Alaeddin Yavaşca: Swan song of Turkish classical music

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Traditional Turkish arts fell victim to the state’s westernization policy at the end of the Ottoman era and the beginning of the Republican era. As public institutions adopted Western genres of various arts including drama, poetry, fiction, architecture, painting, music and dance, especially schools, traditional arts have increasingly become vulnerable.

Although the Ottoman modernization policy was aimed at creating new types of old things such as the arts by imbibing the authentic Ottoman soul with new Western methods, the Turkish republic chose the radical path to avoid all that is linked to Ottoman society.

Alaeddin Yavasça. (Photo IHA)

The traditional Ottoman arts had already suffered an existential crisis before senior Ottoman officials decided to go the route of Westernization. Miniature painting was almost dead, and calligraphy and architecture had little to say except to present a general mimesis of classical styles. The literary writers were reformists themselves, and the new literary generations won against the old ones in every battle between tradition and modernism until the 1960s, when the young socialists were unable to overthrow the “Second New”, a a group they called “the backward conservatives”.

Regarding music, initially Sultan Mahmud II employed the Italian Donizetti “Pasha” to rehabilitate and reorganize the Mızıka-i Hümayun (the Royal Ottoman Marching Band), which gave one of the most interesting results. of Turkish modernization. Donizetti and his disciples tried to grade and recompose pieces of Turkish classical music. Donizetti’s “Mahmudiye” and “Mecidiye” marches composed for the father-son sultans, Mahmud II and Abdülmecid, were performed for decades in the 19th century as ceremonial marches of the Ottoman state.


An illustration by Alaeddin Yavaşça.  (Photo from Sabah file)
An illustration by Alaeddin Yavaşça. (Photo from Sabah file)

On the other hand, the real result of the Mızıka-i Hümayun experience was the art of Hacı Arif Bey and his followers, who in turn reformed traditional Ottoman music, created a fresh style and popularized the music among the public. not courteous. In short, today’s Turkish classical music, consisting of short, heavily composed songs sung on maqams (a system of melody types used in Turkish classical music), is not a pure tradition but in fact has was built as a gesture of modernization during the 19th century.

However, the one-party regime at the start of the Republican era prohibited Turkish music. For decades, people couldn’t hear the best voices of their own music, and schoolchildren had no knowledge of it. But small music circles continued their studies and after the 1950s, or the reign of the Democratic Party, classical Turkish music, like certain other aspects of the tradition – in particular respect for religion and history – took off. experienced another revival. And the resurgence sparked great interest this time around. Nothing lasts forever and Turkish classical music began to fade as a popular genre after perhaps the Turkish pop boom of the 1990s. Although the state owned the music and was taught in the academies of fine arts, Turkish classical music has lost its real creators, the composers. The recent death of Alaeddin Yavaşca can be seen as a symbol of the end of Turkish classical music.

Life and career as an MD

Mehmet Alaeddin Yavaşca was born on March 1, 1926, in the central province of Kilis, into a notable family whose history dates back to the 17th century. Yavaşça first attended school in his hometown before enrolling in Konya High School. After attending Konya High School for a year, he completed the rest of his secondary education in Istanbul Erkek Lisesi (Istanbul High School). In 1945 he was admitted to the Istanbul University School of Medicine, from where he graduated in 1951 and obtained his license as a physician. He continued his studies at the obstetrics clinic of the Haseki hospital and became an expert in 1955.


Alaeddin Yavasça.  (Photo AA)
Alaeddin Yavasça. (Photo AA)

As a doctor, Yavaşca has worked in hospitals in Istanbul for decades. He founded and ran the Obstetrics Clinic at Vakıf Gureba Hospital. In 1980, he traveled to Baltimore in the United States to take a special course in clinic management and family planning. He has published over 50 scientific articles in medical journals.

His inner life: The musician

Along with his career in medical sciences, Yavaşca had another activity totally different from the official one. It was music. He was introduced to music at the age of 8 when he took violin lessons from a private teacher. But his real interaction with melodies took place in Istanbul, where he met great personalities like Sadettin Kaynak and Munir Nureddin Selçuk, two of the most influential composers of 20th century Turkish classical music, among many others. He always took time to work with them. In addition, he took courses in public institutions such as the Istanbul Municipality Academy of Fine Arts, the Academy of Advanced Turkish Music and the Istanbul University Choir.

In 1950, even before graduating from the Medical School, Yavaşca won the special examination organized by Istanbul Radio and became a Turkish classical music soloist. He worked for this radio for a while and later for Turkish Radio Television (TRT) in different positions and helped to form the repertoire of classical Turkish music in an official sense. TRT is still the most important authority for repertoires and recordings of Turkish folk and classical music genres.


Alaeddin Yavaşça performs on stage at Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall in Istanbul, Turkey on February 18, 2007. (AA Photo)
Alaeddin Yavaşça performs on stage at Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall in Istanbul, Turkey on February 18, 2007. (AA Photo)

Yavaşca not only sang as a soloist, but also performed as a choir director. He was one of the founders of the first Turkish State Academy of Classical Music. He also taught at the academy from 1976 until the school was integrated into Istanbul Technical University (ITÜ), where he became a full professor in 1990. He also taught at various other universities until ‘on his retirement in 2010.

Yavaşca was officially honored as a “State Artist” in 1991. He received the Presidency’s Grand Prix of Culture and Arts for Music in 2008, and he also received an Outstanding Service Award from the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 2010.

Yavaşca has composed nearly 700 pieces in various Turkish classical music maqams. He has recorded over 200 records. An active artist until his later years, Yavaşca was hospitalized with a hip fracture in 2018 and has remained in hospital ever since. He sadly passed away on Thursday at the age of 95.

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