Atatürk's Musical Side


A question had always been in my mind during Atatürk’s presence.

How Atatürk had could have been aware of the music and know the rules of Turkish music much better than many amateur musicians. He could sing the songs perfectly without any help. And he could have sung the Taksim with his voice.

For example, he had explained a Taksim as follows: “The Taksim is the expression of the composer’s feelings according to the rules of style but in accordance with the makam rules.”

I did not hear this very good and laconic description from the many masters of music. (My note in this respect: Atatürk was an exceptional person who was able to talk on all subjects and had excellent taste. However there must be a mistake of the person who conveyed the Atatürk's description of the Taksim. Taksim is not a music liberally playing outside the rules of style but it is a special expression connected with its special rules and conditions (such as entree, middle, conclusion) therefor I remember we had a discussion in this respect. Atatürk probably mean outside the basic elements of the music (rhythm and tempo) by saying outside the rules of style).

One day Atatürk found an old lyrics book. He asked us to play many of the compositions from this book in case it was not always possible to play all the compositions from an old book. In that case we presumed to play according to the rules and the makam’s written in that book.


- Stop. He said.

I remember this song. It was not like that.

We were in trouble with this book. Fortunately he did not insist on it. The book had urgently been made to disappear and therefore we were saved from being in mortal fear.

His vast knowledge and great love of music made think that he had received an education in music. I waited for him to make a recollection in this respect, but it did not happen. I asked his childhood friend Nuri Conker about it and the late Tahsin Özer. Mr. Nuri told me he supposed Bolahenk Nuri could have educated him while he was a student in military school. Tahsin told that he hadn't any information about it. But the only thing he knew was that he is very keen on listening to music since his early youth. (My note: Dr. Şükrü Şenozan (he is a composer also), one of the usual guest of the Atatürk’s dinners, told us that they had gathered with Atatürk in İzmir when He was a young staff mayor (year: 1913). And with Dr. Tevfik Rüştü Aras (future Minister of Foreign Affairs) and Dr. Rasim Ferit, Şükrü Kaya (future Minister of Home Office) and had played music till the morning. And continuously said ”Sunny head with his blond hair enlightened our dinner with his knowledge and comprehension. He was speaking of the management inadequacy of government, the dirty aspects in foreign relations policy, the reason of suffering defeat in the Balkan War with a strong and clear belief. Everybody was listening to him. The music had stopped

The sun had risen, the beds were untouched, after the breakfast we left for home. I was very happy for getting acquainted with him. My friends were very glad as well.

After many years I went to Vienna at the end of the Great War. The higher ranked Mustafa Kemal Pasha entered the hall of the hotel that we were staying in in July 1918. He had come back to Vienna from Carlsbad. We stood up together with the others. At the introducing ceremony:

- Doctor, could we have a musical get together in İzmir again?

- Sure we could. I replied.

The people attended the meeting at that night Şükrü Kaya, Dr. Tevfik Rüştü Aras, Rasim Ferit Talay, Dr. Cemal Tunç, Cemal Şahingiray had not been forgotten by Atatürk and remained a fond memory”.

The Ney player Burhanettin Ökte, from Atatürk’s Fasıl Music Group told the following in this respect.

“Many years later I got acquainted with the valued scholar Nail who had studied on the historical part of our music. He had also been one of the best students of the Bolahenk Nuri. I asked him if Atatürk had studied on music, that question which always was on my mind. Bolahenk Nuri could not have given lessons because of Abdülhamit (the Sultan), neither in his studio nor in house while Atatürk was a student. But he would go to houses of the students whom he liked. In that case I reached the conclusion that Bolahenk Nuri could not have been Atatürk’s teacher. But Atatürk’s good knowledge on music made me investigate this subject further.

In some songs Atatürk’s voice was not sufficient in some compositions with high notes. Then he started to sing in a pitch he would be able to sing. And told us “a musician could play the compositions in every pitch. He who cannot do this cannot be called musician" and encouraged us to play in variations.