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BEZMÂRÂ was founded in 1996 by Fikret Karakaya, to give voice to peşrevs and semâis of the sixteenth and seventeenth century which were found in the volume Kitâbu İlmi’l- Musiki ‘alâ Vechi’l-Hurûfât (“Book for Teaching Music by Means of Letters”) by Kantemiroğlu (1673 – 1723), on musical instruments in use at the time they were composed. Of the musical instruments of the period during which Kantemiroğlu transcribed the pieces, only the ney, nakkare (kudüm) and daire were still in use in modern times. The rest were teetering on the brink of obscurity, known only from miniatures and a few traces left behind in written sources. Thus they had to be reconstructed, both —with the “old” or “early” music approach that has developed in Europe— to perform the works with the musical instruments and practice of the time they were composed; and —by bringing lost sounds back to life— to introduce new possibilities to those searching for sound qualities they have never heard.

Aside from two mıskals found in the Topkapı Palace Museum, the oldest Ottoman musical instrument to survive to our time is from the nineteenth century. The favorite musical instruments of the sixteenth century, the kopuz, şehrud and çeng, have long since disappeared. The mıskal, which continued to be used until the end of the eighteenth century, is the oldest Ottoman musical instrument of which any examples have survived to our day. The ud, kanun, and tanbur, though they are used today, were quite different in their construction 350 – 400 years ago, and we have no surviving examples of these old instruments. The situation is the same for the santur, which we no longer use today. The santurs existing in a few private collections are quite different from their Ottoman counterparts in construction. The kemânçe, known as rebab since the end of the eighteenth century, and which is not played in classical Turkish music ensembles, has changed in terms of stringing and tuning. The ney, which has had an important position in every era, has been preserved to our day with the addition of the başpare, or mouthpiece, which was added in the sixteenth century by the Ottoman musicians. The daire and nakkare (kudüm) are percussion instruments that remain almost unchanged

Of these instruments, Bezmârâ has had the çeng, kopuz, şehrud, old tanbur, old ud, old kanun, kemânçe and mıskal reconstructed, relying on miniatures and written sources and remaining faithful to their characteristics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Bezmârâ has carefully chosen its performers for each musical instrument. Performers of the ney, daire and kudüm participated  in the ensemble using their own musical instruments. The ensemble worked hard for over a year to assimilate the spirit, both of the pieces to be performed, and of the musical instruments themselves; and gave their first concert in early 1998 at the French Palace in Beyoğlu, Istanbul. The concert was held there because of the support Fikret Karakaya had received for this project from the French Anatolian Research Institute. Later on, after several concerts at home and abroad, Bezmârâ’s first album, Splendours of Topkapı was released in France in 1999. The name of their second album, released in 2000 by Kalan Music, Yitik Sesin Peşinde (In Search of the Lost Sound), reflects Bezmârâ’s mission. Both albums contain peşrevs and instrumental semâîs transcribed by Kantemiroğlu.

In 1999, Bezmârâ, beginning work on instrumental and vocal pieces from a compilation known as Mecmûa-i Saz ü Söz by Ali Ufkî Beğ (1610 ?–1675 ?), took on two vocalists. The thirty-plus pieces taken from Mecmûa were heard for the first time at a concert of the Second Istanbul Festival in 2000. The majority of the pieces in this album were performed at that concert. In later concerts, Bezmârâ performed vocal and instrumental works taken from both Kantemiroğlu’s volumes and from Ufkî Beğ.






Dimitrie Cantemir, better known in Ottoman sources as Kantemiroğlu, was born in 1673 in Jassy, a town now in Romania. His father Constantin was the governer of Moldavia. Dimitrie  spent his youth in Istanbul, began his education in his own hometown and continued in Istanbul where he spent nearly twenty-one years. Along with several western languages, he learned the major eastern languages as well, starting with Turkish and adding Arabic and Persian. He had a liking for Turkish music, and in the manner of the Ottoman composers who were his teachers and whose works he transcribed, he was successful enough to compose great works himself. A writer of important books on Ottoman history, Islam and Arabic, with his Kitâbu İlmi’l Musiki ‘alâ Vechi’l-Hurûfât, known for short as Kantemiroğlu Edvârı (the Cantemir Treatise), he assured the survival to our day of over 350 instrumental pieces of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which he transcribed in a notation system he devised himself. In 1710 Cantemir was appointed governer of Moldavia by the Ottoman Sultan Ahmet III. There he worked with the dream of uniting Wallachia and Moldavia and bringing them independence. For this reason he formed an alliance with Russia against the Ottoman Empire. However during his governorship’s seventh month, the Russians were defeated by the Ottomans in the Prussian War, and he fled to Russia, where Czar Peter II treated him with great respect. One of the founders of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences and Arts, Cantemir was also chosen in 1714 as a member of the Berlin Academy. In 1723 he died in Harkov, when he was only fifty years old.

