Sir, I would like to talk to you about the Istanbul of your youth, its culture and musical gatherings. I am particularly interested in the musical gatherings of the past, since these gatherings have assumed a vital role in preserving our rich culture and handing it down to future generations. Actually, you were not born in Istanbul, nor did you spend your childhood and teenage years here. However, as you came to this city in 1943, this means you have been a resident of Istanbul for about seventy years. And this is enough to make you more of an Istanbulite than most people born and raised here. What’s more, your arrival was at a time when the city had not yet sustained total cultural devastation. Therefore, you are very familiar with the Istanbul on which we want to focus. You left your city of birth, Edirne, and came to Istanbul. What kind of Istanbul had you imagined and what did you encounter upon your arrival?
I came to Istanbul in 1943 after I had finished high school, to pursue higher education. I had previously been to Istanbul. The places my father - an officer - was stationed in did not have either secondary or high schools. The year I finished primary school my father was relocated to the township of Ceyhan (in the city of Adana). It was 1937... But Ceyhan did not have an elementary school. For that reason, I had to go to elementary school in my city of birth Edirne. My whole family is from Edirne; my grandparents, my aunt... all of them were in Edirne. The first time I was able to go and see my father in Ceyhan was the third and last year of elementary school; after three years... After that I occasionally passed through Istanbul on my way to Ceyhan from Edirne. My aunt was living in Istanbul.
At least you must have seen places like the train station?
I remember those places very vaguely... As you said, I have lived here uninterruptedly since 1943, without ever leaving it except for visits in Turkey and abroad. Fortunately, I did my military service in Gebze, a place very near to Istanbul. So even at that time, I seemed like I never left Istanbul. Now; I came to Istanbul in 1943. My uncle’s son Vedat met me at Haydarpaşa train station. We crossed over to the other side by ferry to his home on Hafız Galip Street, in the Cerrahpaşa quarter. My intention was to enroll at the Faculty of Medicine, so I applied there. You had to have a certain exam score in order to enter medical school at that time. Since I graduated from high school having taken the literature option, I had a great deal of studying to do; I chose the Koca Ragıp Paşa Library near Istanbul University in Laleli to study. You know, during the construction activities in the 1950s, as far as I can remember, the road was elevated and the library’s entrance was left a little below the road level. It had formerly been on the same level as the road.
The road was on a hill, correct?
Yes, there was a hill. It was a very serene and peaceful place with a garden of its own, near Koska (patisserie), as one walked up the street to Laleli. In contrast, its manager was a very serious man. Even coughing was prohibited, let alone talking. For about a month, I studied there every day, from morning to evening. I was determined to be able to enter the medical school and, in fact, I passed the entrance exam and entered the Faculty of Medicine. My first impressions of Istanbul date back to those days. We had a conference hall in a location known as “the Zeynep Hanım Mansion”. The courses started there.
But the Zeynep Hanım Mansion was no longer standing at that time.
It had burned down three years before your arrival in Istanbul. Therefore, you do not remember that mansion at all, do you?
No. But I heard İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey make frequent references to this famous mansion; he had close ties to the family.
His father, Emin Pasha, was the private secretary of Kâmil Pasha. His childhood was spent in that mansion.
The place where the mansion had once been was at that time an empty plot. The construction of the Faculty of Science either had already begun or was about to begin. I cannot remember much. Those were the war years you know; we were living in difficult circumstances. Perhaps its foundation had been laid, but the building was unfinished. We began our physics and chemistry courses in the conference hall there. It was a large hall. What immediately comes to mind now is the opening ceremony of the university, held in this hall on November 1st. The classes began afterwards.
You know, the hall you have just mentioned actually was the manége of the Zeynep Hanım Mansion. It was overhauled when Emrullah Efendi was the minister of education and it was transformed into a conference hall. Could you please describe it for us a little?
The hall was not like an auditorium, but it was not entirely flat, either; the ground slightly rose toward the back. There were wooden columns. Upon entry through the door was a very wide lectern; it was pretty long. The professors spoke from there, and the students would face them from their seats in the hall, listening. That is, when we entered the hall, we had to pass by that lectern to go to our seats. So did our professors, of course.
You mean, the entrance door was right next to the lectern?
Yes, next to the lectern (on a podium)... It was a large hall and probably large enough to hold 900 to 1,000 people. On the one hand, the war was raging on in Europe, and on the other, we were attending classes delivered by our professors in German in this hall. The lectures were translated. There was one, a biochemistry professor; he would speak through the microphone in such a manner you would think he was a German commander giving us orders, one after another.
The German language can make one feel like that.
Oh, yes. It was as if he was reading a wartime manifesto.
Were the translations sufficient?
They were. We were able to take notes easily. We had that advantage. We had enough time to note the translation as the professor was speaking German. At that time, we had yellow notebooks for note-taking, and they were a lot cheaper than normal notebooks; we would try and take down everything we heard. It was not an easy thing to lay your hands on the textbook for every course in those years. I remember that clearly. Now that this topic has come up, if you do not mine I would like to talk a little about my university life. Ten years had passed since the university reform. In almost every course, particularly the pre-clinical ones, we had a professor of German origin.
Yes, Jewish professors. As we became more senior students - for instance, in the third or fourth year - we sometimes had Turkish professors as well. But, a large majority of them, I’d say 75 %, were foreigners. Of course, I can visualize Bayezit Square of the time. There was a large fountain in the middle of the square, near to the entrance gate of the university; trams would turn around the fountain. And then on the right side was a coffeehouse, called Küllük (ashtray), frequented by Istanbul’s refined residents, such as men of letters or poets; they would sit and talk there. The coffeehouse was adjacent to one wall of the inner courtyard of Bayezit Mosque.
Would you go to the Küllük Coffeehouse?
I cannot say I went there often. There was also a nearby restaurant where our professors would eat; Emin Efendi Restaurant. We heard that famous poets, as well as people like Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar and Mükrimin Halil (Yinanç) Bey went there. But, given our meager budgets as students, we could not afford to go to those kinds of places. What I also remember is the Bakırcılar Street, which runs parallel to the dental school. We would go to İbnülemin’s mansion along that route. But I guess we’ll get to this a little later.
You took some of your courses in the conference hall of Dārülfünūn (the faculty of sciences). Where did you take your other courses?
We took the first year’s courses, such as zoology and plant biology, in what is today the office of the grand mufti of Istanbul. Botanical institute used to stand there. The building was later reduced in height by one floor; that is, it used to be higher. The first-year courses in the faculty of medicine were all given by members of the faculty of science. After we passed the first year, we were enrolled in the faculty of medicine; this was in the 1944-45 academic year. In the beginning of 1944, I registered to the faculty of medicine with Selahattin İçli (another famous musician and composer). His number was 6,115, and mine was 6,116.
Where was the faculty of medicine?
