Turkish Art & Culture: Past & Present
Turkey has a very ancient folk dance tradition which varies from
region to region, each dance being colourful, rhythmic, elegant and
stylish. The following are among the most popular: "Çayda Çıra"
from the Sivas region in Central Anatolia is performed by young
girls dressed in silver and gold embroidered kaftans who dance in
the dark with lighted candles in their hands. In the "Silifke
Yoğurdu" from the Mersin region in the South Mediterranean, dancers
click wooden spoons together above their heads. "Şeyh Şamil" from
the Kars region in the East, is a beautifully dramatised legend of
a Caucasian hero. "Kılıç Kalkan" is an epic dance performed with
swords and shields from the region of Bursa, and "Zeybek" from
Izmir is another epic and vigorous folk dance performed, by male
dancers who bang their knees on the floor in between steps.
Folklore has also had a considerable influence on ballet. First
imported from Europe and Russia, ballet became institutionalised in
the Republican era along with other performing arts. The Turkish
State Ballet owes its momentum and development to the great British
choreographer Dame Ninette de Valois. The State Ballet in both
Ankara and İstanbul has, for decades, performed many world
classics. Several new foreign and Turkish productions have been
introduced into the repertory over the years and a number of modern
dance groups like infamous "Fire of Anatolia" (Anadolu Ateși) have
recently begun to give performances throughout the world.
Turkish music evolved from the original folk form into classical
through the emergence of a Palace culture. It attained its highest
point in the 16th century through the composer "Itri". Great names
in Turkish classical music include "Dede Efendi", "Hacı Arif Bey"
and "Tamburi Cemil Bey". It is a form that continues to be
professionally performed and one that attracts large audiences.
Turkish music, locally called Turkish Classical Music, is a
variation of the national musical tradition, played with
instruments such as the tambur, kanun, ney and ud.
Folk music has developed gradually over the centuries in the
rural areas of Turkey. It is highly diversified with many different
rhythms and themes. Musical archives contain almost 10,000 such
folk songs. Turkish religious music, mostly in the form of songs,
is centuries old and rich in tradition, embodied most perfectly by
Sufi (Mevlevi) music.
The Turks were introduced to western classical music through
orchestras which were invited to the Sultan's Palace to celebrate
occasions such as weddings. The great Italian composer, Donizetti,
conducted the Palace Orchestra for many years. The first military
band was founded in the 19th century. During the Republican era,
the Presidential Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1924, and the
Orchestra of the Istanbul Municipality Conservatory played a
leading role in introducing and popularising classical music in
Turkey. Turkish composers drew their inspiration from Turkish folk
songs and Turkish classical music. Today, conductors such as Hikmet
Şimşek and Gürer Aykal, pianists like İdil Biret and the Güher and
Süher Pekinel sisters, and violinists like Suna Kan are
internationally recognised virtuosos. Leyla Gencer was one of the
leading sopranos of La Scala Opera, wildly acclaimed whenever she
performed in her native Istanbul.
Theatre and Cinema
Turkish theatre is thought to have originated from the popular
Karagöz shadow plays, a cross between moralistic Punch and Judy and
the slapstick Laurel and Hardy. It then developed along an oral
tradition, with plays performed in public places, such as coffee
houses and gardens, exclusively by male actors. Atatürk gave great
importance to the arts, and actively encouraged theatre, music and
ballet, prompting the foundation of many state institutions. Turkey
today boasts a
thriving arts scene, with highly professional theatre, opera and
ballet companies, as well as a flourishing film industry.
The making of films in the true language of the cinema, free
from the influence of the theatre, began towards the 1950s. One of
the first of these directors was Ömer Lütfi Akad. Towards the
1960s, some 60 films a year were being made. Starting from that
time, directors such as Metin Erksan, Halit Refiğ, Ertem Göreç,
Duygu Sağıroğlu, Nevzat Pesen and Memduh Ün produced successful
films taking social problems as their subject matter. The period
that began in the late 1960s, when television was having an adverse
effect on the cinema, saw such prominent directors as Yılmaz Güney,
Atıf Yılmaz, Süreyya Duru, Zeki Ökten, Şerif Gören, Fevzi Tuna,
Ömer Kavur and Ali Özgentürk.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Fatih Akın, Ferzan Özpetek, Abdullah Oğuz and
Semih Kaplanoğlu are successful directors of today's Turkish
cinema. Nuri Bilge Ceylan's film "Uzak" won Grand Prix at Cannes
Film Festival in 2003. "The Edge Of Heaven" (Yaşamın Kıyısında)
which directed by Fatih Akın (2006), won the Award for Best
Screenplay (Prix De Scénario) at Cannes 2007. The record holder of
Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival "Egg" (Yumurta), film of Semih
Kaplanoğlu, was awarded with Best 2nd Film in Estoril European Film
Festival which took place in Portugal and honoured with Eurimages
Award by the jury of Sevilla Film Festival in Spain. "Bliss"
(Abdullah Oğuz, 2007) has been rewarded with European Council's
'Human Rights Award'. Nuri Bilge Ceylan won the best director award
in the 2008 Cannes Film Festival for his Üç Maymun (Three
The country enjoys numerous performing arts festivals throughout
the year, the most prestigious of which is the Istanbul
International Festival and Antalya Film Festival.
