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Instrumental Improvisations, Vocal and Instrumental Compositions & Cairo Eastern Congress Recordings 1932.

Kalan Müzik Yapim (Arsiv Serisi) CD 328-329, 2 CDs with liner notes in Turkish (Bülent Aksoy, 11 pp.) and English (Ercüment Aksoy, 8 pp.)

Review by Yoram Arnon

Probably the most important fact of Mesut Cemil' s biography is the fact that he is the son of Tanburi Cemil Bey. As his father before him, Mesut Cemil (1902-1963) is responsible for great stylistic changes in the music that is known as "Turkish Classical Music." Both of them lived in times of great political, social and cultural changes. Cemil Bey lived in the time of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, his son, Mesut in the time of the formation of the new Turkish Republic.

The musical relation between these two great musical figures is not clear. Most sources remark that Mesut Cemil took very few music lessons from his father. His father is known to have had a disturbed personality, difficulty in his domestic relationships, and was an alcoholic. Tanbury Cemil died when Mesut was only fourteen, but even before, Mesut already took music and tanbur lessons from other teachers. He studied both with his father's students, like Refik Fersan, and with teachers of older schools of tanbur playing, like Suphi Ezgi - schools that their style of playing Tanburi Cemil is said to have "broken" (Öztuna: 176). Later on Mesut Cemil published a biography of his father - titled Tanburi Cemi'lin Hayati.

Cemil's impact on performance styles of Turkish classical music is undeniable. As a musical director of Ankara and Istanbul radios his work served both in the preservation of the Ottoman repertoire and in the development of a new style. Cemil's ensemble and choruses performed old repertoire that was rarely performed anymore in his time, including old musical forms from the Ottoman fasil. He also performed for the first time the Mevlevi ayin out of the Sufi tekke context; these ayins were also commercially recorded (see discography). During his time of musical activity, Turkish classical music was subject to political and ideological debates and pressures (Signell 1977:1, Feldman 1996: 15-17), and for some time was even banned from public broadcasting. Cemil's continual work helped not only in preserving the performance of this music but also in fostering a new generation of highly developed performers such as Necdet Yasar and Niyazi Sayin.

In his youth Cemil spent three years in Berlin studying European music and cello under Hugo Becker. His going there was encouraged by Sadeddin Arel, who wanted to establish a modern style of Turkish music based on Western influences. Probably based on such "ideological" concepts, Cemil's new style tried to combine old and classical repertoire, with a refined artistic performance. Cemil used less ornamentation in these performances, took percussion instruments out of the ensemble, established choruses and used his cello for drones and contrapuntal accompaniment.

Until the year 2000, when Golden Horn Records published a three CD set of his recordings, Cemil's recordings - except for a few LPs that were released in Turkey - were not available to the public (Öztuna mentions plaks - records - on p. 177 but doesn't give a discography nor a publisher). The liner notes mention a Polydor 78 rpm for CD I track 10, the liner notes for the Golden Horn CD mention a Columbia recording for CD I track 2 and an anonymous 78 rpm recordings for CD I tracks 11 and 12. Surviving recordings were restricted to private collectors and archives, and the fate of the recordings of the TRT (Turkish Television and Radio) was not clear. Various anecdotes tell about people finding TRT recordings in the garbage, flee markets, etc. Considering these facts, there is no questioning about the importance of such archival publishing. Kalan Music is continuing its effort in supplying archival recordings of Turkish music to the (apparently more and more eager) general public (see "Archive Series" in

Since both this CD and the Golden Horn three CD set release from 2000 carry the exact same title, and refer to the exact same musical material, it seems that a comparison between these two publications is unavoidable. Two brothers, Bülent and Ercüment Aksoy, are connected with the Kalan and Golden Horn publications, respectively. Kalan used Ercument Aksoy's liner notes (the Golden Horn CD has only English liner notes, Turkish liner notes can be found on the web site; see web sites below), with some editing, for their English liner notes. The Turkish liner notes in the Kalan CD are written by Bülent Aksoy, and seem to supply slightly different information. Notes about individual tracks are supplied only in Turkish in the Kalan publication and suffer from typing and editing mistakes. On the whole it seems that Golden Horn's liner notes supply more information, though discrepancies concerning information about sources, recording dates, players etc. can be found in both of these publications.

