Above: "Dyrham Park in Fog" © James Millward; one of the inspirational scenes in Emre Aracı's Symphony "In Search of Lost Sounds"
"The moon’s frosty dim light spilling from a silvery glass bowl […] radiates a light of enchantment, sensuality and love, and shapes everything exposed before its path in the same magical way"
Bosphorus by Moonlight
First movement (Allegro non troppo-Cadenza: Moderato- Moderato)
Cihat Aşkın, violin • Prague Symphony Chamber Orchestra • Emre Aracı, conductor • Ateş Orga, producer. Recorded at the Rudolfinum, Prague.
Kalan Müzik, 2004
Bosphorus by Moonlight
by Emre Aracı
Concerto for violin and string orchestra, Op. 4
Premiered in the Reid Concert Hall (Edinburgh) on 10 May 1997 by violinist Christina Ball and the Edinburgh University String Orchestra under the baton of James Lowe, the violin concerto was composed in Edinburgh in the same year during Emre Aracı’s postgraduate studies at the then Faculty of Music. Ateş Orga, who produced a recording of the work at Rudolfinum with the Turkish violinist Cihat Aşkın and the Prague Symphony Orchestra observes in his article The Portrait of a Turkish concerto:
“Emre Aracı’s neo-Euro-Ottoman Concerto for Violin and Strings - Istanbul imbued, Edinburgh born, ‘a small token of gratitude to the kindness and friendship of Oya Molu and her immediate family’ - takes its subtitle, Bosphorus by Moonlight, from the Ottoman-born Turkish novelist Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar’s (1888-1963) wartime novel of the same name: ‘The moon’s frosty dim light spilling from a silvery glass bowl […] radiates a light of enchantment, sensuality and love, and shapes everything exposed before its path in the same magical way’. It is a work at once autobiographical and atmospheric. ‘Far from my home country,’ Emre says, ‘Hisar’s personally distinctive poetic language, immortalising the splendour of the Bosphorus landscape, touched a chord within me’. In Bosphorus by Moonlight, he recalls, Hisar evokes ‘the old traditions of music-making on the Bosphorus, when flotillas of rowing boats took to the water on pleasant summer evenings, when the moon was at its fullest, when parties lasted until dawn. In reality, far beyond the civilization of Bosphorus lifestyle, Hisar’s work at its core reflects the frustrations suffered by the creative artist, lonely and isolated in a modern, realistic and busy world, constantly feeling an uncertain yet nostalgic longing for a more romantic past when elegance and style prevailed alongside absolute beauty. In its magnetic, emphatic charm, this was an almost perfect reflection of my own personal, inexplicable emotions’. Therein lies the essence of the music, the soul of the man [...] Scene, sensation, solitude. This and more lie behind the three movements of the Concerto, completed in 1997. Sibelius, long a Nordic influence on Emre, haunts the repetitive pedal-notes, melodic figures and tremolos, the sonorous weight, of the preludial first movement, with its sad shepherd-fiddle cadenza and softly pulsating C major close - C, B and F sharp viola octaves picking out the horizon like watchful silhouettes at dusk. Eastern Europe, Hisar’s moonglow, define the throb and climax of the Adagio, glimpses of Bartók, Khachaturian and zigeuner lament reminding how often share and exchange has been central to the Turkic dialect/historico-politic of the Balkan Caucasian lands. Assymetric quasi-aksas rhythms (8/8 [3+2+3]); 7/8 [3+2+2]; 10/8 [3+2+2+3]; 5/8 [2+3]) pulverise the finale - a muscular, modally distinctive Black Sea dance”.
The concerto was played at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on 8 January 2012 by violinist Selim Giray
with Gulimina Mahamuti accompanying on the piano.
with Gulimina Mahamuti accompanying on the piano.
Ayşegül Giray wrote and successfully defended a doctoral thesis (DM) on Emre Aracı's concerto 'Bosphorus by Moonlight' at the Florida State University in 2014. The following interview was made during her research in the same year.
You composed your violin concerto in Scotland. Did the fact that you were living away from your country have an impact on the musical language of your concerto? Were you homesick?
First of all thank you very much for your kind interest in my music and focusing on my violin concerto as an academic research topic for your doctoral thesis. It is the first time ever that one of my compositions is being officially studied in an academically rigorous way. And while this makes me very excited, I must admit that at the same time it makes me highly conscious as I will be answering your questions retrospectively, which perhaps I didn’t even ask myself at the time of composing my violin concerto, almost seventeen years ago, in May 1997, when I was a postgraduate music student at the University of Edinburgh. I will therefore try to answer your questions to the best of my abilities and as best as my memory serves me.