It was in the main building of the university. I had earlier been enrolled in the faculty of science in a building opposite the conference hall. I do not remember now what happened to that building. It was perhaps within the additional parts of the conference hall, because you could easily reach the hall when you were in that building. We took some other courses, such as physiology and biochemistry, in the central building. The institute of morphology was behind the garden. We did the anatomy and histology courses in that building. From the fourth year on, we took some courses in the central building again; others were held in various hospitals, for example, the Cerrahpaşa Hospital. A number of courses on internal diseases and the surgical course were held there. We did internal disease courses, as well as gynecology in Haseki Hospital. Our class took orthopedics and pediatrics in Şişli Etfal (Children’s) Hospital. The other lessons were held between three hospitals -Çapa, Cerrahpaşa and Haseki hospitals.
So you lived your university life in what the our elders call nefs-i İstanbul, right in the heart of the Dersaādet.
Yes, I did. Bayezit, Cerrahpaşa, Haseki, Çapa... We went out of these places only for the orthopedics and pediatrics courses in Şişli. By the time we graduated, these courses had also been moved to Haseki Hospital.
Could you tell us a little bit about the various sights of the city from those years, of what you remember?
The prevailing architectural material at that time in the Historical Peninsula was wood. Most buildings were wooden. Streets and alleys were very narrow. I would like to give an example to better illustrate this. As the tram ran from Aksaray to Topkapı, it went past the Murat Paşa Mosque, and even Haseki as two lines, but when it got near Haseki, the two lines became one. The street was so narrow that you could say the houses opposite one another were stuck together. The tram thus continued along a single rail, and two trams, naturally, could not run at the same time. We would finish a class in Cerrahpaşa and, had to go to, for example, Çapa for another class. What could we do? We had to walk from Cerrahpaşa to Aksaray, and then take the tram to Çapa from there. Were there any shortcuts? No shortcuts. There were no neighborhoods between Cerrahpaşa and Çapa. Right after Haseki, that is, in Taşkasap, there were houses, but further on, that is, between Şehremini and Cerrahpaşa, there was nothing but orchards and vegetable gardens. There were also large garden wells and small cottage houses that you could not even call them shanty house. We needed to be careful not to fall into a well while crossing those fields. The Istanbul of those days had such vast lands, some of them abandoned and ruined, as well as great open fields that were like, as I said, vegetable gardens. People would irrigate their lands with the water from those wells.
These were probably areas that had been cleaned by fires. And they could not be constructed because of the poverty of the state and people. As far as I know, the great fire of Fatih, which occurred in 1918, completely destroyed that region.
Yes, it must have been because of the fires. Also, we noticed no new structures in those years. Those were the years of the war, you know… all the pains and deprivations were there. Istanbul’s population at this time was only 450,000 - 500,000 people. Every household was living at subsistence level. And those vegetable gardens met Istanbul’s need for vegetables. Istanbul’s demand for vegetables was met from those gardens, and not from any outside source. I remember it very well; for example, the quarters of Langa, Kumkapı and Yedikule were filled with vegetable gardens that stretched down to the sea. That is not only Istanbul’s periphery but also a number of central locations had fields where people grew vegetables. And of course, all the houses were old and wooden. Only when you went up to Beyoğlu you could see new structures and blocks of flats. According to the way we perceived the city at that time, we only felt as if we were in a major city when we were in Beyoğlu.
Like two different worlds…
Yes, two different worlds... Beyazit, Yedikule, Şehremini, Soğanağa... There were such quarters. Families even lived in Cağaloğlu; it had not yet been completely invaded by businesses. Places like Şehzadebaşı and Yeşil Tulumba were very well-known districts, where old Istanbul families lived.
Because Istanbul, already devastated in many ways by wars and economic crises, had been neglected for a long time, it ended up becoming a ruin. This is what I understand from your depictions.
They had not been able to do anything. For example, randomly built shops flanking both sides of the street between Tophane and Dolmabahçe jutted out into the street, thereby further narrowing the road. There were a good many wooden shops in Eminönü, and they had not been built based on careful planning. It seemed that everybody had scrambled for empty plots and erected their ramshackle shops. When the square was cleared up, Yeni Cami became visible again. The structures that we are expected to preserve meticulously seemed to have been invaded. More precisely, that was how it looked from our perspective.
Let us return to Bayezit again, if you do not mind. We were heading to Şehzadebaşı from Bayezit.
There is the Fuat Paşa Mansion; or today’s Pharmacy Faculty... Could you tell us a bit about that area?
There were a number of large coffeehouses in that area. As I was not someone who frequented coffeehouses often, all I got to see of them were their windows as I walked through. There were two billiard halls. Most of the university students, even some of my friends, would go to those places. They would play cards or something… But actually there were not as many coffeehouses as you would think. I do not know how to explain it; I remember the Turan Theater in Şehzadebaşı. There used to be five or six coffeehouses on the same row as the City Hall. Now large hotels stand in their place. They, I mean the coffeehouses, were one-story structures; these caught my attention; I often asked myself why there were five or six of them standing side by side.
Do you remember the Darültalim Coffeehouse? It has an important place in our music history.
I do not remember Darültalim. On the right was the Letafet Building...
Darültalim was apparently the ground floor of that building...
Is that so? I went to the Letafet Building many times. As part of the University Chorus, we rehearsed there for a whole winter. But strangely enough I do not remember the Darültalim Coffeehouse. Moreover, I once invited a famous journalist to that building, now many do not remember him, but you would know him very well; Ahmet Hidayet Reel.
Yes, an old journalist... If I am not mistaken, he also worked as editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet.
He was a true Istanbul gentleman, whom I liked very much; his wife, I heard, was Rahmi Bey’s student (in music). In that building Burhan Cahit Morkaya also lived. His wife Samiye Hanım was Tanburi Cemil Bey’s (classical Ottoman) kemençe student. She was a racer at the same time...
An automobile racer...
An automobile racer. She had lost one of her hands in a car accident. After the accident she had to quit the kemençe. While you asking these questions, I remember something. We were friends with all of these people. Ahmet Hidayet Bey was a very respected man, and he helped me a great deal. He had helped me become an assistant under Professor Muhterem Gökmen, one of the professors of the radiology clinic at the faculty of medicine. May Allah have mercy on him. He was the first journalist to run a newspaper article on me. But I could not find the article. He wrote in Cumhuriyet something like, “The youth today make us proud; for example, like when we listen to the University Chorus of Nevzat Atlığ...” I paid him a visit to thank him. It may have been in 1949, but no earlier than that.
It is now possible to access the online archive of Cumhuriyet. The article you mentioned can be found there.
He would write on a weekly basis under a column entitled “Just Between Us”. He prepared the crosswords in the paper as well.
Old Journalists were highly versatile; they did everything...
And at the same time, he was a teacher, a geography teacher. I mean, he worked as geography teacher to earn livelihood to look after his family. Look where the subject has led us... I remember, in Şehzadebaşı there was a certain teahouse named Yavru’nun Çayhanesi, where Münir Nureddin often used to go. I never actually saw him there, but we heard that he often used to go there. I also saw Neyzen Tevfik there a few times. I do not know why, but we were a little frightened when we saw him.
Thinking that he was a madman?
I do not know; as if he was somehow going to harm us... So we avoided him all the time. He would wander around in the streets. I also remember that we had our rehearsal sessions for a whole winter at the Kuyucu Murat Paşa Madrasa because we had not been able to find another location for the university chorus. The large space on the left as you entered the madrasah was ours. The madrasah, overall, belonged to the Milli Türk Talebe Birliği (National Union of Turkish Students - MTTB). We used the headquarters of the union for our rehearsals, as well. I remember that.
