Jordi Savall: The Sublime Port

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Program: #14-08, Air Date: 02/17/14

NOTE: All of the music on this program came from the boxed set featuring: La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Hespèrion XXI directed by Jordi Savall. This recording is on Alia Vox and the U.S. distributor is Harmonia Mundi USA.

LA SUBLIME PORTE: Voix d’Istanbul (1430 – 1750). Alia Vox CD AVSA9887.
Savall

 

 

 

 

 


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1. Taksim & Makam « Uzzäl uşūleş Darb-i feth »    
Dervis Mehmed (Mss. D. Cantemir n.209)

2. Segâh Kâr « Kâr-i Ses-âvâz » (Gürsoy Dinçer)      
Hace Abdülkadir Meragi (1350 ?-1435)

3. Chanson et Danse « Siretsi yares taran-Noubar noubar »     
Traditionnel d’Arménie    

4. Por alli pasó un cavallero (M. Figueras, L. Elmaleh)     
Romance Sépharade (Smyrne, XVIe s.)

5. Taksim & Makam « Bûselik uşūleş» (Mss. Dimitrie Cantemir 335)     
Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723)    

6. Hisar Ağir Semai (Gürsoy Dinçer)    
Buhuri Zade Mustafa Efendi (Itri) (?-1712)

7. Taksim & Danse (kemençe & percussion)    
Traditionnel d’Arménie    

8. Prière (Lior Elmaleh, kemençe & oud)    
Traditionnel Hébraïque    

9. Taksim & Makam Rehavi Çember    
Tanburi Angeli ( ? -1690) [Mss. Cantemir n. 297]

10. Gazel (Gürsoy Dinçer)    
Improv. (trad. Ottomane) Poème de Fuzuli

11. Taksim & Makam « Hicâz uşūleş Devr-i Kebir »        
Anonyme (Mss. D. Cantemir n. 220)

12. Punxa, punxa * (Montserrat Figueras)    
Romance Séfarade Istanbul

13. El Rey que tanto madruga (instrumental)     
Anonyme Sépharade (Smyrne, XVIe s.)

14. Hisar Buselik Şarki (Gürsoy Dinçer)     
Tanburi Mustafa Çavus (1700 ?-1770)    

15.  Plainte « En Sarer II » (duo Duduk)     
Goussan Ashot (Arménie)    

16. Rast nakış beste « Amed nesim-i  » (Gürsoy Dinçer)    
Hace Abdülkadir Meragi (1350 ?-1435)   

 
Jewish travellers wear yellow turbans,while those worn by the Armenians, Greeks, Maronites,
 Copts and men of all other Christian nations are bluish grey or multicoloured;
 only the Turks wear white turbans...

They speak three languages [...] which are common to its inhabitants.
Spanish in the case of the Jews, and Greek and Turkish, this last being the most common.
There are also some Arab and Armenian families.

Pierre Belon, Observations, 1553, pp. 400 & 457

In 1453, some years before the fall of Granada in January 1492, a date which, after seven centuries, marked the conclusion of the Spanish Reconquista against the Arabs on the peninsula and the edict ordering the expulsion of the Jews in March of that same year, Mehmed II seized Constantinople and triggered the great division of the Mediterranean among the Christian nations and the Ottoman Empire.