There is no question about the fact that living away from my country - it had been 10 years at the time - had the greatest impact on my compositional output in my early years. Infusing one’s own musical culture into a new and idiosyncratic hybrid language I thought would be the most natural and correct way for me to go about creating my own music.
In those senior university years I was living in Edinburgh at 53 Frederick Street, in a 200-year-old building, in Robert Adam’s magnificent 18th-century New Town development, as a lodger of the artist Lady Lucinda Mackay. Her flat was a hub of creativity as she was either working on a portrait commission or a new painting, some of which eventually found their way to the National Galleries of Scotland. There were also dinner parties attended by scientists and writers like Professor Peter Higgs and Alexander McCall Smith who dedicated his 44 Scotland Street to her. So it was a very stimulating environment. A grand piano also stood in the flat and I used to give Lady Lucinda piano lessons. (I could play the piano in those days!) It was in fact in that flat on her piano that the concerto was written within a week. So whilst on the one hand I was clearly being inspired by a feeling of longing for my native country, on the other, it was the stimuli of my adopted environment which nourished my creativity.
Three years ago, a week before I left for New York City to attend Selim Giray’s recital at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall, when he played the concerto with piano accompaniment, I was on a visit to Edinburgh. I happened to be passing through Frederick Street and realised that the flat which had been sold years earlier was now turned into a small Bed and Breakfast Hotel. I asked the proprietor to be allowed in. All the walls were whitewashed and all the colourful paintings had gone. It was almost like a scene from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, when Captain Charles Ryder visits Brideshead Castle in the beginning of the novel. Ironically the environment which inspired the concerto of a feeling of “longing for a vanishing past” had itself fallen prey to time, which I think brings us to your next question.
Do you have a craving for our disappearing culture which was told in the book Bosphorus By Moonlight by Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar which was the inspiration for your violin concerto?
To follow on from your earlier question, in Edinburgh I had also discovered a copy of The Penguin Book of Turkish Verse by Nermin Menemencioğlu and Fahir İz in the university library; a wonderful anthology of English translations of Turkish poems. Apart from Hisar’s book two poems from this collection also made a huge impression on me during these Frederick Street years; one was a fragment from a long, nostalgic and patriotic poem Farewell to Haluk by Tevfik Fikret (1867-1915) who had addressed it to his son Haluk who went to study in Scotland in 1909, and the other, entitled Night, was by Yahya Kemal Beyatlı (1884-1958), who celebrated the glories of the Bosphorus in many of his lyrical poems.
I was much struck by the sentiments of Tevfik Fikret’s poem. Here is the relevant section:
Farewell to Haluk
We parted, you to your train, I to my ship,
You to rush headlong towards the Scottish lands,
Regions of mists, rain, snow and ice, but still
Their bypaths built with arduous toil and love of freedom,
And I to the crumbling shores of the Bosphorus,
Winding their languid, aimless, isolated way,
To look at, as dewy fresh as Paradise,
But soiled with the stains of idleness and exhaustion -
A lonely bed and a frustrated life
In some neglected and decaying corner...
What thoughts flashed through my mind, then, shall I tell you?
This land of ours, this open-hearted land -
A pity that I should have to tell you this! -
May in the end be lost in devastation.
(from the translation by Nermin Menemencioğlu, The Penguin Book of Turkish Verse)
Incidentally just before writing the violin concerto I set this poem to music, now a forgotten composition for baritone and orchestra, also called Farewell to Haluk and dedicated it to Lady Lucinda Mackay. A Turkish newspaper at the time cited my new work in bold headlines and called me “Fikret’s faithful son”, little knowing that my own father was called Fikret as well. I suppose it would be correct to say that I discovered Tevfik Fikret not at school in Turkey but in Scotland, in those “Regions of mists, rain, snow and ice” with “bypaths built with arduous toil and love of freedom” as the poet put it.
As much as Hisar’s Bosphorus by Moonlight, where he writes, “The moon’s frosty dim light spilling from a silvery glass bowl, compared with the materialistic rays of the sun, becomes the rays of a spiritual world. Contrary to the sunlight, which is the light of activity and reality, the full moon radiates a light of enchantment, sensuality and love, and shapes everything exposed to it in its path in the same magical way”, Beyatlı’s Night - the two works complementing each other perfectly - also had an impact on the genesis of the concerto, in particular the slow movement, so much so that at the premiere in Edinburgh at the Reid Concert Hall on 10 May 1997 copies of Beyatlı’s poem were placed among concert programmes:
Kandilli floated upon sleep--
We trailed the moonlight on the deep.