Well, do you remember Şamlı İskender’s shop in the same vicinity?
Of course I do...
Could you tell us a bit about that place? It’s an important place in our history of music.
There used to be two types of musicians: Those who know musical notes and those who could play an instrument or sing, but did not know much about musical notes... The second type was called pratik (practical). They were referred to as the “practical people”. But my father was not one of them. He knew musical notes very well, and we had tons of sheet music in our house. Now that this has come up... Sun da içsin yâr elinden âşıkın peymâneyi / Bir kadehle mest ü bîtâb et dil-i virâneyi. (O Beloved, serve a full chalice to the lover so that he drinks from your hands/ Enrapture and exhaust the owner of the ruined heart with a single goblet) Do you know this song? A famous song by Bîmen Şen in the makam Segâh. I was a high school student at the time. I was looking everywhere for this song at home, but it was nowhere to be found! Oh my God! What am I to do? If Bîmen Şen has five or six really elaborate songs, this is absolutely one of them. His song in Yegâh is also very beautiful, but unfortunately it is no longer sung; this is a wonderful song with two bridges. What should I do to get the sheet music of the song? I was probably in my second year at high school. I wrote to a friend living in Istanbul. He had come to Antakya that summer and we had become friends. Anyway, I wrote to him, asking, “Please do whatever you can to obtain the sheet music from Şamlı İskender.” We saw this name - Şamlı İskender - on the backs of note sheets all the time. I never forget this anecdote; this is how the friend got hold of the sheet music for me: there were sheet music copyists at the time. If the requested sheet was not available, the master copy would be given to the copyist, and he would duplicate it in return for five or ten kuruş... And Şamlı İskender sold it for twenty-five kuruş. I ended up giving out fifty kuruş from my modest allowance. This is my memory of Şamlı İskender. Of course, I came to Istanbul a little while later. I lacked the sheet music for some fasils; for example Arşak Efendi’s fasils. The first thing I bought at Şamlı İskender was the sheet music for his fasils. That’s when I got to first see Şamlı İskender.
Can you describe the shop for us?
A two-floor shop ... But it was not a large one. It was opposite the Fuat Paşa Mansion - today the Pharmacy Faculty - but slightly down the street. The electrical board was also there I guess. What was I saying... it obviously had two floors; the shop was on the ground floor, but I do not know what was upstairs. I also got to see Şamlı İskender, I mean the person. He was an old man with white hair. I remember I also bought my violin strings from his shop. He had already began publishing Dr. Suphi Ezgi’s series on music theory; I obtained these books from his shop as well. I also saw some musicians in the shop; this could be 1947 or something. For example, Muhlis Sabahattin Bey...
Muhlis Sabahattin Ezgi...
Yes, Ezgi. I am happy to have seen him there, because he passed away a short while after that. Maybe he was going to have the sheet music for one of his songs printed -I am not sure- but he was sitting across the table in the shop. I just watched him in admiration of course; I did not have anything to say to him. And then Şamlı İskender also passed away. His son was a colossal man, who looked just like him.
And then, slowly but surely, you started to become a part of Istanbul’s musical gatherings...
As you know, the Thracian part of Turkey was completely evacuated when the Second World War broke out. In 1941, my family, along with my grandparents, fled, as it were, from Edirne to Antakya because my father had been relocated there. Additionally, Antakya had a high school. I continued my high school education in Antakya. We, in the meantime, made music at home. I befriended a person called Nāmi Karslıoğlu, who had been regularly frequenting the fasil gatherings there. Having come from Istanbul, he was three or four years older than me. He had a beautiful voice and he used it. He started attending the programs in our house as well. He had apparently taken some music lessons from a teacher in Kumkapı, Istanbul and they had studied many fasils together. He was also a hāfiz of the Qur’ān. We were in Antakya, and he could not help but constantly praise the musical gatherings of İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey in Istanbul. He had been taken there a couple of times. He took so much relish in talking about these gatherings that I came to imagine that İbnülemin’s living room was as large as a masjid! Great masters went there, he told me, also relating -as far as he could recall- certain principles that were to be observed in İbnülemin’s presence. So, before going to Istanbul, I had received some information about İbnülemin. High school was finally over and I came to Istanbul with my paternal cousin. Nāmi was also in Istanbul and he took us to Kumkapı. We found Recāi Bey; this was the person who had taken Nami to İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey.
Recāi Güney. But this was not a well-known musician; he was one of those “neighborhood musicians” of old Istanbul; a witty, playful, and gracious man. He also played kemençe. He apparently played kemençe at the gatherings in İbnülemin’s house. We have already touched upon Turkish people’s great interest in and tendency for Turkish music. Being a Turk, he had taken up kemençe. This meeting probably took place in 1943, in the second month after my arrival in Istanbul. Probably in October. So, my cousin played tanbur, and I played violin. My cousin had stayed with us during his high school years in Antakya. His father was a soldier too, then stationed in Istanbul. So, where else would I stay in Istanbul? I stayed in their house for two years. I and my cousin Vedat were together literally all the time in Istanbul, the way we had been in Antakya. We were making music together at home, but something was missing. Then Recāi Bey told us, “Why do not you two go to Ziya Usta in Yenikapı? He makes tanbur somewhere near the train station. Ask around and people will show you his place. There are meetings there on Saturdays, musical ones. Ziya Usta had been a student of Tanburi Kadı Fuad Efendi and friends with Mesut Cemil...” Anyway, on one of the following Saturdays, we knocked on the usta’s door. He said, “Come in the afternoon. We meet upstairs every Saturday.” “Very well.” I got to know Muhittin Erev there. And then there was also Hüseyin Hüsnü Çatalcalı, a Darüttalim-trained singer who had the stature of a wrestler. He had a nephew, Talat Eğilmezer. And Hüsnü Coşar, who later became a very good friend of mine, whom I loved dearly as an elder brother, was an oud player. They gathered there. They did not have a violin player among them, so they welcomed us. The first piece we got down to working together on was the magnum opus of Seyyid Nûh: Bezm-i meyde sâkıyâ devreylesin mül, gül gibi. (In the gathering of wine, O Cup-bearer, let the wine swirl just like the rose) A very elegant, very elaborate work... That’s how I became one of the musicians there. This was the first musical gathering I took part in in Istanbul; Ziya Usta, the tanbur player’s house in Yenikapı...
A wooden house, I suppose ...
Yes, a wooden house, the basement was Ziya Usta’s workshop; he made tanburs there.
He was a Lütiye (loot player).
Yes he was. And the tanburs he made were very fine. At the same time he served as muezzin in the Şehzadebaşı Mosque from time to time. People said he was spiritually intoxicated, an enraptured lover of Allah, “a madman” as some referred to him. But he kept himself to himself. We probably had him make Necdet Yaşar his first tanbur in 1950. He himself was shabby, and his workshop a shamble; but upstairs, where we made music together, was very tidy. I guess his wife was a fastidious lady.
I would like to ask you something I am curious about, now that the topic has been brought up. In many cases, we know the names of the lütiye, but when it comes to tanbur, there are so few names... I personally do not know any other names than Ziya Usta.