In the first section of his book, Kitâbu İlmi’l Musikialâ Vechi’l-Hurûfât, he gives information on makams, tones, rhythms and fine points of performance. This information is precious for knowledge it provides for the Ottoman music of the period. The second section contains peşrevs and semâîs — a portion of which are his own compositions — written in his own notation. Some of these were pieces that Ali Ufkî had composed some fifty years earlier. But this repetition is by no means a waste of space. As it allows us to examine the small changes that had occurred in the intervening fifty years, this overlap can be considered a fortunate coincidence.


Born in 1610 in Lvov, Poland, to a noble family, Ali Ufkî’s real name was Vojciech Bobowski. Taken prisoner of war and brought to Istanbul, and later taken to the Palace, Bobowski became a Muslim and took the name Ali Ufkî. He knew several western languages, and in the Sultan’s palace learned Arabic, Persian and Turkish. Possessed of great musical talent, he had in his own country learned to read  music and transcribed several musical pieces.  He loved Ottoman music, learned all of its subtleties, and wrote compositions of his own. The collection of  notation he left behind consisted of over 650 vocal and instrument works. He died in Istanbul in 1675.

In his compilation, which he wrote in the mid seventeenth century and titled Mecmûa-i Sâz ü Söz, Ali Ufkî included, along with vocal and instrumental pieces he learned at the Sultan’s court, compositions of his own. In the Mecmua, in which a great deal of space is given to peşrevs, instrumental semâîs and dance melodies, there are also a great many examples of vocal styles such as murabba, vocal semâî, varsağı, and türkî, and religious/mystic pieces such as ilahi and tesbih. This album, written in western notation of the period, is the oldest surviving document of written notation, not only of Ottoman music but very nearly of western music as well. Ali Ufkî used the western notation system with some modifications: he transcribed the majority of the pieces in C (Do) clef; but at the head of the staff, instead of the C clef he wrote the Arabic/Ottoman letter ج (C, djim). Because the lyrics of vocal pieces were written in Ottoman Turkish from right to left, he wrote the notes also from right to left, contrary to European  habit. He also adapted this same practice to instrumental works. Because of this, today’s musicians cannot read Ali Ufkî’s notation easily. On top of the differences mentioned above, consider the fact that in place of quarter and eighth notes, he used longer-value second and whole notes; and the importance of converting this notation into a form easily readable by today’s musicians is appreciable. A copy of the notation from Mecmûa-i Sâz ü Söz, probably taken from Istanbul while Ali Ufkî was still alive, is kept in the British Museum. This writing, which is of such great importance to Turkish music, has only attracted the attention of Turkish musicians and musicologists during the last twenty-five years. The first complete transcription of the Mecmûa, worked on by Muammer Uludemir1 and Gültekin Oransay2 was published in 1998 by Hakan Cevher.

1 Uludemir has worked more with transcription of folk music.
2 Oransay prepared a doctoral thesis in Turkish on the religious/mystic works in the Mecmûa.


The çeng, an example of an “open harp”, was abandoned in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Its predecessor was a musical instrument seen in Assyrian reliefs dating back to 1000 B.C. It has twenty-four strings, which are tuned according to the makam to be performed. Bezmârâ’s çeng was made by Fikret Karakaya in 1995, modeled after examples in Ottoman and Iranian miniatures from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and from the fifteenth century Turkish poet Ahmed-i Dâî’s Çengname.

The kopuz is a “short necked lute” with four double courses of strings and no frets. Its body is partly made of skin, and the bridge rests on the skin portion. One of the most popular musical instruments in the sixteenth century (the other being the ud), the kopuz was abandoned during the same century. Bezmârâ’s kopuz was built by by Sacit Gürel in 1996, working from drawings by Fikret Karakaya, which were based on illustrations in sixteenth century miniatures and information recorded by the famous traveller Evliya Çelebi.

The ud is another typical example of a “short-necked lute”. It has five double strings and a fretless neck. Like all the wooden bodied lutes of its period, there were two side pieces of juniper on its face. Though it was one of the most popular musical instruments of the sixteenth century (the other was the kopuz), it was abandoned at the end of the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century, it came into use again in its modern form (with six strings and no side pieces on the face). Bezmârâ’s ud was built by Sacit Gürel in 1996, from plans drawn by Fikret Karakaya, which he based on Iranian and Ottoman miniatures from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The şehrud is another type of the “short-necked lutes.” It can also be described as a “large ud, tuned to a sixth low.” It has five strings, three of which are double, and a fretless neck. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was very popular in  Ottoman music, as it was in Iran, but was abandoned towards the end of the sixteenth century. Bezmârâ’s şehrud was constructed by Sacit Gürel in 1996, from sketches drawn by Fikret Karakaya, which he based on models found in Iranian and Ottoman miniatures from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and information recorded by the renowned theoretician and composer Abdülkadir Merâgî as well as the famous traveller Evliya Çelebi.