We took a shining silver track
And spoke no word of turning back.
Phantom trees on the dreaming crest...
Pensive slopes where the waters rest...
The season's end was such a time--
The distant note of a hidden chime.
We passed and vanished far away
Ere the dream was lost at break of day.
(The Penguin Book of Turkish Verse)
The title Bosphorus by Moonlight did not appear at that premiere concert, and the work was simply listed as “Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra, Op. 4”. At the 20th anniversary concert of the Edinburgh University String Orchestra on 2 June 2012 when the first movement of the concerto was performed under my baton, however, the title Bosphorus by Moonlight was printed as it has been ever since the London premiere in 1999 at St James’s Piccadilly.
“Crumbling shores of the Bosphorus”, “The distant note of a hidden chime”, “We passed and vanished far away” - all these lines immersed in nostalgia and a yearning for the past not only shaped my imagination, but also to this day form the basis of my mental framework, which perhaps found their first full expressions in the backdrop of the city of Edinburgh, where on many solitary walks down the Water of Leith I remember the smiling face of Hygieia, the Greek Goddess of Health, looking at me from her 18th-century temple sitting on St Bernard’s Well. It was the romance of Scotland and the elegant city of Edinburgh, a visit to Lady Lucinda’s childhood home Glenapp Castle, which definitely fired my keen awareness for the past of my own country through the visions of another. Later all this discovery would lead me to Marcel Proust, the great master of “lost” and “recovered” time, of course, and also an inspiration for Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar.
As you composed your violin concerto, did you get inspiration just from the description of Bosphorus, colors, and the music nights on Bosphorus by moonlight in the book, or do you think there are fictional similarities between your repeated motives and the writing style of the book such as the “prose-poem” (in your book In Search of Lost Sounds page 362 Selim İleri used this definition for the Şinasi’s book) like repeated words “sometimes moonlight” at the beginning of each paragraph in page 105 and repeated words ” sometimes singer’s voices” at the beginning of each paragraph in pages 89-93 in the Şinasi’s book?
I did not deliberately try to emulate in any way Hisar’s poetic prose in the musical language of my concerto. What you hear is a personal response to the emotions stirred within me by his language. In other words I am not trying to express musically what he is describing in words. The longing and nostalgia are there, but they are personal to me, albeit triggered by his emotions; the emotions he brings out within me. For instance when he writes in Geçmiş Zaman Köşkleri, his book on the old wooden houses of İstanbul - “You too try to remember the places of your childhood where you have had many happy memories and experienced your earliest affections full of dreams. You will feel a different kind of sensation within yourself, when suddenly you will see the past approaching in a style of music which you thought had long ceased to exist and realise that many spirits within you which you believed had long perished are still well alive. And suddenly you will find yourself in a kind of emotional state and a medium of poetry which I am trying to explain, yet is impossible to describe!” - he is showing us the way. It is up to us to find our own Arcadia. He is just acting as a guide. We have to make the journey, that personal journey. My music is therefore my own journey, not necessarily on the Bosphorus perhaps, but remembering the Bosphorus by the rippling waters of the Water of Leith in Edinburgh when standing by Hygieia and taking the lead from Hisar, who himself was inspired by the boundless imaginations of the spiritual world of the moonlight, as opposed to the sunlight “the light of activity and reality”. It is all about memory and imagination.
At the end of the first movement when the double bass and celli pulse the tonic note C, violas and the divisi celli describe the sunset behind the beautiful silhouette of the Bosphorus with their C, B, and G sharp octaves. Then the pulse disappears like the last light of day. What have you been thinking as you were composing?
I think I have already answered this question above. But the way you have let your imagination take over in interpreting my music has in a sense also shown you the lead in seeing your own images through my music. I think for me this is the greatest compliment I could ask for, because as I said earlier I am not trying to be descriptive in my music, but rather aiming for a more poetic expression, which I hope will inspire people’s own visions through my work. It reminds me a passage in Proust from Within a Budding Grove: “We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us”. In Bosphorus by Moonlight Hisar described in great detail, in a very evocative language, the old tradition of music making on the Bosphorus on a flotilla of rowing boats on pleasant summer evenings when the moon was at its fullest and the parties lasted until dawn. In reality, I think far beyond the civilization of Bosphorus lifestyle, he was reflecting on the frustrations suffered by the creative artist, in particular the one, who felt lonely and isolated in a modern, realistic and busy world and constantly felt an uncertain, yet nostalgic longing for a more romantic past, where elegance and style prevailed alongside absolute beauty. This is at least my interpretation of it.