There was also an Armenian master craftsman, Onnik Usta. He was very famous. Also, people spoke of Dürrü Turan as a tanbur lütiye, but he mostly sold accessories rather than making or selling instruments.
Which master made Cemil Bey’s tanburs, for instance?
I am afraid I do not know that.
Whereas in Europe, for example, people know the names of famous instrument makers. Take Stradivarius violins...
Of course, you’re right. Ziya Usta made tanburs mostly; however, Onnik Usta made other instruments, too. But my guess is, he was most famous for the tanburs he made. He had a small workshop in a commercial building located in the Mercan quarter. What was I saying? Then again, thanks to Recāi Bey, we started going to İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey’s mansion in 1943. It was before winter.
It sounds like you fell right into Istanbul’s cultural center.
Indeed that is how it was. I was an eighteen-year-old boy, that is, a country boy newly arrived from Anatolia. Of course, Recāi Bey made lengthy explanations beforehand about how to behave once in the mansion. What would happen, how would it happen and what to expect. For example, we were not supposed to nod to anybody in greeting. We did our best to bow to people in the old way. Anyway, we sat down somewhere and went through an interrogation. “Which university are you studying at? Who’s your father?” I, of course, answered the questions, “My father is an officer. I am staying with my uncle here, and I am a student at the faculty of medicine.” “Good. What do you play?” “The violin.” Anyway, İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey showed us our places, and we sat. There were wicker chairs.
Where were the wicker chairs in the living room? Near the door?
There were some near the door as well... It was a wide living room; well, actually you could not even call it a living room; just a large room.
Can you please tell us a bit about the mansion? What kind of structure was it? They demolished it, you know, and I was not able to see it.
Now, yes... We entered the courtyard through the outside door and we ascended some steps. The main door of the building was on the stairs. It was a more or less large mansion, made of bricks, but the interior was wooden. We would walk along a hallway for about 5-6 m. There was a staircase on the right that took you upstairs. The building had two and a half floors. As I said, you first climbed five to six steps. That would lead you to a large anteroom, which was dim to the point of being dark. The master was a thrifty man; he used very low-energy bulbs. There was a large table there. Everybody left their coats, overcoats, hats, instruments etc., in that room and then went inside. By the time we usually got there, people had already gathered. The master would show each guest a place to sit accordance to their social standing. As for us, we took care not to sit on a spot where we would be face to face with the master; we sat a little apart from him on wicker chairs. There was a large sofa away from the door; the master would sit there, and he would beckon another person or two to sit next to him. Then there were seats in the middle. And right in the middle was the largest seat. That particular seat would be spared for a person of high social status, such as a minister or a high-esteemed personage, such as Necmettin Molla; otherwise, it would remain empty. That is, it was the seat of dignitaries. There were also eight to ten seats along the sides.
Was the stove in the middle?
The stove was somewhere near the door; a big white tiled stove. It would be continually fed by coal. There was always a fine gentleman serving the guests. Well-known people -maybe not poets or men of letters -but sophisticated people of high-standing would serve the guests just out of deference to the master.
Tea, I suppose ...
Oh yes, tea.
And the tea served there, I heard, was very light.
I do not drink tea often.
But I think you were supposed to drink there.
Initially, I could not avoid it, because there was no way I could say no. And then the music began. Everybody took out their instruments. Sitting next to the stove was Tanburi Ali Efendi. He was a gentleman who dealt in second-hand clothes at the flea market in the Grand Bazaar. I also met many musicians who were, for example, shoe repairmen or shoemakers in various commercial buildings in the Taksim area. Some of them played the oud, and some the tanbur.
You mean, it was not the music of the elite; it was the music of the people.
I mentioned their professions in particular. Imagine; I know that those tanbur players took music lessons from Fāize Ergin, paying her 2.5 liras a week out of their humble weekly salary. This was the case at that time. “The music of the court, the music of the Ottoman palace...” There was no such thing. It was entirely the people’s music. Tanburi Ali did not know musical notes, but had burned all the songs to memory; he was the de facto conductor of the fasıl. There was an Ekrem Bey, who was retired. He played the oud. These were the people I met when I first went to the mansion. I was already a good musician at the time, and my memory was very sharp. For this reason, I did not like their performance then; there were certain elements missing. I thought to myself, “Good Lord! They praised these people to me so much! But I have not found what I was expecting.” The fasıl that was played was no good, and the conducting was not good, either. No sheet music in front of any of us. Everybody, first and foremost myself, tried to play along when a song we did not know from before came up, so on and forth... What I mean to say is, it was not a clear and fine performance. As time went by, I started taking my friends there. Some examples are Selahattin İçli, Ahmet Çağan, Fikret Kutluğ, Halil Nadaroğlu... In so doing, I won the favor of the master. As people started coming to the fasıl gatherings more prepared, the performances became more and more beautiful and enjoyable. The music became better and we were now able to perform the favorite pieces of the master with a greater ease. It was exactly then - when I had acquired some sort of status in the mansion - that I was able to protest, “Sir, tea upsets my stomach!” And I ceased to drink it. Later our Selahattin found out from somebody working there: Apparently the tea served there was re-dried and used over and over again. There were even those who made jokes about this. For example, the person serving the tea makes a rough calculation; how many people are there? Thirty? So, he serves a total of sixty lumps of sugar; two per person, and this means no sugar left for the last round. And, on the other hand, several of the guests take 3-4 lumps just to tease the master. It was such a difficult period economically. It was difficult to find anything. There were also electricity cuts at night.
Who else did you meet at the İbnülemin gatherings?
Süleyman Erguner, for example. We had not met earlier. He was a man of portly stature. He did not play during the fasıl. However, at the end of the fasil, he would perform a lengthy improvisation on his ney. One of those nights, when the program finished, we left together. Süleyman Bey was an utterly humble man. That is, he did not look down on young people; he had no arrogance.
Was Süleyman Bey from Istanbul?
Yes. He was from Sultanselim. As we were walking, he asked, “Son, where are you from?” I told him my father was a cavalry officer. He stopped and said, “Come on, tell me his name.” “Nazmi, from Edirne ...” I said. “Oh! I know you from the Balıkesir years!” he said. “My father was there on duty when I was born, so my birthplace on my ID card is Balıkesir,” he added. When Ali Hikmet Pasha was the commander of the army corps in Balıkesir, around 1925-1926, my father was one of his subordinates as a cavalry officer. It turned out that Süleyman Bey was doing his military service around the same time. And he met my father. “I once visited you and even drank your mother’s tea and coffee,” he said. That’s how we became friends with Süleyman Bey. We formed a small instrumental band, so to speak. He was the oldest of us all, senior to us in all aspects, and a very famous musician. He was very devoted to Emin Dede. He went to his home in Tophane very often. He had served as muezzin in the Sultan Selim Mosque for a while as well. He was the chief accountant at the tobacco factory in Cibali. We met there too from time to time. We went to İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey’s mansion together for years. At that time, two steps of consequence were taken in Istanbul in the field of music, or two movements I should say. One of these steps, or movements, was Hüseyin Sadettin (Arel) Bey’s. As you know, when Darülelhân was transformed into the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory, they closed the department of Turkish music, leaving only the Tetkik ve Tasnif Heyeti (Committee of Inspection and Classification) intact.
