MEHTERHANE AND DEVELOPMENT OF MUSIC IN TURKEY
By Mahmut Ragip Gazimihal
The effective utilization of music in armies and in war was an old and custom long visible in the history of very ancient civilizations. Its clear recognition and expression in the Turkish army, starting three or four centuries before Christ, is a fourceful reminder of the importance of music as far as military life is concerned. The records of those ancient times go far stating, not merely the role of music in the army, bu also, relatively speaking, its high standarts among the Turks. The same record also reveal that music, in the military sense, has a past covering about 25000 years in the Turkish History. The times preceding these records have only legendary stories to offer.
The school and organization of old Turkish Military Bands, "Mehterhane", chartered by state laws and developed keeping pace to the vast expansion of the Ottoman Empire, existed for hundreds of years in splendour and magnificence never matched before. In 1826, it was abolished and was replaced by new bands modelled on western style. The immense significance of "Mehterhane" lies not only in its detailed organization, nor in its quality of music, but also in its spiritual power which captivated the hearts of millions. The distant echoes of those historic bands are stil in many ears. This is a proof that a majority of people who enjoyed the music of such bands were not merely passive spectators. On the other hand, one can't help mentioning here that "Mehterhane" has rater dim reflections in the cities at the present time. However, the utilization of some of the musical instruments modelled on Mehterhane bands in village festivities and ceremonies today, express clearly the never diminishing desire on the part of the small town or village populace to keep up with their tradition. "No wedding is complete without a DAVUL or ZURNA" is an old saying which has long been in the hearts of these people. DAVUL stands for drum, and ZURNA is a kind of flute. They stil play these instruments with ardent zeal when the occaisons arise. Davul and zurna are also widely utilized when playing for the national dances such as YALLI, BAR, HALAY and BENGI.
Küvrük (Kûs - In modern times it is called Kös)
Tümrük (Tabl, Dühül - In modern times it is called Davul)
Çeng ( Zil, Gong - In modern times it is called Çang)
We know that some of these names, which are of Turkish origin, were adoted by some certain Asiatic dialects.
In spite of all this, it is not wise to state that this organization is of pure Turkish character. The names of the instruments and their utilization in the subsequent years is not enough evidence to prove anything. There are other record which support our statement. Let us again review briefly some of these records: Two centuries before Christ, a general from the Chinese army had paid a political visit to the palace of a Turkish khan. Due to formalities, this visit was extended to a city called Balasagun, which is in ruins at the present time. On his return to China, the general managed to take to his country a "Tug" band. This band gave concerts for the Chinese audience, states some Chinese chronicles. Among the instruments which went to China with this band, there was one called "HOU KYA". This was an instrument which belonged to the family of horns. "HOU KYA" was was noted for its twisted body with holes on it, and also for its high-pitched sound. This is the same instrument to which the Persians refer as "NAY-I TÜRKÎ". Here is a translation of a couplet from Nizamî, a XIIth century poet from Persia. He says, " Such an echo came out of "Nay-i Türkî" that all of the Turks were overjoyed". Such other records also succed in indicating that "Tug" band occupied a highly significant place in the palaces of Balasagun.
We can also refer to some of the statements found in several Persian or Turkish sources,
1. KORRENAY, pertaining to Turks and Persians, is an invention of Efrâsiyab.
2. SARNEY and Nay-i Türkî belong to Hita and Chinese Turks.
3. Efrâsiyab horn is an invention of Efrâsiyab and its played by the musicians of the regiments of Crimean Kings.
4. Efrâsiyab who is the master of Pirinç Horn, is also the inventor of Korrenay.
We have obtained information from two local sources of the same century as to the fact that the Turkish name of Efrâsiyab was Alp er Tonga. Kasgarli Mahmut who provides for us first of these sources states that the inhabitants of the city of Balasagun regarded "nine" as a sacred number. Meragali Abdülkadir who provides the second source also mentiones the sanctitiy of nine when he refers to the nine melodies played by the band each day for the king. The immense significance of "nine" among the Turks and Mogols lies not only in these occasions mentioned above, but also in the examples of the following years. The vezirs of the Ottoman Empire had nine "Tug". "Mehterhane" was composed of nine echelons.
Since we have moved further along the line of history in giving these examples, let us continue refering to the times following the Central-Asian era. From the territory of Selçukî, Ilhanî, Özbek anda Memlûk Sultans an influental branch of Tabilhane was extended to Persia. Another branch of Tabilhane, this one directly from Asia, reached the palace of Delhi. In each state where a Tabilhane was organized, also a repertoire peculiar to the musical culture of that country, was prepared. In addition to this, nations exchanged Tabilhane presents.
Ilni Batuta, the traveller from Arabia, reports his observations concerning Tabilhane in every country he has visited. In his memoirs, he also mentions listening to the traditional Davul and Zurna in Anatolia (The first half of the XIVth century).
