French avant-garde meets the Sufi mystics

Oriental melancholy. © Charles Thibo

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.

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Turmoil echoed by Saygun’s string quartet

No darkness without light. © Charles Thibo

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.

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Of missed opportunities and burning bridges

© Charles Thibo

For many years, I had the firm conviction that Turkey should belong to the European Union. I had my reasons: Firstly, the destiny of what is today Turkey has been linked to the fate of the European continent for over 2000 years. Christianism spread to Europe via Turkey. The Ottoman Empire brought new ideas, new technologies and the knowledge of the Greek, that had been lost, to Europe. It brought us into contact with different languages and philosophies, a different religion and a different music. Our culture became richer and so did the Ottoman culture. Today, we still have to learn from each other – about our intertwined past. Secondly, I was convinced that an integration of Turkey (and of Bosnia-Herzegovina) into the EU could prove wrong those who claimed that democracy, the rule of law, and Islam are incompatible: Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

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