At the hands of musicians, right?
Oh, yes, unfortunately. Very sad, very heartbreaking. It is unforgivable that such an important senior musician as Mesut Cemil wrote things against our music. Münir Nureddin and Mesut Cemil could have presented our music to Atatürk from a very different perspective than they did. If that had been the case, Atatürk’s view of our music, I believe, would have been very different.
But Atatürk did listen to musicians like Refik Fersan and Münir Nureddin.
He did, yes. But we should consider the way this music was played to him. We should be concerned with the outside appearance of things as well. Only two instruments played for him; and they were pretty poor performances. There was virtually nothing in Ankara. Some instrumentalists went there from here, from Istanbul’s open-air nightclubs; but only a few. And the people he listened to were simply newly emerging musicians whose musical training was not very good. Was it not the case? Who did he listen to? He listened to Eftelya. He never listened to a grand ensemble consisting of 50-60 musicians. The presidential fasil ensemble was also insufficient. Burhanettin Ökte once told me, “Refik Fersan and Münir Nureddin were expelled.” That is, they were kicked out of the presidential fasil ensemble. Atatürk reportedly said, “Throw them out!”
I did not know that; how interesting.
It is interesting, indeed. This is all to say that there were no Turkish music ensembles in Ankara in the 1930s. Münir Bey and Refik Bey tended, so to speak, to escape to Istanbul as often as possible. That was the reason they were expelled. There was finally almost nobody left in Ankara from the presidential fasil ensemble. Rüştü Bardakoğlu was one of the few people left behind. I know that my father went to the presidential palace in 1935-36 to play the violin. At the end of the day, my father was not a professional musician. That is, there was not a single real musician around Atatürk. So, if you ask me, Münir Nureddin and Mesut Cemil were wrong. They were not courageous enough.
Yes ... You were just mentioning Hüseyin Sadettin Arel...
At that time, in 1943, for the first time there was a truly great hunger for music. For example, Ruşen Bey spoke about music on the radio once in a blue moon. “Explanatory Music Hour” was the name of the program; we almost thrust our heads into the radio we were so eager to hear. What about Hacı Arif Bey’s life? We did not have a book, we knew nothing about him. When was he born? When did he die? We had nothing to read. We were able to learn bits and pieces reading the articles published in the periodical Radyo. Radyo was a very famous magazine at that time.
I have four or five issues in my archives.
Few magazines were published at the same level as Radyo. When Hüseyin Sadettin Arel was appointed as director of the conservatory in 1943, the Department of Theory of Music (Nazariyat) was opened. In addition, our friend Ercüment Berker established the university chorus, which was a very important move. They had made the necessary preparations with Ahmet İhsan Kırımlı beforehand. In the second or third month after its establishment, I joined a member of the chorus as a violinist. When I joined in, the rehearsal sessions were proceeding in the Marmara Lokali. Ercüment was directing the rehearsals, but the dominant factor was Fulya Hanım’s piano... Fulya Akaydın... Her older sister Enise Can played the violin. Toward the spring, we began to gather at Ercüment Berker’s house in Bahariye.
Because the concerts were held in Moda. The chorus would not come. Only the instrumentalists would come. For example, I was there, so was my cousin Vedat. Fikret was on the kanun, and the first violin was for Enise Can. As I recall, Emin Ongan once came to one of the rehearsals with his cello. But later he did not come to the concert, I guess. We gave our first concert as the university chorus in May 1944 at the Kadıköy Community Center.
Were there any other musical gatherings in Istanbul?
I’ll tell you about them as well. I have told you about İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey’s Monday gatherings as well as the university chorus. I also talked about Ziya Usta’s house in Yenikapı. Oh, I forgot. I got to meet Ekrem Karadeniz in the mansion of İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey. Ekrem Karadeniz was an inspector at Tekel. He had lost his eyesight. Because he was completely blind, his friends brought him, and most often our Selahattin İçli. Selahattin was very close to him. After we met, we started gathering at Ekrem Bey’s Fatih home in the quarter of Kıztaşı. Every other Saturday. There would be nice conversations. For example, Süleyman Erguner came there. Ekrem Bey had students, they would come. His teacher, you know… his name evades me now...
Yes, Abdülkadir Töre... Ekrem Bey spent most of his time on the theory of music. He had previously got into a long debate with Hüseyin Sadettin Bey regarding the notation system in our music. This was another gathering. Apart from that one, there were Hakkı Süha Bey’s gatherings, towards the end of the 1940’s. I had met him in İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey’s mansion as well. He always brought along Tanburi Selahattin Bey.
Selahattin Tanur, yes. Selahattin Bey played the tanbur as well as the oud. And yet another Saturday. A wooden house on Şair Nedim Street. Hakkı Süha Bey’s house. It had two floors. An old Istanbul house. Spotless. We went up the stairs and of course took off your shoes. There, the maestro was undoubtedly Selahattin Bey. He had a few students, they would sing. Our friend Ahmet Çağan came often. I would participate on my violin. We performed fasils together. I remember that Hakkı Suha Bey played ney.
He was a student of Emin Dede. Hakkı Suha Bey... The legendary literature teacher at the Istanbul Boys’ High School, a columnist at Vakit...
Yes. He was a colossal man with a bushy mustache; very witty and talkative. He had a record collection and occasionally allowed us to listen to his Tanburi Cemil Bey records. He was an admirer of Münir Nurettin Bey. Münir Nurettin had a very famous gazel in Hüzzam; he would make us listen to that every time. İbnülemin Mahmud Kemal Bey would come there sometimes. He was a very considerate, generous person. He never missed such invitations. And, again, the focal point in Hakkı Süha Bey’s house was music. His house was a real old Istanbul house. When we went up the stairs, there was a largish room, an Ottoman-style sofa, cushions and chairs. Not a big house, though. Long and narrow; there was a bedroom on the side, I think. So, there was not much there, or maybe these things did not attract my attention.
Of course it has been a long time since then.
It was a modest house, so there was not a lot of furniture; just some old sofas and seats. Unlike Sami Bey’s building.
Çerçöp Sami Bey?
Yes, Dr. Sami Mortan... We would gather in his house, too. He had an old building of three or four floors at Set Üstü in Kabataş. We gathered on the ground floor. They said that he had furnished the upper floors with eccentric sorts of furniture (hence the nickname Çerçöp – rubbish collector), but I never went up to those floors.
He was apparently well-off.
Yes, he was... He was classmates with Mazhar Osman Bey. Yes, he was well-off. All he did was to satirize whoever came his way. He even wrote a satire about Master İbnülemin. You know, there is a eulogy written about Ali Emiri Efendi… how was the first line? “A thousand envies for that gentleman of the ancient ages” How does it continue?
“He is like no other, nor is there anyone like him”.
He added a third line to this couplet and turned it into a satire about İbnülemin.
We were talking about Hakkı Süha Bey…
Oh, yes... As the poet says, “We have a ruinous house near Beşiktaş”...
