To many of us, a reference to "Turkish music" means nothing more than it did in Haydn's day -- an agreeably raucous coloring provided by the addition of a bass drum, piccolo and cymbals. There are familiar examples in Mozart's opera "The Abduction From the Seraglio," in Haydn's "Military" symphony, and even at the end of Beethoven's Ninth. (Some fortepianos in Haydn's time were equipped with a mechanical gadget to add "Turkish music" in G major.)
The idea of concert music from Turkey somehow never occurs to us, it seems, and the new record of orchestral works by four Turkish composers comes as more of a surprise than the latest offering of Maori dances or Tibetan chants.
The disc itself is not from Turkey, but from Hungary, representing a cooperative venture of the Turkish cooperative venture of the Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Information with the Hungarian Institute of Cultural Relations. The music is performed by the Budapest Philharmonic, under the Turkish conductor Hikmet Simsek, on the Hungaroton lanel (SLPX-12073).
The earliest of the four pieces is "Kocekce," a dance rhapsody composed in 1943 by Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972). In his 20s, Erkin studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris; he subsequently became director of the State Conservatory and State Opera in Ankara. "Kocikce," described in the anonymous annotation as his "most popular masterpiece" (the term, "masterpiece" is used as a synonym for "composition" throughout this text, just as our record companies and concert promoters use "artist" as a synonym for "performers") is said to be perhaps the best-known single piece of Turkish music abroad.
The piece is based on the vigorous and colorful dances performed by men in bygone centuries, and the writing for the orchestra is quite brilliant.
The opening section is vivdly exotic, not unlike Khachaturian's Armenian-flavored score for the ballet "Gayaneh." The succeeding dances, which flash by without pause, may remind listeners of the similarly constructed dance suites by the Hungarians Bartok and Kodaly, in terms of craftsmanship as well as color.
Two of the other composers represented here are surviving members of Erkin's generation. Ahmet Adnan Saygun (born 1907), like Barok and Kodaly, is an ethnomusicologist who has devoted a good deal of his time to collecting and arranging folk songs. Five of them are presented here in 1968 settings for voice and orchestra, sung by the basso Ayhan Baran. The tests range from love songs to a "Story of the Animals" to a poem about Koroglu, "the symbol of righteousness, winning a masculine struggle against cruelty." The music is full of life, handsomely scored and most impressively sung. The first of the five songs sounds as if it is about to go into "Uska Dara," the Turkish song Eartha Kitt used to sing, but it never quite does.
Necil Kazim Akses (born 1908) studied with Joseph Marx in Vienna, and in Prague with both Josef Suk (Dvorak's son-in-law, grandfather of today's famous violinist of the same name) and Alois Haba, champion of quarter-tones and beyond. He was for a time director of the Ankara State Opera. His "Scherzo," composed in 1969, is a more ambitous piece than its title might suggest; it is in fact the longest piece on the record laid out in three contrasting but interconnected movements and based on one of the most admired works of Mustafa Itri, a celebrated 17th-century Turkish musician. The atmosphere evoked here is similar to that of the Erkin piece, but instead of a chain of vigorous dances we have something more in the nature of one of Respighi's four-part sets of Roman scenes.
The final work here is the three-part suite "Inspirations," by Ferit Tuzun (born 1929). We are advised that one of his teachers, in Munich, was G. Ephraim Lessing, who also conducted the premiere of this work. This music, too, is strongly influenced by folklore -- the notes even identify the geographic sources of its material -- but its flavor is more conspicuously contemporary and cosmopolitan than that of the other three works presented here. The nature of the three pieces suggests a near-parallel with the "Danzas fantasticas" of Joaquin Turina, but Tuzun's style is far more concise, even terse, than the Spaniard's.
All the music is interesting enough to hear more than once. The performances are extremely persuasive, the sound is excellent, and the pressing itself is exemplary. I only wish the elaborate documentation (in four languages -- not in Hungarian) had included texts for the Saygun songs.