There are some folkloric melodies in your concerto. Are they quoted from some folk songs, or are they your own folk songs like compositions? If they are quoted from folk songs, which songs are they?
That is correct. There are folkloric themes in the concerto; particularly in the second and prominently in the third movements, with the use of Turkish “aksak” rhythms. These are not genuine folksongs or dances, but rather my own themes derived from the folkloric tradition. I was perhaps influenced by Bartok’s Romanian Dances which I was conducting at the at the time of the composition of the concerto, but not thematically, rather stylistically. By sheer coincidence at the 20th anniversary concert of the Edinburgh University String Orchestra at the Reid Concert Hall, Bartók’s Romanian Dances were also included in the programme along with the first movement of Bosphorus by Moonlight.
After sad and dramatic two movements, can we interpret that the lively and dynamic third movement has a hope for the future?
I agree that the concerto ends on a positive and hopeful note, but I am not sure if that is a deliberate message. Perhaps rather a conventional one in the sense that a traditional concerto will have a slow middle movement and a lively finish. My concerto does not follow a strict traditional form, but nevertheless I have maintained that approach for the spirit of the movements. Talking of the future, spiritually I feel as if I am looking into a mirror and the more forward I look, the further I see into the recesses of the distant past.
Do you have anything that you would like to add in this interview?
In your violin concerto, you create your own style with a wonderful synthesis between east and west culture. We know that you have very important and precious many other researches and works which shows the impact between European and Ottoman music. I hope you continue to give to audience and musicians a large repertoire to enjoy your music and writing. I thank you very much for this kind interview.
Thank you very much for your questions. Answering them has certainly helped me to jog my memory and enabled me to remember important details from my past, which I feel is a timely reminder that after years of neglect I should perhaps be concentrating more on future compositions. On my way to Edinburgh two years ago to conduct the 20th anniversary concert of on 2 June 2012, whilst travelling on the train I was reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, recommended by a dear friend; a passage from the book was to answer part of a question in my mind that kept coming up as I was writing the concerto: “What is the meaning of life? That was all - a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one”. After the concert as I walked alone down the Mound towards Princes Street a full moon was setting above the Castle. I wish you all the success with your thesis and recital.
"Talking of the future, spiritually I feel as if I am looking into a mirror and the more forward I look, the further I see into the recesses of the distant past"
Emre Aracı at the Old College, Edinburgh University on 2 June 2012
Ballet in two acts
Libretto and arrangements by Emre Aracı
Orchestration by Bujor Hoinic
World premiere: 3 May 2012
by the Ankara State Opera and Ballet Company at the Ankara Opera House
“They describe him as one possessed, sitting on his sofa, motionless and speechless, smoothing his thin moustaches and beardless chin with his right hand hour after hour the livelong day, mediating on his abdication, and only wondering on which of his redundant brothers may devolve the burden which is too much for his shoulders” wrote The Times in August 1876, when the 33rd ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Murad V (1840-1904), had to relinquish the throne due to signs of mental instability only after three months in power. After this, history would remember him not only as the “shortest ruling monarch of the Ottoman Empire” but also rather cruelly as the “mad Sultan”, not unlike the equally sensitive and highly artistic Mad King of Bavaria, Ludwig II, patron of Richard Wagner, like Sultan Murad’s uncle Sultan Abdülaziz, who was also among the German composer’s benefactors, as testified in a document signed by Wagner himself on the occasion of the Sultan’s handsome donation to the construction funds of the Festival Theatre at Bayreuth and the first ever production of the Ring cycle.
Murad came to the Ottoman throne following the deposition of that very uncle, Sultan Abdülaziz, who had grown increasingly unpopular among his generals. And his arrival on the scene as a 36-year old, enlightened, kind, plain and modest ruler, was greeted by much enthusiasm at first. The Times special correspondent who attended Sultan Murad’s first procession to the Friday prayers from the Palace of Dolmabahçe to the mosque of Saint Sophia wrote the following account in his report from Therapia to London: “the Ottoman Emperor made his first appearance dressed in a plain military uniform, in a plain fez without his aigrette of diamonds, without decorations, with none of the ornaments distinctive of his rank, and he moved through the throng not in the erect and statue-like stiffness of a Padishah, too high and mighty to seem aware of the plaudits which greeted him, but bowed to right and left in acknowledgement of his people’s salutations, bowed to the very mane of his white steed, then raised his face radiant with a happiness which he was at no pains to conceal, and which he saw reflected in the countenances of the myriads of the delighted multitude. It was, to all outward seeming, the accession of a European Monarch that these Orientals welcomed, and this conceit was confirmed by the Order which was published yesterday, that persons admitted to the Imperial presence should no longer, as was the custom, accost the Sovereign with their arms folded on their bosoms and their faces bowed to the ground, as if awed and dazzled by the superhuman light of god’s face, but that they should henceforth stand up to their natural height and speak as man to man, face to face, the Sultan valuing his subjects’ true love and reverence, and dispensing with their abject, servile prostration”.