Yes, Nedim... In the street bearing his name, in Şair Nedim Street, at number 110 - see, I have not forgotten it... It was a very modest house. Very long fasıls were performed there. For example, the Hüzzam fasıl lasted two hours. Two songs were sung, and then a slow semai... Then Selahattin Bey improvised on his tanbur, again a set of songs, another improvisation, yet another one etc... That is not to say it was boring, but it was definitely a fasıl according to Selahattin Bey’s understanding... Hakkı Suha Bey was very much impressed by Selahattin Bey. Both by his oud and tanbur playing. But I was not as impressed. In those years, there were, for example, İzzettin Ökte and Ercüment Batanay, who had recently gained fame.
Did Selahattin Tanur play in the classical style or in Cemil Bey’s style?
He had his own distinctive style. It could rather be called a classical attitude. He was a special musician in my opinion, but not a real maestro. We benefited from him the best we could. Actually, I attended the above-mentioned gatherings until 1947 or 1948. After that, the university chorus started taking all of my time. I sort of declared my independence with the university chorus and the works we did together. I conducted my first concert in 1948. And then, at the expense of neglecting my violin, I turned to conducting and teaching music. These were my two priorities. I had previously drawn my route and taken the first step toward conducting in 1947.
Where did you give concerts? I am asking this, because I know there were not proper concert halls at the time.
As the university chorus, we gave our first concert in May, 1944 at the Kadıköy Community Center. I also remember the concert we gave in 1946 at the stage of the Municipal Open-Air Nightclub. At that time, concerts in general - Münir Nureddin’s concerts, for instance - were held in theaters. Which ones? For example, the Elhamra Theatre, the Saray Theatre ...
The Şan Theater...
Şan came in much later, chronologically speaking. I will tell you about it later. There were also two theaters in Tepebaşı. One was the Dram Theater, a wooden structure, and the other was the Komedi Theater, which was up the street, closer to Balık Pazarı. Komedi was bigger. It was in the amphitheater style.
The Dram Theater had the usual things you would imagine; there were boxes on the sides and it had a revolving stage. Now... After a concert in 1946, Dr. Neşet Halil Öztan and Mildan Niyazi Bey founded a musical society in 1947. I became involved there, too. We worked there for a year. Nevākār could not, somehow, be internalized; think about the musicians of the time; those who knew musical notes were scarce. No matter how hard we tried, we could not perform it properly. I played the violin and had nothing else to contribute. In that group we tried to play it at the Dram Theater. That’s how I know its stage was a revolving one. Then I started to conduct the university chorus - Ercüment Bey had probably finished university in 1946 and was gone to do his military service. I was staying in the dormitory then; it must be formerly the Bekirağa Squadron; the place across the back door of the university. Yes, that was the place; it was the dormitory of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). So, what does the Republican People’s Party mean? The party had thought of running a students’ dormitory for party members. Of course, it was very difficult to be a registered resident there.
What year was this?
A time when there was no other party than the Republican People’s Party...
Yes, there were no other parties. My paternal aunt was a teacher in Edirne. Because she also worked in the party organization of the CHP, Vedat -my cousin- and myself registered with the dorm, thanks to my aunt’s party membership. It was cheap and the food was excellent. As far as dormitory standards of that day were concerned, it was one of the most comfortable and convenient dorms. I say “by that day’s standards” because, for example, 150 students slept in the dormitory ward.
Like an army barrack.
It was literally a barracks; a huge one. One of my closest friends was Fevzi Halıcı. We were very close. He was one year my senior, and had come to the dormitory before me. We forged our friendship then and there. He was of great help to me in the university chorus. We also made music among ourselves in the dorm. We had a friend from Bursa, who played the k; Mehmet Kutlugün. We played peşrev (instrumental preludes) and saz semaisi (pieces). Then we were joined by two other friends. We were six, and then others and yet others began to join in; then the dormitory administration allocated a room for us. We started to work there. Those who heard hurried to join - that day’s youth was unlike today’s; all young people simply loved classical Turkish music then. Şükran Güngör (d. 2002) was, for example, among the first to join us.
The husband of Yıldız Kenter, the famous stage actress.
And then we numbered around 20. And Fevzi told us, “The girls are also very curious, you know...” There were dormitories for girls too. We received demands from those dorms as well. What could we do? Of course, it was impossible for girls to enter a dormitory for boys at that time. Therefore, we were allotted a hall at the Eminönü Community Center, it was upstairs. Fevzi Halıcı wrote poetry; he was already a published poet and famous. At the Eminönü Community Center, our number reached about 40 in time. So, what would you do? “Let’s give concerts,” we thought. We gave our first concert in 1948 at the same community center. The director of the dormitory was Fazıl Say. The pianist Fazıl Say’s grandfather. The grandfather, Fazıl Say, a respected man, was a math teacher at Istanbul Boys’ High School. He was also the director of the dorm. The second year, we had three concerts; two at the Eminönü Community Center, and one at the Komedi Theater. That is, we were sort of promoted to the Komedi Theater. Can you imagine? During the course of a single week, we organized three concerts at the venues in question.
Did the concert halls fill up?
They were packed! Moreover, the university chorus was not comprised of famous musicians; it was an amateur group. Nobody knew me, or the chorus. But people’s love for music was such that the halls were always overcrowded.
Now that the topic has come up; what kind of relationship do you establish between music and being a resident of Istanbul or Istanbul culture?
The late Mesut Cemil told us one day, “Hey, this music is the music of Istanbul!” Very true... Once upon a time, almost every Istanbul household had a member who played an instrument. Ladies, for example, mostly preferred the oud.
I remember something that I heard Mesut Cemil said; there is a famous folk song in the makam Dügāh: Aksaray’dan geçer iken çevirdiler yolumu. (They diverted me as I was passing through Aksaray) He said something like, “This is the folk song that best describes Istanbul.”
Yes, I remember now. Dügāh is a very difficult makam. How did they make it into a folk song? Before the era of records, I think the means that brought together the people of Istanbul and music was the old mansions and their surroundings. Nobody could go to the Ottoman palace to listen to music. In time, certain coffeehouses, such as Fevziye and Arif, became places where there would be live performances, and there was always music at weddings... Later, of course with the spread of records, for example, those of Tanbûrî Cemil Bey... I can remember it, albeit vaguely; every year a few songs would become very famous. All Istanbul and Turkey would be consoled by those songs. Therefore, I think the record industry played a key role before the age of radio. It commenced with Tanbûrî Cemil Bey, but later, performers and hāfizs appealed very strongly to the people with their beautiful voices, especially by performing gazels or similar forms. We should also keep in mind that almost every major district had a musical society. For example, the Kadıköy Oriental Musical Society, the Üsküdar Musical Society, some older ones, such as Darüttalim, the Gülşen-i Mûsikî Society... Even the Beşiktaş Football Club started as a gymnastics club and a musical society.
Honestly, I did not know that.
Yes. For example, Hakkı Derman and Şerif İçli emerged as musicians from Beşiktaş. Their friendship dates back to their Beşiktaş days. Almost every neighborhood had similar foundations and societies. In fact, today also, there is a total of almost one hundred musical organizations in Istanbul. These societies probably played a significant role in the expansion of music and in making it associated with Istanbul. Essentially, the old Istanbul culture was very open to literature and music.
