Ahmed Adnan Saygun
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Ahmed Adnan Saygun (7 September 1907 - 6 January 1991) was a Turkish composer, musicologist and writer on music. Ahmed Adnan Saygun is acknowledged as one of the most important 20th century composers in Turkish music history.Read More...
He was a master of the neoclassical form, and his works are rooted in Western musical practice; yet they incorporate traditional Turkish folk songs and culture. He usually adds this folk element by picking one note out of the scale and weaves a melody around it using a Turkish mode. His extensive output includes five symphonies, five operas, two piano concertos, concertos for violin, viola and cello, and a wide range of chamber and choral works. The London Times called him "the grand old man of Turkish music, who was to his country what Jean Sibelius is to Finland, what Manuel de Falla is to Spain, and what Béla Bartók is to Hungary." As Saygun was growing up in Turkey he witnessed radical changes in his country’s politics and culture as the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had replaced the Ottoman Empire—which had ruled for nearly 600 years—with a new secular republic based on Western models and traditions. As Atatürk had created a new cultural identity for his people and newly founded nation, Saygun found his role in developing what Atatürk had begun.
Ahmed Adnan Saygun was born in 1907 in İzmir, Turkey. There were frequent concerts given by the Ottoman military bands, and performances of Western works by chamber music ensembles at the time and this influenced Saygun to start his first music lessons in elementary school. He started playing the piano, the Ottoman short-necked lute and the oud at an early age and quickly found his passion writing music at the age of fourteen. His father who was a mathematics teacher and scholar of religions and literature taught him English and French as well as world religions at an early age. Through rigorous study Saygun was able to translate the music section of the French Grande Encyclopedie into a music encyclopedia in Turkish. While in high school, he continued his music lessons with lessons in school as well as from a private teacher and through a theory book which he was given at an early age. In 1926, only two years after his graduation from high school he was appointed as teacher of music at a high school in his native city of İzmir.
In 1928 he was recognized nationally and received a grant to study in France by the Turkish state. He attended the Schola Cantorum in Paris where he studied composition with Vincent d'Indy, theory and counterpoint with Eugène Borrel, organ with Souber Bielle and Gregorian chant with Amadée Gastoue. He was further introduced to late-romantic music and French impressionism. During this time his imagination flourished, enabling him to write his first large work for orchestra: Divertimento. This piece won him an award in 1931 in Paris and was performed with great success. In 1931 he returned to Turkey as a music teacher for a new establishment found by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk that aimed to train music teachers with respect to the new law of arts. This suggested that previous training standards had to be changed to meet Western musical standards. Musical education adopted Western musical practices as part of this new era in Turkey.
In 1934 he was appointed as the conductor of the prestigious Presidential Symphony Orchestra. That very same year Atatürk approached Saygun, asking him to write the first Turkish opera. As Saygun was a huge follower of Atatürk he accepted his offer with great warmth and in two months time finished writing the first Turkish opera, Özsoy. The opera's theme was how Turkey developed after World War I and showcased Atatürk's teachings. Following Özsoy's success Atatürk asked Saygun to write another opera suggesting the heroism of the Turks and Atatürk's devotion to his country and people.
Saygun quickly finished his second opera Taşbebek in that very same year. This was the year that marked Saygun's career as the "voice" of the newly founded republic of Turkey. He now was the musical symbol of his country and had dedicated his works and life for the people and his country, like his great admirer Atatürk.
Following the operas he moved to İstanbul as part of the theory faculty at the İstanbul State Conservatory of Music. In 1936 Béla Bartók visited Turkey to research the native folk music. Saygun accompanied Bartók on his travels around the country, collecting and transcribing folk songs all through the Anatolia and Osmaniye regions of Turkey. Saygun gained immense knowledge of Bartók's style of writing during this trip and learned a great deal about string quartets: they became great friends.
In 1939 he was invited back to Ankara to further promote Western musical activities and practices. A year later he formed his own organization, Ses ve Tel Birliği, which showcased recitals and concerts throughout the country, further developing public knowledge of Western classical music.
Saygun's international acclaim flourished with his oratorio Yunus Emre in 1946. This is an hour-long work written for four vocal soloists, a full chorus and full orchestra that sets a number of poems by the 13th century Anatolian mystic poet Yunus Emre. This work captures Yunus Emre's legacy with the use of Turkish modes and folk melodies, although it is written in the post-romantic style. Since its premiere in Ankara in 1947, the oratorio has been translated into five languages and performed worldwide, including a performance in English at the United Nations led by conductor Leopold Stokowski with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1958. This same year he won the Stella della Solidarieta and the Jean Sibelius composition awards.
The success of Yunus Emre encouraged Saygun to compose further large-scale works. In the 1950s he wrote three new operas, his first two symphonies, a piano concerto, and several pieces of chamber music pieces, of which a Paris premiere of the first string quartet (1954) and a premiere of the second string quartet (1958) in New York performed by the Juilliard String Quartet gained him further international exposure. There followed, amongst other works, three more symphonies, concertos for violin and viola and a second piano concerto, and a third string quartet. A fourth quartet remained unfinished at his death.
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