Ironically it was this kind and considerate nature in him which was to prompt his quick and eventual downfall from the throne to the Palace of Tcheraghan where he was to be kept under strict house arrest for the remaining 28 years of his life with his family never being allowed to set afoot to the outside world, under the orders of his half-brother successor Abdülhamid II. It was to become a life of entrapment, misery and loneliness. Murad’s sensitive nature had made it impossible for him to rule, especially after the mysterious death of his uncle Abdülaziz who, soon after his deposition, was found in a pool of blood with a pair of scissors prompting speculative theories of suicide and murder, which undoubtedly fell on the shoulders of the young emperor. Murad who was already prone to bouts of melancholic fits became uncontrollably neurotic and irrational as a result. These fluctuating tendencies of his nature were already known to those around him and were even remarked upon on that sunny procession day by the same correspondent of The Times, where he commented: “[the sultan] is supposed to have inherited some of the feebleness, with much of the uprightness and gentleness, of his father’s character. In a quiescent state the countenance has a shade of melancholy, natural to a soft and yielding nature”.
Mehmed Murad Efendi was born in 1840 as the eldest son and heir of Sultan Abdülmecid and was brought up following a European education system from an early age, like all successive princes of the empire before him, since the reforms of his grandfather Mahmud II. This included learning French, reading European literature, history and of course receiving tuition in the rudiments of European music. Original research conducted by myself in his family’s archive today reveal that the young prince had a substantial library of musical works, including operatic arrangements for the pianoforte, which were presented to him at a young age. Bound and numbered in a set of red leather volumes, a collection of this kind, clearly show us the musical tastes infused in the young child’s mind from an early age. Volume 11 of the set for instance includes “morceaux d’operas”. He received musical tuition from Callisto Guatelli, the resident Italian conductor of the Naum Theatre, Istanbul’s Italian opera at the time. This sort of detailed information generally tends to appear from one source to the other without any solid proof in Turkish publications on the subject, but recent research enabled me to find on the score of an Elegy composed by Guatelli that it was dedicated to his ex-pupil Murad Effendi and thus establish this firm connection between the Italian maestro and the Ottoman prince. Murad played the piano from a young age and was presented with a magnificent Érard pianoforte, which, intact, today still belongs to his descendants.
Life for Murad the “şehzade” was one of leisurely pursuits of reading, writing letters, playing the piano and composing music. In fact in a letter found in the Archives of the Topkapı Palace Museum written to his sister Refia Sultan (1842-1880) Murad explains how he cannot finish a particular composition because he is passionately in the middle of reading Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo and sums up his life as “Recreation as you know is either to play the piano, write music or read history”. No wonder these kind of early interests which shaped his sensitive character were going to draw the criticism of many around him as to the suitability of his nature to govern and rule an empire. Djemaleddin Bey in his biography of Murad published in London in 1895 observed how Pertevniyal Validé Sultana, mother of Sultan Abdülaziz once remarked that “Instead of warlike rulers, [the line of Sultan Abdülmecid] gives us a succession of imbecile and effeminate princes, who are fit for nothing but to give music lessons and build yalis. Murad will never be fit to govern. Turkey wants a man, not a musician”. Perhaps she was correct in her prophecy; Murad was unable to rule and had to abdicate, but he was clearly not “mad” as portrayed in history books. He was an intelligent, artistic and lonely young man in search of freedom and these qualities make up the principal themes in my ballet.
What makes Murad V a very unusual and a highly original ballet is that its score is in part based on the original compositions of the protagonist himself. Murad composed short salon music for the solo pianoforte from an early age and after his deposition to Çırağan Palace on the Bosphorus in 1876 - now ironically a five star hotel - this compositional output seems to have grown even more, mounting up to almost thousands of pages, in the genres of marches, quadrilles, polkas, polka-mazurkas and waltzes. There is no doubt that playing the pianoforte and composing music for him served as a means of relaxation in a life of physical and eternal imprisonment. That is why we find on the frontispieces of these albums in his own hand remarks in French such as: “Album pour piano composées par Mourad V après sa déposition dans le Palais de Tschiragan”.