“Indignation prevents me from remaining silent, and sorrow prevents me from speaking my mind. We are ashamed to go on living. Italy, Germany, France and Spain are among the most prosperous States, and yet (oh, the shame of it!) we allow Constantinople to be taken by the voluptuous Turks!” These dramatic words of Cardinal Piccolomini reflected widespread public opinion in the West after the fall of the capital of Byzantium. Calls to unite in the enterprise of retaking the city were rife, and, as soon as he was elected in 1455, Pope Calixtus III (Alfons de Borja) proclaimed a crusade against the Turks. However, due to a lack of resources coupled with a lack of unified action among the Christian kingdoms, the crusade failed to materialise. The city became the capital of the Ottoman Empire and home to Islam, although it continued to be a major centre for Orthodox Christians. We should not forget, however, the circumstantial alliances and the trade agreements that were signed between nations that continued to be fierce enemies. But the most surprising turn of events of the second half of the 15th century was the letter sent in 1461 by Pope Pius II Piccolomini to Sultan Mehmed II, a doubly unusual missive in that it was sent at a time when an imminent crusade was being prepared against the sultan, and because in that letter the Pope offered to recognise the sworn enemy of Christianity as emperor on condition that he converted to Catholicism. The champion of the struggle against the Turks now proposed to legitimise the sultan’s conquests and to recognise him as the successor to Constantine, provided that he accepted baptism: “If you wish to extend your empire to Christian peoples”, he wrote, “and make your name glorious on the lips of all men, you need neither gold, nor armies, nor troops, nor ships. One small thing would suffice to make you the greatest, most powerful and illustrious of men alive today: a few drops of water for your baptism to initiate you in the Christian rite and faith in the Gospel. If you do this [….] we shall call you emperor of Greece and the East, and those lands which you have taken by force and unlawfully occupy today will become your rightful property.” To understand this offer, one needs to remember that it was regularly suggested in the West that the Turks were the heirs to the great empires of the past. Not only had they absorbed most of the kingdoms known to Antiquity, but they also had inherited the virtues of the Roman legions. After conquering, one by one, those countries which had once been within the orbit of Rome, the Ottoman army seems to have resurrected the imperial project; or rather, it seemed capable of extending its borders even further. The 15th century still cherished the imperial dream, according which looked forward to the advent of an emperor who would pave the way for the second coming of Christ. It is typical of the age, for example, that when Charles VIII entered Naples in 1495, he had himself acclaimed King of France, Emperor of Constantinople and King of Jerusalem.

In fact, it was all about reuniting East and West. Throughout the 16th century, a Biblical text, the Prophecy of Daniel, enjoyed great popularity and was the subject of various interpretations. The story is well known: Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, has a dream whose meaning nobody is able to decipher. The young Daniel is brought before the king and solves the mystery. According to Lucette Valensi (Venise et la Sublime Porte), this text provided the basis for the theory of the four monarchies as phases in world history. The pagan monarchies – those of Babylon-Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome – would ultimately be succeeded by the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. It was Rabbi Isaac Abravanel who, at the end of the 15th century, had identified the Ottoman Empire as the last monarchy. Also drawing on the Book of Daniel, Francesco da Meleto, the son of a Florentine-Bolognese merchant and a Russian serf, was responsible for spreading the prophecy throughout Florence, taking his inspiration from conversations he had had with Jews and Muslims during his business travels to Constantinople. He simultaneously heralded the imminent conversion of the Jews and the Muslims, and the renewal of the Church, to be followed, he predicted, by universal salvation and an era of peace and happiness. Finally, there was the famous book by Guillaume Postel, entitled De la république des Turcs, in which, after giving a long and detailed description of the Turkish Empire, the author portrays Turkey as a model for universal monarchy whose exceptional success he then sets out to understand. Contemporary accounts continued to refer to Istanbul as Constantinople, comparing it time and time again to Rome and continuing to look on it as the ancient capital of the Roman Empire. Not only did it enjoy a clearly privileged strategic position, but it also had a vocation to govern both East and West and to become the capital of the whole world. In 1503, Andrea Gritti went into raptures over the beauty of the city: “The location of the city, its climate, the two seas by which it is flanked on either side, and the beauty of its neighbouring lands, give this city the finest and the most fortunate location, not only in all of Asia, but also in the whole world.” Almost a century later, Donà echoed Gritti’s account, describing the advantageous position of Istanbul astride Asia and Europe and “the rare beauty” of its situation, acknowledging that the view of the city “is truly the loveliest sight in the world.” As well as revealing his obsession with the universal monarchy that he believed could be brought about by the Turks, the author’s long description of the city reflects the image which the sultan himself sought to project: he was Sultan of the two lands and Lord of the two seas (this same formula was inscribed on the imperial coins), he was higher than all other men and all crowned heads, the shadow of God on Earth. He called his capital, the Porte, “the seat of happiness.”

These “Voices of Istanbul”, comprising vocal pieces and instrumental music (Ottoman, Greek, Sephardic and Armenian) from the “Sublime Porte” (the Ottoman court of that “Gateway to Happiness”), follow our earlier recording devoted to the instrumental music of Ottoman, Sephardic and Armenian Istanbul from the time of the publication of The Book of the Science of Music by the Moldavian prince Dimitrie Cantemir. During our lengthy research on the music, culture and history of the Turks, we have become more and more aware of the West’s astonishing ignorance regarding Ottoman history and civilisation.