The kanun is known as a “plucked zither”. The old kanun, with bronze strings and a body constructed entirely of wood, was replaced towards the end of the seventeenth century by the gut-stringed predecessor of the modern kanun. The soundboard of the later kanuns was partially made of skin, and the bridge rested on this skin portion. Both kanuns had twenty-four courses of strings, and were without mandals (the movable bridges of the modern kanun). For this reason had to be tuned according to the makam to be played. Bezmârâ’s bronze stringed kanun was constructed in 1997 by Ümit Bolu, from sketches drawn by Fikret Karakaya based on miniatures and various written sources. The gut-stringed kanun used in the performance of pieces from the late seventeenth century was built by Muzaffer Okumuş.

The kemânçe is an example of the “spike fiddles.” It has a hemispherical body made of coconut shell, and a cylindrical long wooden neck. Each of its three strings are made from  horse hair. It was the only bowed instrument of early Ottoman music. Replaced in secular music by the viol d’amore towards the end of the eighteenth century, it remained in use only in the Mevlevî lodges, where it was known as the rebab. It is used today by  few musicians in a modernized form. Bezmârâ’s kemânçe was built by Fikret Karakaya in 1997, based on a model in the Tefhîmu’l-Makamât by Hızır Ağa (eighteenth century).

The santur is a typical example of a “hammered zither.” It consists of a trapezoidal wooden body, over which triple of courses of bronze and steel strings are stretched, and is played with a pair of small wooden mallets. Unlike the modern santurs, the strings are struck on one side of the bridges only, thus giving only one note each. It gained more popularity in the early seventeenth century, and was very popular during Cantemir’s time. Its dimensions, tuning and arrangement of bridges changed over time. Later, because the kanun was considered a more advantageous musical instrument, it was gradually abandoned, and by the middle of the twentieth century had fallen into oblivion. Bezmârâ’s santur was built in 1997 by Fikret Karakaya.

The tanbur is a typical example of a “long-necked lute.” It has added frets on its neck, and the face has two side pieces made of juniper. Its slightly pear-shaped hemispherical body is constructed of curved wooden staves that are glued together. Its metal strings are plucked by a long and thick plectrum made of tortoise shell. The extreme popularity of the tanbur in the seventeenth century caused dropping in popularity, and even abandonment, all the other lute-type musical instruments. The modern tanbur, with its “half apple” shape and face constructed of a single piece, appeared in the early nineteenth century. Bezmârâ’s tanbur was built by Sacit Gürel from sketches drawn by Fikret Karakaya, which he based on seventeenth century miniatures.

The mıskal is a typical example of a “multi-piped flute” or “pan flute”. It closely resembles the Romanian nai. It is constructed of twenty-two reed pipes of decreasing length and width, in an ascending scale. Each pipe is tuned to a particular tone. Once a much loved instrument, it was abandoned towards the end of the eighteenth century. Fikret Karakaya built Bezmârâ’s mıskal in 1996, modeling it after two examples in the Topkapı Palace Museum.

The ney is an “oblique flute”, with seven holes, six on the front and one on the back. In the sixteenth century, a başpare, or mouthpiece, was attached to the blown end. It was always held in high esteem, remaining prestigious throughout all periods in both secular and religious music. It comes in various sizes, each of which is known by a particular name. These names are also the names of various tunings used in Turkish music.

The nakkare is a typical example of a “double bodied drum.” Consisting of two hemispherical copper bowls covered by skin, it is played with two sticks (zahme). The heavy beats are played on the larger of the two drums, on the right side; the light beats on the smaller drum which is tuned approximately a fourth higher. It has remained popular throughout all periods, in dervish music as well as in secular music. Until 1826, it was used in military music as well. It is known in modern times as kudüm, a name given by the Mevlevîs. Bezmârâ’s kudüm was built by Süha Sağbaş.

The daire is a “frame drum with cymbals”. It has bronze disks (zil, small cymbals) approximately ten centimeters in diameter mounted into holes cut into the frame. Generally there are five pairs of cymbals. The frame is up to forty centimeters in width. In old Iranian and early Ottoman music it was the chief percussion instrument, but was replaced in the nineteenth century by the smaller def (tambourine). In recent years it has again become popular. Bezmârâ’s daire is the work of Süha Sağbaş.