Until the 18th century, painting in Turkey was mainly in the
form of miniatures, usually linked to books in the form of
manuscript illustrations. In the 18th century, trends shifted
towards oil painting, beginning with murals. Thereafter, under
European inspiration, painting courses were introduced in military
schools. The first Turkish painters were therefore military people.
The modernisation of Turkish painting, including representation of
the human figure, started with the founding of the Academy of Arts
under the direction of Osman Hamdi Bey, one of the great names in
Turkish painting. In 1923, following the proclamation of the
Republic, a society of contemporary painting was set-up, followed
by many other such schools. Art exhibitions in Turkey's cities
multiplied, more and more people started to acquire paintings and
banks and companies began investing in art.
Literature has long been an important component of Turkish
cultural life, reflecting the history of the people, their legends,
their mysticism, and the political and social changes that affected
this land throughout its long history. The oldest literary legacy
of the pre-Islamic period are the Orhon inscriptions in northern
Mongolia, written in 735 on two large stones in honour of a Turkish
king and his brother. During the Ottoman period, the prevailing
literary form was poetry, the dominant dialect was Anatolian or
Ottoman, and the main subject beauty and romance. The Ottoman Divan
literature was highly influenced by Persian culture and written in
a dialect which combined Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Separate from
the aristocratic Divan literature, folk literature continued to
dominate Anatolia where troubadour-like poets celebrated nature,
love and God in simple Turkish language. Towards the 20th century,
the language of Turkish literature became simpler and more
political and social in substance.
The great and politically controversial poet, Nazım Hikmet,
inspired by the Russian poet Mayakowski, introduced free verse in
the late 1930s. Nowadays, the irrefutable master of the Turkish
popular novel is Yaşar Kemal, with his authentic, colourful and
forceful description of Anatolian life. Young Turkish writers tend
to go beyond the usual social issues, preferring to tackle problems
such as feminism and aspects of die East-West dichotomy which
continues to fascinate Turkish intellectuals.
The most well-known and widely-read writers of the 1950-1990
period can be listed as follows: Tarik Dursun K., Atilla lhan,
Yasar Kemal, Orhan Kemal, Kemal Tahir, Tarik Bugra, Aziz Nesin,
Mustafa Necati Sepetçioglu, Firuzan, Adalet Agaoglu, Sevgi Soysal,
Tomris Uyar, Selim Ileri, Cevat Sakir (Halikarnas Balikçisi),
Necati Cumali, Haldun Taner. Prominent poets in this period are:
Behçet Kemal Çaglar, Necati Cumali, Oktay Rifat, Melih Cevdet
Anday, Cemal Süreya, Edip Cansever, Özdemir Ince, Ataol Behramoglu,
Ismet Özel, Ece Ayhan, Turgut Uyar, Sezai Karakoç, Bahaettin
Karakoç, Ümit Yasar Oguzcan, Orhan Pamuk.
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2006 is awarded to the Turkish
writer Orhan Pamuk "who in the quest for the melancholic soul of
his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and
interlacing of cultures".
Opera and Ballet
In the period prior to the proclamation of the Republic in
Turkey, opera, ballet and the theatre were mostly centred around
Istanbul and Izmir. The first showing of opera at the imperial
court was by artists trained by Guiseppe Donizetti (1788-1856) from
the Italian opera. During the Republic, Ahmet Adnan Saygun, Necil
Kazim Akses and Cemal Resit Rey were the first composers of opera,
operettas and musicals.
A. Adnan Saygun's first two operas, Özsoy and Tasbebek, Necil
Kazim Akses's Bay Önder staged in Ankara, a Mozart musical Bastien
and Bastienne staged at the Ankara State Conservatory with pupils
playing libretto in Turkish (1936),and the staging of western
operas such as Madame Butterfly and Tosca (1940-1941) and the
orchestrations, chorus and solo recitals of 1950-1952 all
contributed to form a foundation for the establishment of today's
State Opera and Ballet.
Meanwhile in 1947, the famous ballerina and teacher Ninette de
Valois was invited to Istanbul and through her intermediary the
National Ballet School at Yesilköy was set up. In 1956-57 the first
dancers graduated from Ankara State Conservatory and in 1959-60 the
State Opera formed a corps de ballet. "Çesmebaşı" which is one of
the most important works in Turkish ballet history was first
performed in 1965.
Notwithstanding the short history of opera in Turkey which only
spans 56 years, the General Directorate of State Opera and Ballet
numbers amongst its members many artists of international fame, and
aside from Ankara and Istanbul branches have been set up in cities
such as Mersin and everywhere very successful results have been