Atatürk's Understanding of Music


“Sirs, all of you can be a Member of Parliament, can be a Minister you can even be President of the Rebublic but you can not be artists. Let us esteem those children that have devoted their lives to a great art.”

This is one of Atatürk’s remarks showing his love of art and artists.

There are many remarks by Atatürk honouring artists and the arts.

The artists have created their works by industriousness and long struggles in the community and they are the persons who first feel the delight.

“A nation, when deprived of art and artists, can not have a complete life”

As great Atatürk knew the arts, as an important part of National Culture to be held in esteem, he lay the foundation for encouragment and appreciation of the artists.

“Developing art and national culture is the principal element to exalt the Nation” and was the special desire of Atatürk.”

Atatürk had pointed out the importance of Turkish art in the nation’s life, and emphasised that Turkish arts were to reach contemporary civilisatory levels by progressive efforts.

His principal ideal and desire for the Turkish Nation has a background steeped in art and culture and is to reach a proper level in art and culture.

However Atatürk had believed that the changes to take place in the Turkish Nation’s life, could not be realised by force, but could be constituted by training and persuasion. Therefore he accepted the necessity of application of this approach to Turkish Music.

Atatürk had declared after a concert of orchestra of Presidency established by the order of him.

“It is necessary consider the people’s musical needs as well. Thorough training in music is necessary for the people to get used to western music and like it. “

As matter of fact the music teachers' school (1925) which is the nucleus of the State Conservatory had been founded by that mark of Atatürk. The aim of the music teachers' schools had been to graduate teachers for the middle schools rather than musicians (artists). The second step was to establish an academy of national music and theatre. Atatürk had emphasised that a practical and applicable system as well as theoretical work could provide the improvment of music.

The music training all around the country would be provided by the young teachers graduated from the established music teaching school envisioned to graduate teachers rather than the artists. Atatürk said, “ The historical characteristic of Turkish nationality is love of fine arts and exalting in this field.” By this speech Atatürk had declared his trust and belief in the Turkish nation’s high character, capacity of hard work, national unity, and bright intelligence, in connection with science. He pointed out these qualifications of the Nation to be improved and supported by all means. This would be our national ideal. The Turkish nation would take a place in the contemporary world and would be a completely civilised community.

Atatürk declared his opinions on all kinds of subjects in a fluent language. Of course Atatürk was not a musician, but he had a deep comprehension of music and he felt its delight. His following remarks tell us that.

“Often, we can not find the full self respect of this music (Turkish music).

The music now we are listening to is real Turkish music and there is no doubt it is the music of an exalted civilisation. The world must understand this music. In order to impart it to the world, we must be civilised up to world standard.”

By pointing that we were at an exalted level in civilisation, in order to impart our music to the world, he also noticed that the real values of our national music culture should be freed from the darkness of history. And the conscience, emotion and knowledge of music needed to be conveyed to the young generations with the same strength and enthusiasm. This also important for our national and social life as well as culture, for our nation, which has a deep and old background. Unproductive arguments concerning the make-up of the music, in western or in Turkish style were raised to a higher level by Atatürk’s speech in parliament dated 1st November 1934.

“Friends, I know how you want our young generation to be advance in all kinds of fine arts. That, it has been doing. But in my opinion, the Turkish music has priority and urgency in this respect. The measure for the transformation of the nation is to be perceived by the changes in music. The music that they dare us to listen to today is far something to take pride in. It is necessary to collect the high expression and statements of the nation expressing fine emotions and ideas, and to work on them within the general rules of music.

Turkish national music can only evolve in this way. I desire the Ministry of Culture to be considered important and as a necessity and legislation should be passed in its support.

This speech made long years ago, determined the main principal for the improvement of the Turkish music policy on a strong basis. And, as he knew that Turkish nation had a potential in music, he wished to improve Turkish music in it’s own values according to the rules of contemporary civilisation, and opened new prospects for the Turkish youth and arts. He had decelerated successfully innovation could be possible by this means as in other fields. He had emphasized the importance of benefitting from the folkloric values in order to be national in music. As a matter of a fact he said at a different occasion “our music could be developed by paying heed to the Anatolian People.”

Atatürk had emphasised folk music, which is our national treasury, must be investigated and introduced with its cultural power according to scientific principals and rules.

Atatürk was not one to stigmatize Turkish music (Alla-Turca) and he especially did not approve of the opinion that Turkish music been had influenced by the Arabic, Persian and Byzantine music.

Although Alla-Turca is bears the meaning of “special style for Turks, like Turks” there are some who use the word in disparagingly . In other words mean to use in the meaning of “uncontrolled, backward, dumb”. Obviously this description has been very vulgar and improper.

Some of the words claimed to bo said by Atatürk were probably either had been wrongly conveyed or have been explained in their own terms.

One of them is “ The principal music is western music, and we must approve of that music for our nation.”

Turkish music has been degraded by people who cannot appreciate and do not know Turkish music. In their opinion the Alla-Turca (Turkish Music) style of music has been influenced by Arabic, Byzantine, Persian music. It is primitive because it is monophonic. Why, the even say “It has cosmopolite, exotic, melancholic expression, therefore it must be abolishedand western music must be adopted.”

If those words belonged to Atatürk as purpetrators conveyed them, there must be a contradiction with the words of Atatürk that have been documented.

Such a contradiction would not be befitting to Atatürk. Therefore these words are either be incomplete or wrongly conveyed. It is more probable that Atatürk spoke these words with another aim.

Some other slandering conservatives proposed that Atatürk did not like listening to West music and did not like West music. None of these claims are correct. Atatürk never criticised Turkish music by looking down on it, to the contrary, he said “ it has been a music of higher civilisation.”

Atatürk said “While I was talking about a national education program I meant a culture approving of our national tradition of unity, history purified from western and eastern influences and ideas. Any foreign influence may cause repetition of destroying conclusions of the cultures that were being followed until now.” “Culture must be in accordance with the environment, this environment is the nation it self. “(July 1924)

Is it possible the explanation of “the principal music for us is the west music, we must approve of this music for our nation” may have be spoken by Atatürk, who is the author of that speech.

Atatürk wanted to reinvent and to improve Turkish music in the best conditions and he liked western music, enjoyed to listen to it as well.

He believed inthe necessity persuing a educative approach get the people used to western music, and accepted that the musical products would have a special place among works of the west and would to be at the level of contemporary nations.

He believed the necessity of showing the power of Turkish music to the western world by using the national and international literature and by taking into consideration the cultural values and traditions that meant our national union.

This means introducing Turkish emotion and enthusiasm to the world by working on music by western rules and with western techniques and with western measures.