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Alaturka: Style in Turkish Music (1923-1938)

Alaturka cover

A major new monograph by Dr John Morgan O’Connell studies the significance of style in Turkish music and, in particular, the polemical debate about an eastern style of Turkish music (called ‘alaturka’) that developed during the early-Republican era (1923-1938), a major period of musical and cultural change in Turkey.

Representing more than twenty years of research, Alaturka: Style in Turkish Music (1923-1938) draws on a diverse range of source materials including over 600 musical scores, over 1,000 sound recordings, concert programmes, private letters, musical memoirs, official contracts, financial receipts and record sales.

Dr O’Connell, Reader at the School of Music, also undertook over 70 ethnographic interviews and 200 field recordings, as well as a comprehensive scrutiny of contemporary newspapers and relevant publications in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Persian, Ottoman and Turkish.

Dr O’Connell said: “My book is an examination of the debates about musical style as they relate to the debates about society during a major period of political change. Music in Turkey during the early-Republican period sonically marked the transition between a regressive empire and a progressive republic as an ‘eastern’ style of music called ‘alaturka’ was superseded by a ‘western’ style of music called ‘alafranga’.”

“Following the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, alaturka was viewed by many as redundant since it represented the aesthetic sensibilities of a discredited Ottoman Empire. By contrast, alafranga was viewed as the appropriate style for a new nation state where the twin tenets of westernization and modernization were being advanced with revolutionary zeal.”

Dr O’Connell also examines the career of the renowned Turkish vocalist Münir Nurettin Selçuk (1899-1981) whose musical strategies provided a stylistic bridge between the past and present, and a cultural bridge between the ‘east’ and the ‘west’. The book presents for the first time historical documents found and analysed by Dr O’Connell in Selçuk’s personal archive. Selçuk features on the cover of the book in a photograph provided by the artist’s daughter, Meral Selçuk.

Alaturka: Style in Turkish Music (1923-1938) is published by Ashgate as part of the SOAS Musicology Series and is currently available in hardback.