These autograph manuscript albums further shed light on Murad’s trapped life in Çırağan Palace, as some of the compositions - all of them numbered - contain in the legend, short notes in his own hand, either in French or Ottoman, relating to daily matters, events or moods. A polka numbered 697 for instance has the caption of “Gayet bahtiyar olduğum bir gün 19 Ağustos, rumi 31 efrenci” (A day I felt exceptionally happy - 19th August). The C major Galop of 11 February 1887 tells us that it was composed in memory of “B. F.” who had committed suicide. 22 February 1887 on the other hand proves to be another happy and productive day; he manages to compose three pieces: an Allegro, a Schottische and a Polka, “composé dans un jour”. There is also evidence that these pieces were not just for solo performance on the pianoforte either, but that members of his family; his daughters, harem ladies, concubines, also imprisoned in Çırağan Palace alongside him in actual fact danced to them. The musician Leylâ Hanım, [Leyla Saz (1845-1936)] who spent her childhood in the Imperial Harem, due to her father’s court appointment as the Sultan’s chief physician, remembered in her memoirs how at Dolmabahçe Palace she and sisters of Murad danced mazurkas while Şehzade Murad played the pianoforte.
It would be unfair to assess the musical quality of Murad’s compositions out of context, without taking into account under the circumstances in which they were composed and why. He was not a professional musician by training by any means and did not write music to be original, inventive or progressive. For him music served a mere purpose of recreation which was not uncommon at the time among the Ottoman elite nor their European counterparts. But these ephemeral works do at the same time show that the deposed Sultan had enough skill and knowledge in the rudiments of European music which enabled him to compose and certainly with a gift for melody.
In the ballet, Murad V, the Sultan’s own original piano music is selected and fully orchestrated by myself, and after this process the selections are integrated into the score along with the works of his contemporaries, including his daughter Hadice Sultan, his professor of music Guatelli Pasha, his chief caller of prayers, Rifat Bey, Her Excellency the Wife of Ömer Pasha, Charles d’Albert and August d’Adelburg. None of the works are chosen at random as they all have some relevance or coherence to the Sultan’s life and times in order to establish the musical and aesthetic uniformity in the score. The overture for instance is Rifat Bey’s Prière, composed and published as a piano score, on the occasion of his accession to the throne, on its cover bearing Murad’s tughra, his personal Imperial cypher. It is a highly symbolic and prophetic reference to his short reign in its sombre musical overtones and therefore makes an organic and perfect introduction to this tragic and lonely life.
The entire ballet score is, however, held together through Istanbul-born August d’Adelburg’s (1830-1873) romantic and lush symphonie-fantaisie Aux Bords du Bosphore, dedicated to Murad’s father Sultan Abdülmecid and published in Vienna in the 1850’s. Divided into five sections, including sub-sections, the musical language of the symphonie-fantaisie has all the dramatic ingredients fit to be choreographed for dance through movements entitled Méditations et Rêveries, Chanson turque (Maneh), Grande Marche du Médjidié and Lever de la lune et Chant nocturne sur le Bosphore. As I observed in the accompanying sleeve notes of my world premiere CD recording of this symphony with the Prague Symphony Orchestra in Rudolfinum in 2005: “Almost a precursor to Wagner in the way chromatic writing is developed, the listener in the first movement is taken through a meditative and magical ride along the Bosphorus coastline. A traditional Turkish song turns into a grand march for the sultan, while the finale is a lyrical nocturne with the moon gradually rising over the water. Adelburg sadly died in Vienna aged 43, but his symphonic fantaisie is re-born in this album from the oblivion like a full moon rising above the Bosphorus with a profound respect for its creator”. And in 2011 it resurrects even further as the genesis of an original ballet.
The ballet is not a didactic life story of Murad V, but rather it deals with the crucial moments in his life in snippets and flashbacks. Through these kaleidoscopic moments the audience is drawn to the tensions between his past and present, his regrets and hopes, in an unfolding story of bitterness and forgiveness. In other words his lonely and imprisoned life is taken as a metaphor for the frustrations of the creative artist who eventually finds salvation not from the outside world that he is desperately trying to reach out but in the serene depths of his quiet inner soul where true love resides. Or at least as the creator of this ballet, this is what I aim to convey, as in the words of E.M. Forster, “you can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you”.