As Jean-Paul Roux so aptly points out in his Histoire des Turcs, “We know more about the Turks than we might imagine, yet nothing binds that knowledge together”. From our schooldays we recall that in 1453 they took Constantinople, that Suleyman the Magnificent was the ally of Francis I against the hegemony of Charles V, that in 1572 the combined fleet of the Christian nations inflicted a terrible defeat on the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto. The great Miguel de Cervantes, who lost the use of his left hand at the Battle of Lepanto, provides a magnificent evocation of the Ottoman world in his play La gran sultana (1615). Thanks to Racine we are familiar with the sultan Bajazet; through Molière and his Bourgeois gentilhomme, we discover the “Turqueries”, or Turkish-inspired fashion and décor, which were still fashionable in the 18th century. A long catalogue of writers and artists have fed our dreams of the Ottoman world and its legends: from Théophile Gautier to Anatole France, from Lully to Mozart, from Pierre Loti to Victor Hugo, without forgetting the poetic evocations of Lamartine and Nerval, the paintings of Ingres and Delacroix… and the Bellini, Lotto and Holbein carpets produced in Turkey in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Numerous references deriving from the Turkish way of life and objects form part of our everyday lives; kiosks, the small pavilions that the Turks call kösk; the tulip, imported from the Bosphorus by the Dutch, takes its name from the shape of the turban tülbent. Turkish food often features in our diet, not only the brochettes that Turks call shishkebab (şiş kebap), but also our taste for coffee and croissants (in the shape of the emblem, the crescent moon, which were emblazoned on the standards of the besieging army), which became fashionable following a siege of Vienna by the Ottomans, and yoghurt (yoğurt), defined as “a national food of the mountain dwellers of Bulgaria” but which has always been a staple of the nomads of the steppes, the word itself deriving from the Turkish expressions yoğun (“dense” or “thick”), or yoğunluk (“density”), and yoğurtmak, meaning “to knead”. Our imaginary is also furnished with words such as seraglio, harem, odalisque, scimitar, with Orientalist paintings and desert winds… Thus, we progress from a repertoire of imperfectly known facts to a succession of unreal visions that have been more or less transformed at the whim of our imagination…

The reality is quite different. The Turks can boast two thousand years of history, from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, from Peking to Vienna, Algiers and Troyes, during which they have welded their destiny to that of virtually all the peoples of the ancient world: Attila and the Huns, the empire of the Tabghatch in northern China; a Jewish kingdom in southern Russia; the founding of the Abbasid capital at Samarra; the peaceful coexistence of all the great religions among the Uyghurs of central Asia; the Seljuqs of Iran; Genghis Khan and the Mongol hegemony; the Mamelukes of Egypt; the Golden Horde’s domination of its vassal Russia for two centuries; Tamburlaine; the Timurid Renaissance in Samarkand at Herat; the Ottoman Empire as the first world power in the 16th century; Babur Chab Shah and the founding of the Mughal Empire; Atatürk and Turkey’s national revolution.

From the beginning of the 16th century until its demise, the empire of the sultans played an active role in European politics; in life as in music, Turkey and Europe were not separate worlds, turned in on themselves and impermeable to one another. As Jean-François Solnon (Le turban et la stambouline) points out, these two worlds, initially indifferent to one another, aroused mutual curiosity, attraction and even fascination, finally becoming porous to each other’s influence. From the 18th century, the Sublime Porte played the card of Westernisation, a trend which was to culminate with Mustafa Kemal, when Turkey held up Europe as its model whilst remaining true to its roots.

The message of this wonderful, fascinating vocal and instrumental Ottoman music, in dialogue with that of Greek, Sephardic and Armenian musicians at the “Sublime Porte”, reminds us that the Ottoman Empire afforded non-Muslims a certain amount of religious freedom: Orthodox Greeks, Christians and Jews were able to continue to practise their faith in the land of Islam, just as the multiplicity of languages spoken there turned Ottoman cities into towers of Babel.

 
 

Composer Info

Hace Abdülkadir Meragi (1350 ?-1435), Tanburi Mustafa Çavus (1700 ?-1770), Tanburi Angeli ( ? -1690), Dervis Mehmed, M. Figueras, L. Elmaleh, Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723), Hace Abdülkadir Meragi (1350 ?-1435)

CD Info

Alia Vox CD AVSA9887