Which Instrument Should Represent the Anatolian Music?

I wanted to choose an instrument with obvious commonality and write about that specific instrument in this second instalment of our article series that focuses on Anatolian instrument makers.

I initially chose a stringed instrument called “bağlama” for this purpose, because bağlama is the most played instrument today in the vast geography of Anatolia. However, I received surprising feedback when I consulted peers whose knowledge and expertise I trust in. According to them, other instruments like kopuz, davul, zurna, tambour and rebab also come to mind in addition to bağlama.

I decided to consult the discipline of history due to the variations in their answers. I came to understand that there is no one single instrument that can represent Anatolia. This is a proof of Anatolia’s rich history which showcases many different instruments.

In this case, it makes sense to delay our meeting with instrument makers and look into these instruments, some of which have undergone transformations, still alive in the Anatolian geography..

You can hear ‘Sistrum’ in the video above; this is one of the first instruments played in Anatolia. Variations of this instrument can be found in different civilizations. A soft chime can be heard when the Sistrum is shaken due to the small rings on thin metals on it.

We discovered this video on the YouTube page of European Music Archaeology Project, also known as “EMAP”. EMAP has been conducting very important research on music. Their main goal is to remind us of the common musical heritage we all share.

The Sistrum, which is the metal instrument in the video made by EMAP, was found in the Alaca district of the city of  Çorum, located in the Black Sea region in Northern Turkey during archaeological excavations. Emiliano Li Castro plays the Sistrum in the video.

This metal instrument reminds us of Dr. Werner Bachmann’s ideas, which are often quoted by young music researchers in their articles.

Dr. Bergmann writes this very interesting sentence in his very important article titled “Early Bronze Age Anatolian Instruments”:

“The most important observation is that Anatolian civilizations have created and developed more instruments than previously believed.”

The struggle of civilizations to survive among each other has caused many wars throughout history. Possibly the only positive aspect about these wars was that they enabled the intermingling of cultures, especially in the field of arts. Instruments also benefited from this situation.

Archeologists and musicologists tell us which instrument was discovered first and which civilization it belonged to. In addition, reading articles written by academicians and researchers such as Dr. Werner Bachmann teach us about the change and transformation in these instruments we still play and listen to.

Going back to the Sistrum again: According to Dr. Bachmann, the main purpose of instruments in the Early Bronze Age, 3000-1000 B.C., was to make the loudest sound possible. The advantage metal instruments had against terracotta ones in this aspect caused their dominance especially during religious ceremonies.

Therefore, idiophones, meaning metal instruments, made out of copper, bronze and silver are more often found among the musical instruments of the Early Bronze Age compared the those made out of bone, clay or other materials.

Dr. Werner Bachmann investigated about a hundred metal idiophones found in Anatolia during his research. He claims that this is the highest number of metal idiophones found in any civilization on Earth.

Then, could metal instruments possibly represent Anatolia? Yet we hear the beautiful sound of a stringed instrument from afar…

The painting above is a puzzle cover picture, taken from a popular shopping site in Turkey. This puzzle is titled “Anatolian Lyre and Pleasure” and it reflects the historic past of Anatolia well even though it embodies an orientalist approach. This takes us to chordophones, stringed instruments, found in Anatolia.

If you click the video above, you can witness the story of Eren Ali Gür as he makes a lyre, an instrument he has never seen before. He recreated the forgotten lyre, which was a popular instrument in Anatolia until the Ottoman Empire, in his workshop.

Lyre and its presumed ancestor harp belong to the chordophone family. This family has many members; therefore, chordophones are split into three categories:

1- String instruments with a plectrum (guitar, electric guitar, bağlama, oud, tambour, cümbüş, mandolin, kanun, harp, …)

2- String instruments with a bow (Violin, viola, cello, double bass, kemençe, stringed tambour, …)

3- Percussive string instruments (piano, hammered dulcimer, kanun, …)

According to Dr. Werner Bachmann as well as many other musicologists, chordophones emerged in Anatolia for the first time during the 3rd Period of Early Bronze Age between 2400-200 B.C. An instrument that resembles a harp was depicted on a ceramic pot which is now located in the Malatya Museum.

The player could be clearly seen as sitting down on this ceramic piece. The instrument, which can be vaguely seen, showed differences from examples excavated in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The silver lyre depicted in this photo was found in Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is the region that contains Iraq, North-eastern Syria, South-eastern Anatolia in Turkey and Southwestern parts of Iran. This lyre was excavated from the Royal Cemetery in the city state of Ur, located in this area that gave birth to many civilizations.

Lyre is a magnificent instrument seen as the common heritage of many civilizations, as well as being in used in Anatolia as well. This is why we need to continue searching for a single instrument that can represent Anatolia on its own…

The bağlama artist who is singing the sad folk song in the video above is called Petra Nachtmanova. She is the daughter of a Polish mother and a Czech father. Petra learnt Turkish because she loves Anatolian songs. She is singing a folk song written by Aşık Veysel, the most well-known Anatolian bard, as she is sitting by his grave in Sivas. Unlike many other young Europeans who are passionate about the bağlama, Petra Nachtmanova worked on a special documentary in which she takes a journey to the roots of her beloved instrument.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, many music lovers consider bağlama (saz) on the top of the list of instruments that represent Anatolia. Bağlama was born through the evolution of a stringed instrument called “kopuz” when frets were tied to its neck. It is a much beloved instrument. The global popularity of bağlama brings us to another article titled “String Instruments in Ancient Anatolia”, this time written by another esteemed musicologist called Prof. Dr. Bo Lawergren.

Prof. Dr. Lawergren mentions that “Lutes” emerged after the harp and the lyre around 2300 B.C. Even though all three instruments were born in the same area, Mesopotamia and Iran, lutes were very common in Anatolia. Dr. Lawergren bases his claim on the pictures depicted on the Inandik Vase. This vase is known as the best archaeological vessels that depict the Hittite period, the first central government in Anatolia, features 9 stringed instruments and 3 of these are lutes.

Lutes have invaded the world now and are used everywhere. This applies to Anatolia as well. We can include the most popular string instruments such as kemençe, rebab, and similar ‘saz’ (bağlama and tambour) in the family of Anatolian lutes.

I am actually not feeling sad to report at the end of my article that I was unable to find a single instrument to represent Anatolia on its own, because this situation is a direct result of the richness of this geography. However, please feel free to share the first instrument that comes to your mind as representing Anatolia and share that with us in the comments.



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