 The Times, 3 August 1876, p. 6
 The Times, 3 August 1876, p. 6
 “Eğlenceler ma’lûm ya piyano çalmak, nota yazmak, tarih okumak”; Topkapı Palace Museum Archives, E. 20369/9; cited in Ali Akyıldız, Refia Sultan, Istanbul 1998, p. 17
 Djemaleddin Bey, The Turkish Dynastic Mystery 1876-1895, London, 1895, p. 31
 Istanbul University Rare Books Library
 Aydabir mecmuası, no: 3, year: 1935; (Halûk Y. Şehsûvaroğlu, ibid, no: 2, February 1956, p. 135)
Emre Aracı with the two Murads, the real and imaginary, Cankat Özer and Burak Kayıhan,
during the premiere of Murad V at the Ankara Opera House on 3 May 2012
during the premiere of Murad V at the Ankara Opera House on 3 May 2012
Emre Aracı tells the story of how he turned the life of Murad V into an original ballet using the sultan’s original compositions
What is the significance of Murad V in the history of Turkish ballet?
The tradition of classical ballet in Turkey is relatively young compared to other European countries, although in the Ottoman times, in the 19th century, foreign dance troupes occasionally visited Istanbul and instruction in dancing was briefly given at the sultan’s Imperial Military Music School. It wasn’t until the 1940’s, however, when Ninette de Valois was invited to form the first official ballet school in Istanbul which then became the foundation for the Turkish State Ballet, that classical ballet began to take root in Turkey. Ever since many classical works from the repertoire have been staged, including original ballets by Turkish composers. What makes Murad V different from other Turkish ballets is that its score is partly based on the original compositions of the sultan himself. Sultan Murad V was a composer of waltzes, quadrilles, polkas and galops, which survived in hundreds in autograph manuscripts, as well as his Érard pianoforte. So the ballet, created out of his music, is based on his tragic life story; the life story of an Ottoman sultan who was also a composer of Viennese waltzes and who lived under captivity makes a rather interesting and unusual plot.
Why tragic? Can you tell us more about Sultan Murad’s life?
Murad V was the shortest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire. History also remembers him for his mental ill health; as he was deposed following a 93-day reign in 1876 in favour of his half brother Abdülhamid II, after showing signs of hysteria and delirium, even though this was a temporary, curable condition, principally triggered due to his hypersensitive nature and strong reaction to the mysterious death of his uncle Sultan Abdülaziz, who was forced to relinquish the throne. Kind, courteous and open-minded, Murad in turn was deposed and placed at Çırağan Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus (ironically a five-star hotel today) with his entire family and retinue, where he lived under house arrest for the rest of his life, for 28 years, until his death in 1904. He seems to have spent his time reading books and composing short salon pieces with dedications to his family and friends. Some of these autograph scores even contain references, in French, to his captive life at the palace. I find it very moving that a century on, we have managed to create a ballet based on his life, using his original music. This is like a feeling of reconstructing a lost life from someone’s DNA.
Where did the idea for a ballet come from? Why not an opera or a play?
In a rather bizarre way it was Sultan Murad’s spiritual presence at a concert, two years ago, which I strongly felt, unleashed a chain of events and eventually lead to the creation of the ballet, also inspiring the story line in the production. The concert, I presented, featured a selection of Murad’s music and took place at the 70th birthday party of his fourth generation grandson Osman Selaheddin Osmanoğlu. The event was hosted by his daughter Ayşe Osmanoğlu at her summer house in Bodrum. The following day I bumped into Erdoğan Davran, who was then the director of the Ankara State Opera and Ballet Company and happened to mention the concert. At this impromptu meeting I also suggested perhaps his company might produce an original ballet to my libretto based on Murad’s life using his own music. This was an idea I had been toying with for a long time, but on the spur of the moment, it just came out. Davran was very enthusiastic about the proposal; he immediately invited me to Ankara, where I met the choreographers, the conductor, the set and costume designer. The project was also backed by Rengim Gökmen, the director-general of the Turkish State Opera and Ballet. In the meantime I prepared a draft score and libretto. All along I knew, Murad’s dance music would work very well in the medium of classical ballet.
How did you set Sultan Murad’s life in the storyline, the libretto of the ballet?
When I set about writing the libretto of the ballet, I deliberately avoided a didactic life story, but rather wanted to give key moments from Murad’s life in flashbacks. I therefore focused on a single day in his captive life, 21st September 1890, in other words his 50th birthday, also remembering the inspirational connection in Bodrum. I created two characters for Murad; real and imaginary, in conflict with each other - that is to say with himself - referring to the unstable nature of his mental state. On the one hand there is the captive, real Murad, imprisoned at Çırağan, feeling weak and sensitive; on the other we find the imaginary one: strong and confident, who challenges him, emphasising the dual tensions within his psyche. The ongoing battle between the two, danced by two leading dancers in the ballet, is intertwined with moments of happy memories from his childhood and adolescence. In essence Murad’s tragic life, also serves as a metaphor for the solitary artist’s reflective path through personal struggles towards self acceptance in an isolated, lonely existence.