Additionally, there were patrons of music in the past, such as Halim Pasha and Mahmud Celaleddin Pasha. In addition to patronizing musicians, they also made music. During the period when you emerged as a musician and conductor, were there any figures who were, first of all, highly interested in music, and who patronized, helped and supported musicians?
Not in the form of economic help... For example, you see... He came to my mind only now... A forgotten man... Dr. Neşet Halil Öztan; a bacteriologist and a violin player. He was not a wealthy man, but he was somebody who always did his best to help musicians with things that troubled them; a helpful man, who ran to examine his patients and even helped them be admitted to hospital personally... This, too, was an important thing.
Yes, of course, a very important thing.
Maybe it mattered more than financial aid. For instance, I got to meet Mesut Cemil for the first time in the private surgery of Dr. Neşet Halil Bey. It was 1947. You may think I am jumping from one topic to another. Since Mesut Bey was a public servant working for Radio Ankara, his annual leave was very short. He was permitted to take only 15 days off. When he was on leave in Istanbul, what did he have to do to extend it?
He had to get a medical report.
Absolutely. And whose help is he going to enlist?
Neşet Halil Bey’s...
Doctor Neşet Halil Bey’s ... Which institution did Halil Bey fix the reports from? From the committee of sanitation of the Bakırköy Hospital, because it was not possible for him to get the report from a single doctor. So, there were people like that. Other than him, there are similar people I got to know, but they have all recently... For example, I think of the late Aydın Bolak.
When did you finish the faculty of medicine?
I finished school in 1949 and that same year I did my military service. In August 1950 I finished the officer cadet school and my eight-month field duty began in Gebze. Gebze was a stroke of luck for me in that it gave me the opportunity to visit Istanbul at the weekends and continue my work with the university chorus. My military service ended on May 1, 1951.
The work you did with the university chorus, as well as the concerts you gave attracted great attention; you gained a reputation you probably could not have imagined. After returning from your military service, I know that you received an offer from the municipal conservatory due to this success.
Yes, it was late 1952 that I received an offer from the Board of Music of Istanbul Municipal Conservatory. The offer was that I was would give classes in style and solfeggio. Who was on the board of music? For example, Dr. Neşet Halil Öztan, who we just mentioned, and Şefik Gürmeriç... The director was Eşref Antikacı. But the trouble was, they wanted to test me, albeit as a formality, but I did not agree to that. “It was not me who came to you with a demand! Therefore, I refuse to be tested,” I protested. On the other hand, I was badly pressed for money. The salary I was to receive was 300 liras, whereas my salary as a doctor was half that amount. Anyway, seeing that I stood my ground, they desisted from testing me, and they appointed me as a solfeggio and style teacher. Of course, I began my job as a conservatory teacher with a great deal of enthusiasm.
And in the meantime, you continued working as a medical doctor.
I certainly did. It is still fresh in my memory; one day while working at the hospital, before noon, I got a call from İzzettin Ökte. He sounded worried and anxious; he told me on the phone that Refik Fersan Bey, the conductor of the concerts of the conservatory’s chorus, was suffering from a gastric bleed. They were asking me to conduct the chorus at the concert they had scheduled to give on Sunday. I had never participated in any rehearsal sessions with the chorus. Although I emphatically said that it was very difficult, or even almost impossible for me to adapt myself to Refik Bey’s style and for the chorus to adapt themselves to my style in such a short time, I was cut short, İzzettin said with insistently: “Tomorrow is Saturday, we have our general rehearsal. You should definitely come. I am sure you can handle this job!” The following day, although reluctant, I arrived at the rehearsal hall at 11:00 am. I had no idea what was on the repertory, which instrumentalists were going to perform solo improvisations or which singers were going to sing solo. I sought refuge in Allah and commenced the rehearsal. The first piece was a Mahur song of Dilhayat Kalfa. I had neither performed nor listened to that song before. The chorus was well-prepared and I was conducting them very carefully, following the music sheet in front of me. I will never forget the support and reassurance that Sadi Işılay gave me that day, which allowed me to conduct the chorus self-confidently. He played the violin and was the assistant conductor. “Nevzat Bey, this is the way we play it; if there is any part that you want us to change or one about which you might want to say, ‘It would sound better if you performed it in such-and-such fashion,’ please tell us, and we’ll play it just as you say,” he said.
Where was the conservatory?
In Tepebaşı. The Chamber of Industry is standing in its place now. Do you remember? In Tepebaşı, on Meşrutiyet Avenue. If you go up through Şişhane, before you arrive at Pera Palas, you see the building that is still used by the Chamber of Industry. That building was so old that it shook whenever the tram passed. The municipal conservatory was there. It had a department of Turkish music, and, a department of Western music, which, expectedly, occupied a much larger physical space. Because these two departments did not meddle in each other’s affairs, they both ran very smoothly with no discord.
Where were the chorus concerts held?
At the Municipal Open-Air Nightclub.
Where was this?
In Taksim. Where Gezi Park is. There is, you know, a hotel there now, the Sheraton Hotel in its place. It had a very large hall with a stage in the front, slightly above the hall. The stage was large as well. Whenever there was a concert, they removed all the tables and placed the chairs into rows. You entered the stage through the backstage. The stage had actually been thought of as a venue not for concerts, but for dinner music, or entertainment music. But it was large enough to accommodate a chorus. The concerts of the City Orchestra, under the conductorship of Cemal Reşit Rey, were held there every two weeks; these were also broadcast on the radio. Also every two weeks the conservatory chorus gave concerts. One Sunday they gave concerts, and the other Sunday we would. Before Refik Bey, these concerts had reportedly taken place at the Komedi Theater. When the concerts were held there, the conductors were Ali Rıza Şengel and Eyyubī Ali Rıza Bey. When Refik Bey came to Istanbul from Ankara after 1950, he was given the post of conductor.
Were your concerts also broadcast on the radio?
Certainly. Because they were broadcast live on Radio Istanbul, which had been established shortly before this, the concerts became very famous. This was a very important event at the time. People were just getting accustomed to the notion of “live broadcast.” How do you broadcast a concert live? The applause and everything... Quite a commotion. I never forget that when Brother İzzettin (Ökte) was the soloist... believe me he was a very handsome man...
We met. You introduced us to one another.
Yes, he was already very old then.
His final years in life.
True. You should have seen him in his youth; he was very proud and fully self-confident in every respect. Can you believe it? Fashionable, posh ladies came from İzmir and Ankara just to see him. This was Brother İzzettin. For instance, the solo improvisations of Sadi Işılay... I do not know; some of the people playing right before you were Fahire Hanım, Yorgo Bacanos... Also you had Necati Tokyay, Ercüment Batanay, even Santuri Hüsnü Tüzüner.
A terrific group of instrumentalists...
