ATATÜRK'S UNDERSTANDING OF MUSIC
“Sirs, all of you can be a Member of Parliament, can be a Minister you can
even be President of the Rebublic but you can not be artists. Let us esteem
those children that have devoted their lives to a great art.”
This is one of Atatürk’s remarks showing his love of art and artists.
There are many remarks by Atatürk honouring artists and the arts.
The artists have created their works by industriousness and long struggles in
the community and they are the persons who first feel the delight.
“A nation, when deprived of art and artists, can not have a complete life”
As great Atatürk knew the arts, as an important part of National Culture to
be held in esteem, he lay the foundation for encouragment and appreciation of
“Developing art and national culture is the principal element to exalt the
Nation” and was the special desire of Atatürk.”
Atatürk had pointed out the importance of Turkish art in the nation’s life,
and emphasised that Turkish arts were to reach contemporary civilisatory levels
by progressive efforts.
His principal ideal and desire for the Turkish Nation has a background
steeped in art and culture and is to reach a proper level in art and culture.
However Atatürk had believed that the changes to take place in the Turkish
Nation’s life, could not be realised by force, but could be constituted by
training and persuasion. Therefore he accepted the necessity of application of
this approach to Turkish Music.
Atatürk had declared after a concert of orchestra of Presidency established
by the order of him.
“It is necessary consider the people’s musical needs as well. Thorough
training in music is necessary for the people to get used to western music and
like it. “
As matter of fact the music teachers' school (1925) which is the nucleus of
the State Conservatory had been founded by that mark of Atatürk. The aim of the
music teachers' schools had been to graduate teachers for the middle schools
rather than musicians (artists). The second step was to establish an academy of
national music and theatre. Atatürk had emphasised that a practical and
applicable system as well as theoretical work could provide the improvment of
The music training all around the country would be provided by the young
teachers graduated from the established music teaching school envisioned to
graduate teachers rather than the artists. Atatürk said, “ The historical
characteristic of Turkish nationality is love of fine arts and exalting in this
field.” By this speech Atatürk had declared his trust and belief in the Turkish
nation’s high character, capacity of hard work, national unity, and bright
intelligence, in connection with science. He pointed out these qualifications of
the Nation to be improved and supported by all means. This would be our national
ideal. The Turkish nation would take a place in the contemporary world and would
be a completely civilised community.
Atatürk declared his opinions on all kinds of subjects in a fluent language.
Of course Atatürk was not a musician, but he had a deep comprehension of music
and he felt its delight. His following remarks tell us that.
“Often, we can not find the full self respect of this music (Turkish music).
The music now we are listening to is real Turkish music and there is no doubt
it is the music of an exalted civilisation. The world must understand this
music. In order to impart it to the world, we must be civilised up to world
By pointing that we were at an exalted level in civilisation, in order to
impart our music to the world, he also noticed that the real values of our
national music culture should be freed from the darkness of history. And the
conscience, emotion and knowledge of music needed to be conveyed to the young
generations with the same strength and enthusiasm. This also important for our
national and social life as well as culture, for our nation, which has a deep
and old background. Unproductive arguments concerning the make-up of the music,
in western or in Turkish style were raised to a higher level by Atatürk’s speech
in parliament dated 1st November 1934.
“Friends, I know how you want our young generation to be advance in all kinds
of fine arts. That, it has been doing. But in my opinion, the Turkish music has
priority and urgency in this respect. The measure for the transformation of the
nation is to be perceived by the changes in music. The music that they dare us
to listen to today is far something to take pride in. It is necessary to collect
the high expression and statements of the nation expressing fine emotions and
ideas, and to work on them within the general rules of music.
Turkish national music can only evolve in this way. I desire the Ministry of
Culture to be considered important and as a necessity and legislation should be
passed in its support.
This speech made long years ago, determined the main principal for the
improvement of the Turkish music policy on a strong basis. And, as he knew that
Turkish nation had a potential in music, he wished to improve Turkish music in
it’s own values according to the rules of contemporary civilisation, and opened
new prospects for the Turkish youth and arts. He had decelerated successfully
innovation could be possible by this means as in other fields. He had emphasized
the importance of benefitting from the folkloric values in order to be national
in music. As a matter of a fact he said at a different occasion “our music could
be developed by paying heed to the Anatolian People.”
Atatürk had emphasised folk music, which is our national treasury, must be
investigated and introduced with its cultural power according to scientific
principals and rules.
Atatürk was not one to stigmatize Turkish music (Alla-Turca) and he
especially did not approve of the opinion that Turkish music been had influenced
by the Arabic, Persian and Byzantine music.
Although Alla-Turca is bears the meaning of “special style for Turks, like
Turks” there are some who use the word in disparagingly . In other words mean to
use in the meaning of “uncontrolled, backward, dumb”. Obviously this description
has been very vulgar and improper.
Some of the words claimed to bo said by Atatürk were probably either had been
wrongly conveyed or have been explained in their own terms.
One of them is “ The principal music is western music, and we must approve of
that music for our nation.”
Turkish music has been degraded by people who cannot appreciate and do not
know Turkish music. In their opinion the Alla-Turca (Turkish Music) style of
music has been influenced by Arabic, Byzantine, Persian music. It is primitive
because it is monophonic. Why, the even say “It has cosmopolite, exotic,
melancholic expression, therefore it must be abolishedand western music must be
If those words belonged to Atatürk as purpetrators conveyed them, there must
be a contradiction with the words of Atatürk that have been documented.
Such a contradiction would not be befitting to Atatürk. Therefore these words
are either be incomplete or wrongly conveyed. It is more probable that Atatürk
spoke these words with another aim.
Some other slandering conservatives proposed that Atatürk did not like
listening to West music and did not like West music. None of these claims are
correct. Atatürk never criticised Turkish music by looking down on it, to the
contrary, he said “ it has been a music of higher civilisation.”
Atatürk said “While I was talking about a national education program I meant
a culture approving of our national tradition of unity, history purified from
western and eastern influences and ideas. Any foreign influence may cause
repetition of destroying conclusions of the cultures that were being followed
until now.” “Culture must be in accordance with the environment, this environment is the
nation it self. “(July 1924)
Is it possible the explanation of “the principal music for us is the west
music, we must approve of this music for our nation” may have be spoken by
Atatürk, who is the author of that speech.
Atatürk wanted to reinvent and to improve Turkish music in the best
conditions and he liked western music, enjoyed to listen to it as well.
He believed inthe necessity persuing a educative approach get the people used
to western music, and accepted that the musical products would have a special
place among works of the west and would to be at the level of contemporary
He believed the necessity of showing the power of Turkish music to the
western world by using the national and international literature and by taking
into consideration the cultural values and traditions that meant our national
This means introducing Turkish emotion and enthusiasm to the world by working
on music by western rules and with western techniques and with western measures.