In the XVthe Century, the Ottoman Mehterhane records a progressive development of organization and repertoire. This is largely due to the influence of Selçuklu Tabilhane which existed before the Ottoman Mehterhane did not completely belong to the Janissary troops. Every army corps owned either a mounted band or a band on foot. Every fort, army headquarters, vezir echelons, as well as every city town and village organized bands according to their size. These bands had three, five, seven and even nine "KAT" . Sometimes an army organization or a city had two seperate bands. There were nearly ten thousand bands in the whole Empire.
"KAT" signifies the number of each instrument in the band. For instance, if a band had seven "KAT", it meant that there were seven instruments of each kind in that band.
The number of daily open-air concerts given by Mehterhane bands ( in addition to the five praying house of Moslems) was five. This concerts were called "Nöbet". Mehterhane bands also gave concerts when occasions such as wedding or holiday festivities arised. However, during such occasions trade-people's bands were in demand more than the bands of Mehterhane. All these bands were scattered through out the Empire. From the Peleponnesos to the Danube, form the Adriatic Sea to the Casbian Sea, from the Black Sea to the Red Sea all the countries in the Ottoman Empire enjoyed the music and grandeur of Mehterhane bands. Such magnificance often stirred the envy of the places of Europe, and often the European Kings sent their music masters to the Ottoman Empire to observe, the methods of Mehterhane. Always, a Mehterhane band accompanied the first Ottoman Ambasadors to Europe.
This spreading influence of Mehterhane school in Europe, once again in the XVIIIth Century, let to the development of organization of the Western military bands. However, the experts of Western music soon realized that unless they studied and grasped the intriguing factors of Turkish music most intimately, they would be far from developing and organisation which could match the organization of Mehterhane bands. Consequenty, they start to work with different methods and so gave up studying mehterhane school.
It may be helpful to give here a few examples about the use of military music in order to draw a contrast between the Turkish and the Europian circles. The first one concerns the Turkish frontier in the Hungary. The well-known traveller from Turkey, Evliya Çelebi records in his book SEYYAHNAME (Vol. VI, p.237) witnessing a grand performance of a mehtername band in a Turkish Palace in Budin, Hungary. According to his observation this band had seven "KAT", and it was placed in a gigantio tower which was guarded by two thousand soldiers. Now let us turn to another example for a contrast. In the same century Louis XIV, King of France, for the first time wrote down a clear set of regulations concerning the military bands. However, in 1683 he wanted to diminish the expenses by cutting down the number of certain instruments in each band. This was indeed a strange way of economy.
Almost in the same years A. Galland2 reports viewing a magnificent procession in Edirne, a city on the west of Turkey. He states in his book that Mehterhane bands which took part in this procession, included instruments such as Nefir ( five or six in number), davul (eight in number) and Nakkare and zil. In his description of this procession A.Galland says, "All this was organized with such dexterity and harmony that everything expressed nothing but a mixture of grandeur, heroism and mirth I had never before witnessed in this country. The roar and echo of fifteen drums created such an illusion of wars and battles that I can not find words to describe it here. When an equal number of instruments, called Kös, and when all other instruments joined the drums, i knew we were coming to a grand final. I can not pass withot mentioning here that the thundering sound of kös had shaken all my structure, and produced also a most tremulous effect on everybody else present. These instruments were four in number in each band and the biggest i have ever laid my eyes on. I believe that this spectacle was prepared without neglecting the smallest detail in order present a procession full of wondreful surprises which the public never imagined, and also provide a splended entertainment for the sultan of the Ottoman Empire".
The European music lovers were used to listen to bands which played music of soft quality. Naturally, the music of mehterhane did strike rather boisterous to them. However some writers mention in their memoirs, enjoying the music of mehterhane after getting used to it. You must refer to orientalist Villoteau's rather superficial work on the Cairo Tabilhane if you prefer to learn in the impressions of a French man on this subject in the XVIIIth Century. Or if you wish to read a more detailed work of an Italian musican, you must refer to Pries Toderini's impressions which were developed out of his repeated listenings to mehterhane bands in Istanbul even some of Mozart's works reveal that this renowed composer was not altogether unaware og similar influences of mehterhane. However, we are sure that his impressions of mehterhane are nothing else but momentary. In his "Turkish March", which is in sonat form, when the right hand plays the most animated and brilliant melody of the flute, the left hand plays the drum. The persistant bass of this left hand resembles exactly the famous rhtym of the drums of mehterhane band. This famous rhytm of mehterhane was called "Düyek".
In every century mehterhane faced several changes. It has been recorded that these changes were not only in musical character but also in the uniforms of he musicians and in the frame work of the organization as a whole. Due to these changes and because the musical notes of songs or compositions were not written down, the complete repertoire of mehterhane have disappearred. We have records which only reveal that mehterhane owned an official repertoire during those times. We also know that there were popular songs which were played by mehterhane bands or by trades-people's bands in weddings and amusement places.
Manners and principles to be observed during the concerts of mehterhane bands, regulations concerning the customs of the musicians, their salaries and compensations (which were clearly expressed by the federal laws), the conditions of their barracks and the detail of their practice in music, and the discipline of music masters, their assistance and students are all very important subjects to be examined when studying mehterhane. However, even one of these subjects can not be summarized in an article of this length. From time to time records are being found about Mehterhane bands in the old archives of the Ottoman Empire.