Oh yes, it was indeed a terrific group. This was the greatest opportunity of my life. Working with these great musicians and conducting them is not a blessing that everybody gets. This was my fate. And I tried to make the most of that opportunity. Yes, this is what that open-air nightclub was like. I subbed for Refik Bey for some time, and when he quit altogether, I was appointed as conductor of the conservatory chorus. A year passed. The city council passed a decision, and politics got involved in the process. Some members of the Democratic Party of that time did this. Myself, Brother İzzettin, and Sadi Işılay left. After me, the concerts were conducted by Nuri Halil (Poyraz) Bey. And then, as you know, Münir Nureddin Bey was appointed as conductor of the chorus. During his time as the conductor, their new concert venue became the Şan Theater in Oct. 1954.
The famous Şan Theater.
The same order that was in effect at the Municipal Open-Air Nightclub continued at the Şan Theater: Again, one Sunday the city orchestra would give a concert, and on the following one the conservatory chorus would give a concert... The concerts, as you know, continued at the Şan Theater until recent years. You must remember them...
I listened to Münir Bey at the Şan Theater only once in 1972 or 1973. I had that chance only once, you see...
Well, after that time, the conservatory chorus started to melt away. And after a while, unfortunately, it became history. Then, as you know, Bedii Faik and Şevket Rado -two figures I had never met face to face before- apparently spoke highly of me to Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, whereupon I was assigned to Radio Istanbul as the chief of the Turkish music department. Now, my time as a close colleague of Mesut Cemil started. As I got busier and busier, I eventually had to leave the medical profession altogether. And when Mesut Cemil was invited to Baghdad to establish a conservatory there and actually quit his job and left, I was appointed as assistant director of the radio and assumed the position of conductor of the classical chorus. The idea of establishing a state chorus and a state conservatory of Turkish music started to take shape in my mind. However, it was not until I met Yılmaz Öztuna in the 1960s that I got the chance to realize these ideas; and you know this very well, you have followed this whole story very closely.
When was Mesut Cemil appointed to his post in Istanbul?
When the People’s Party lost the elections in 1950, Hasan Refik Ertuğ, the director of Radio Istanbul, quit his job. Zahir Törümküney, the assistant director, was appointed in his place. But his time in office did not last very long. As far as I remember, he died of lung cancer shortly after his appointment. Like seven or eight months after his appointment... Upon his passing away, Mesut Cemil, who was the director of Radio Ankara, was appointed as director to Radio Istanbul. I think his arrival was at the end of 1951. For three years; 1952, 1953, 1954; Mesut Cemil was the director. And then I became the director at the end of 1955. But I was not able to assume this post fully. Let me tell you why: at that time, there was a substantial salary when you became a director. Salaries started, for example, at thirty liras and then went up by fives and tens. I had not been a public servant before, except for during my military service, and the short time I had worked at the conservatory. So, my salary was as low as 40 lira. If you were a radio director, your salary was 80 lira. The post of the chief of musical broadcasts was a specialized job, and because of that, it was possible for me to be appointed as principal director- not as a vice director - whether that was in compliance with the established formalities or not. When I was the principal chief of musical broadcasts, I was appointed there. Because of a simple formality, I served as vice-director of the radio until March 1980, but I did my job as if I were the principal director. Only for about the last three years did I work as principal director. So, I was the fourth director of Radio Istanbul. I wish you could see the old state of Radio Istanbul. With its large halls and technical equipment, this was a radio palace. In time, more and more administrative staff was appointed, so they divided up the halls, and that palace ended up like a radio tenement. This was a real pity. They could have bought a few buildings across the street, because Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) had the money. I think, they wasted that building for nothing.
Yes. It is externally a beautiful building.
A beautiful building. I wish you had seen what it was like before. To make my case better understood, I suppose I’d better brief you on the musicians of the time; late 1940s; 1949, 1950; OK, let’s say 1950. We’re going back to almost sixty years ago.
Yes, more than half a century.
Sixty to sixty-five years. At that time, the radio had nearly 40 solo singers, who were all very good musicians. Most of them had been trained in Ankara, at the radio, and were later transferred to Istanbul. Some of them became stage performers, yet others were sent to the conservatory chorus. Thus the conservatory chorus was comprised of a group of very strong musicians. For example, I met Mefharet Yıldırım in my first years as conductor. She was in the Conservatory Chorus. Also, Muzaffer Birtan, Radife Erten, Mustafa Çağlar... Some of them were Istanbul-trained musicians, having received their education in various musical gatherings and institutions in the city. And they were also renowned musicians as they sang popular music as well. The most successful ones sang solo four times a month; these solos were all broadcast live, and the sessions lasted for at least half an hour. A number of them would sing for 20 minutes twice or three times a month. I mean, most of the time allocated for music on the radio was dedicated to Turkish music. For example, people would get to hear at least four to five solo programs daily. Even in the evenings, between seven p.m. and eight p.m., there would be a solo performance program; yet the most precious time was between nine p.m. and nine-thirty p.m.. There was a talk of ten minutes afterwards. From nine-forty to ten, there was a fasil etc... Naturally, Istanbul had the best instrumentalists. For example, on the violin Sadi Işılay, Cevdet Çağla, Hakkı Derman, Nubar Tekyay, Emin Ongan, Ali Demir ... Not to mention the other great violin players. Yorgo Bacanos and Şerif İçli on the oud; they were very important oud players. Vecihe Daryal, for instance, had come from Ankara. Ahmet Yatman, İsmail Şençalar... These were all the famous instrumentalists in Istanbul. On the other hand, Şükrü Tunar on the clarinet, for example... Let me tell you a little anecdote about Şükrü Tunar. Hadiye Ötügen was like an older sister to us. She had been educated at Darülelhan both as a kemençe and cello player.
Yes, Hadiye Ötügen. She was the first cellist in the city orchestra. A very capable musician. She had a very unusual style of playing kemençe. One day, Cemal Reşit Rey addresses the clarinet players in the orchestra, saying, “Gentlemen, please play pianissimo; leave this roughness.” He repeats this a few times, to no avail. And one day, no longer able to contain himself, he tells them, “Go and listen to Şükrü Tunar in the studio next doors! He is a real clarinet player. Go and listen to him and pay attention to the sound he gets from the clarinet; I cannot even tell whether it is a violin or a clarinet that he’s playing!” I heard this from Hadiye Ötügen, an eye-witness. That is to say, they were such precious musicians; all had reached the peak in their art. At that time, we did not have tapes. The radio had huge records. And on those records, they recorded only those concerts they felt they could not afford to lose. I made an inquiry in Ankara about whether there were any recordings of the broadcasts of my university chorus concerts. A few of my students working in the radio, fortunately, dug up in the archives and found a total of four recordings of the university chorus. They copied the recordings onto CDs. I am so happy to have recordings of four radio programs that I broadcast in 1952.
In one of the programs, we perform Nevākār. At the beginning, Sadi Işılay, for example, has a solo improvisation of 55 seconds. I was delighted. Apart from these few recorded programs, all other broadcasts were live. The good thing about it was that everybody came prepared. And as chief of the musical broadcasts, I followed their performances and preparation very closely. All broadcasts were superior to the last. The reason was that we trained together really hard during the rehearsal sessions, and everybody came well prepared.
But everything flew away once the live broadcast finished...
Yes, they literally flew away because nobody was recording them. Then after 1955, Ampex devices came along, and we were now able to record a greater number of live broadcasts. And this, roughly, is the story of Radio Istanbul.
I’d like to thank you so much for all the information you have given us.