How about the ballet within a ballet idea? How did that come about?
The old Imperial Palace of Dolmbahçe complex at one time also had a magnificent private theatre built for Sultan Abdülmecid, father of Sultan Murad, where he attended opera and ballet performances, as a young prince. Sadly the building no longer exists; it was gutted by fire in the 19th century, within a decade after its inauguration. I always imagined a reconstruction of its sumptuous interior somehow, at least on a modern theatre stage, based on designs from a detailed lithograph published in L’Illustration. This ballet gave me a perfect opportunity. In Act I, therefore, I decided to create a ballet within a ballet, where Sultan Murad imagines a scene from his past, attending a ballet performance at this old theatre with his father. I discovered from the newspapers of the time that a ballet called La Chasse de Diane was performed there by a visiting troupe. So this gave the inspiration to the scene of our miniature ballet within the ballet. There is also a scene at the beginning of Act II, where we have depicted Sultan Abdülaziz on his “state kaique” (barge) in an early morning Istanbul mist, being deposed to Topkapı Palace, to the strains of his own composition La Gondole Barcarolle, which was incidentally played by the band of Grenadier Guards when the Sultan visited London in 1867.
What about the score? Did you only use Sultan Murad’s compositions?
Apart from Sultan Murad’s compositions, the score is created out of a compilation of several different works by other composers, all of whom have some kind of an association with him or the Ottoman court. For instance the overture to the ballet is a piece entitled Prière, which was composed by Rifat Bey, on the occasion of Murad’s accession to the throne, with the sultan’s tughra (imperial cipher) displayed on the cover of the score. A piece of such ceremonial music obviously has great relevance historically and makes a fitting introduction to the ballet. Similarly, several compositions by the Italian Callisto Guatelli Pasha, who was Murad’s music teacher, are integrated into the score. These are rather unusual pieces, as some of them are harmonisations of traditional monophonic Turkish songs originally composed by the sultans, Selim III and Mahmud II. So in the ballet on the one hand we have Sultan Murad’s Viennese waltzes, on the other, traditional Ottoman songs as captured by an Italian; a true cross-fertilisation of cultures and musical styles, in other words. There is also the birthday march composed by Hadice Sultan for his father Sultan Murad and further compositions by Bartolomeo Pisani, the wife of Ömer Pasha and Charles d’Albert. But the key musical composition which holds the entire ballet together is the symphonie-fantaisie Aux Bords du Bosphore by the Istanbul-born Hungarian composer August d’Adelburg (1830-1873), who dedicated his lush and romantic work to Sultan Abdülmecid, with subtitles like Méditations et Rêveries, Chanson turque (Maneh), Grande Marche du Médjidié and Lever de la lune et Chant nocturne sur le Bosphore. Apart from this symphonie-fantaisie, all the other works, originally in piano score, have been arranged for full orchestra, partly by myself, but mainly by Bujor Hoinic, the conductor of the Ankara State Opera and Ballet. The choreography is by Armağan Davran and Volkan Ersoy. The impressive set designs are by Savaş Camgöz.
Any plans to bring the ballet to London?
Who knows, maybe one day, I hope! Afterall Sultan Murad did visit London in 1867 among the entourage of his uncle Sultan Abdülaziz, when he was a 27-year-old prince and his portrait engravings appeared in London newspapers of the time . So why not again after all those years?
In Search of Lost Sounds Symphony
for full orchestra in five movements, (2016)
I. Misterioso nobilmente e maestoso - Allegro moderato
III. Allegro giocoso - Largo doloroso
V. Allegro con brio
In a letter to his patron Madam Nadezhda von Meck, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky reminded her of Heinrich Heine’s famous epithet: “Where words leave off, music begins”. With its power physically to touch our bodies with vibrations, music provides the creative artist with perhaps the most abstract, yet at the same time the most powerful, medium of expression. It endows the creative soul with magical codes to access a miraculous time capsule, where feelings - that words cannot express - can be preserved forever.
Memories from childhood, visits to places of special significance, romantic castles, quotations from favourite authors, old paintings and faded photographs are all remembered in the symphony In Search of Lost Sounds. The emotions aroused by these accumulated memories are captured in this profoundly personal composition.
Emre Aracı’s symphony aptly enitled In Search of Lost Sounds invites others to embark on similar, individual journeys to their own past, with homage to Proust, who famously wrote: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes”.
Copyright © 2017 EMRE ARACI