East and west united, sublimated, a synthesis of oriental and occidental culture, two broad streams of ideas about beauty and harmony coming together and creating something new – Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s String Quartet No. 1 (Op. 27) is all that and so much more. The first movement sets the tone: Oriental phrasing side by side with the French avant-garde of the 20th century – Saygun studied between the two world wars with Vincent d’Indy in Paris – very evocative, very ambitious too to incorporate traditional folks elements from what used to be the Ottoman Empire very much like Bela Bartok did after his ethno-musicological studies.
Wagner? This is not Wagner. But it sounds like Wagner! An Italian, you say? Non è possibile! But yes, this symphony, aptly named “Sinfonia Drammatica”, was composed by an Italian composer, Ottorino Respighi. For those of you who have followed this blog from its creation on, that name will have a familiar ring – Respighi composed this wonderful cycle of symphonic poems with the city of Rome as its main subject, that I discussed in one of my first posts.
The wind, the wind, the heaven-born wind – you probably recognize that. It’s Hänsel and Gretel’s answer to the witch’s question: “Nibble, nibble, gnaw, who’s nibbling at my little house?” This string quartet is like the wind, or rather it is a whisper murmured into the wind, not meant to stay, meant to be blown away. Is it a lamentation? A silent prayer? A half-audible thought? A drawn-out sob about a sad reminiscence?
Haunting melodies – perhaps this describes the essence of Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 35. Franz Schubert catapulted into the second half of the 20th century. 1958: Europe caught up in the Cold War, France struggling with decolonization, a Fascist regime in Spain and a young Muslim nation guarding NATO’s southern flank – Turkey. A world in turmoil. 1958: Riots between Turks and Greeks shake the Anatolian peninsula, the economy is in deep trouble, a military coup is in the air. Turkey in turmoil.