and history, but altough as Sultan, he was obviously greatly influenced by Western architecture the same cannot be said for music. Selim III was not only a distinguished musician and composer, heading the list of sultans such as Murad IV, Mehmed IV, Mustafa II, Mahmud I and Mahmud II who gave particular interest in music.
Under these Sultans, interest in music at the court far transcended a merely official interest. Apart from Sultan himself, a great many musicians and lovers of music were to be found among the princes, the ladies of the court and the various members of the royal family. On the other hand, there were several Sultans, headed by Osman III, who displayed no interest whatsoever in music, and Mustafa IV, who put an end to musical entertainments at court. The last really brilliant period of traditional music in the Ottoman court is to be found during the reign of Mahmud II.

In his study of musical activities under Mahmud II, Rauf Yekta gives a lively account, based on oral sources, of the performance of a ferahfez fasil in the Sedab Pavilion in Topkapi Palace in which very distinguished musicians of the time took part. The singers were Dede Efendi, Dellalzade Ismail Agha, Suyolcuzade Salih Efendi, Körümcüzade Hafiz Efendi and Bazmacizade Abdi Efendi, with Kazasker Mustafa Izzet Efendi on the ney, Sait Efendi on the girift, Riza Efendi, Mustafa Agha and Ali Agha on kemans, and Numan Agha, Zeki Mehmed Agha, Keçi arif Agha and Necib Agha on tanburs. Again according to Rauf Yekta, it was the costom at court for the fasil ensemble tos it on a crimson rug sprean out on the flor and to begin the performance only after praise from the Sultan.

Hizir Ilyas Agha had received from his education in the Enderun at the court of Mahmud I, and his memoirs, entitled Letaifi Enderun are of great importance for the light they shed on Ottoman history. From this work we learn in which rooms the court musicians of the period lived, what duties they performed, their relationships, the works they produced and their character and personality.

The Enderun was the most important institution as far as musical life in the palace was concerned. The aghas performing personal service to the Sultan in the Enderun lived in the Seferli, Kiler, Hazine and Has apartments. The musicians were gathered together in the Seferli Apartment, founded during the reign of Murad IV. Prior to thies, a number of "large" and "small" rooms had been used for musical education and performance.

Music was also taught and performed in the Harem of the palace. The music teachers of the palace concubines (cariyeler) could give lessons either in the palace itself or in their own homes. Over the centuries, hundreds of musicians emerged from among the ladies of the Ottoman courtbut the names and works of very few of these are known. The most famous of the women composers in the palace was Dilhayat Kalfa, who lived in the middle of the 18th century. Her evcara pesrevi and saz semaisi in the same mode, her compositions "Ta-be-key sinemde cây etmek cefâvü kîneye" in the mahur mode, "Çok mu figanim ol gül-i zîba hirâm için" in the eviç mode and "Nevhiramim sana meyl eyledi can bir, dil iki" in the rest mode are among the most valuable Works in the Turkish repertorie. Another woman composer whose works have survived is reftar Kalfa, whose pesrevs and saz semais were noted down by Kantemiroglu. A famous miniature by Levni depicts a musical ensemble from the Harem composed of tanbur, miskal, zurna and daire.

The Enderun was abolished by Mahmud II, who continued the reforms initiated by Selim III with the abolition of the Janissary Corps and the establishment of a Western type army known as the Asâkir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye. This was inevitably followed by the abolition of the Mehterhane and the formation of a Muzika-i Hümayun (Imperial Military Band) under the direction of Giuseppe Donizetti. From this time onwards, Ottoman music was to losa its traditional character and to turn to the West, with the court performing its function as patron of the art of music by concentrating on the encouragement of music in the Western style. The seal was set upon the westernization of music by Abdülmecid's accession to the throne and the proclamation of the reform decree. That Dede Efendi, the greatest composer of the time, should have left the court with the permission of the Sultan on the pretext of going on pilgrimage shows how much the support of the court had weakened.

The introduction of Western music into Ottoman court began with Donizetti's activity as director of the Muzika-i Hümayun. The Turkish students in the Ottoman palace were taught to sing Italian songs while the court orchestra began to play selections from Italian operas. The foundations of Western music were laid, first in the court and then in the city itself.