Eight out of the 24 tracks on the Kalan CDs can be found also on the Golden Horn CDs. Five of these are recordings from the Cairo Eastern Music Congress recordings of 1932 (called usually The Cairo Arab Music Congress, see Racy 1991). Mesud Cemil was one of the Turkish delegates to this conference together with Rauf Yekta. On the whole this Congress probably didn't have as much impact on Turkish music as it had on Arab music, and is little referred to in Turkish musicological literature. It can be seen to represent a point of departure from which Turkish music and Arabic music became more distinct - a process that started much earlier and culminated in the Congress with the rejection of the Turkish participants of the equal-tempered scale of twenty-four quarter notes; the theoretical system accepted in the Arab world today (racy 1991: 74).

According to Racy the Recording Committee of the congress, headed by Robert Lachmann, produced over 175 disks on a special label of His Masters Voice (Racy 1991: 73). In the liner notes for both the CD sets, the source of these recordings is given in the form of obscure initials (e.g. H.2.C7 or H.C. 79). A list headed "Archives" at the back of the Kalan CD, lists the sources of all the recordings but fails to mention the source for these important ones. We don't know exactly how many Turkish recordings were made, and what kind of repertoire was chosen at the Congress. This kind of information could lead to interesting conclusions on both how the Turkish delegation chose to present Turkish music, and what was chosen by the Recording Committee (Racy gives the guidelines of the Committee on what should be recorded; pp. 72-3).

The new Kalan CD set is an important contribution to the publication of archival recordings of Turkish classical music. Undoubtedly, connoisseurs of Turkish classical music will want to add it to their shelve. Though some of its tracks appear on the previously released Golden Horn CD set, this publication does present new material, and is concentrated more around instrumental repertoire. As an archival and a research tool the liner notes suffer from some flaws in supplying important information; nevertheless they do contain a good biography and analysis of the significance of this important figure in Turkish music history.


Feldman, Walter. 1996. Music of the Ottoman Court: Makam, Composition and the Early Ottoman Instrumental Repertoire. Berlin: VWB, Verl. für Wiss. und Bilding.

Signell, Karl L. 1977. Makam: Modal Practice in Turkish Art Music. Seattle: Asian Music Publications, School of Music, University of Washington.

Racy, Ali Jihad. 1991. "Historical Worldviews of Early Ethnomusicologists: An East-West Encounter in Cairo, 1932" in Ethnomusicology and Modern Music History, edited by S. Blum et al. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Pp, 68-91.

Öztuna, Yilmaz. 1990. "Cemil, Mes'ut Ekrem" in Büyük Türk Musikisi Ansiklopedisi vol. I. Ankara: Kültür Bakanligi . Pp. 175-77.


Mesut Cemil (1902-1963) Volume 1 - Early Recordings, Masterworks of Turkish Classical Music. 2000. Walnut Creek, California: Golden Horn Records. GHP 013-2.

Mesut Cemil (1902-1963) Volume 2 & 3 - Instrumental & vocal Recordings, Masterworks of Turkish Classical Music. 2000. Walnut Creek, California: Golden Horn Records. GHP 014-2.

Mevlana; Dede Efendi, Saba Ayini. 1996 [1961]. Istanbul: Kalan Müzik Yapim. CD 042.

Web Sites
A page dedicated to the reviewed CD. Contains the liner notes text, track list, production information and sound examples
A page dedicated to the Saba Ayin CD (see discography). Contains track list, list of performers, production information and sound examples
A short review of the Golden Horn CD with some sound samples
Pages devoted to the Golden Horn CDs. Contain the liner notes in English and Turkish, track lists and sound examples

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