A train trip with Ataturk
This is the starting point for a CD which allows a fascinating glimpse into the early years of the Presidential orchestra, poised between the celebration of Ottoman classical tradition and the necessary innovation - Atatürk`le Bir Tren Yolculuğu - Yaver Şu Sevdiğim Şarkıyı Çal(A train trip with Atatürk - Attendant, play me that song I love).
The three final tracks provide a glorious closing: an instrumental zeybek on tambura by Osman Pehlivan, a beautiful nefes (hymn) from the tradition of the Bektaşi Sufi brotherhood, its rhythm reminiscent of the typical measured steps of the sema and typically sung by a male/female duet. Atatürk loved Bektasi songs and dances, often asked for them to be performed. And finally, the only Arabic and the rarest record in the collection, by obscure kanunist Nubar Bey, on Lebanese Baidaphone; hitherto unknown, it's a brilliant taksim. Pity that the notes by Cemal Ünlü, the major expert of early Turkish recordings, are not translated, and digital denoising of the sound is applied too harshly and in a wildly different manner track from track.
Thanks to the museum director, Mrs. Servet Sarıaslan, I received a complete list of the collection. What was left out from the issued CD is just as interesting as the pieces published. Atatürk's preference for Safiye Ayla's voice is confirmed, with more than ten records. His love for opera represented by Traviata recordings with Amelita Galli-Curci - a fine choice - and fantasies on Verdi's themes; modern dances like fox-trot and tangos are well represented.
The most obvious absence is religious music. Atatürk declared himself a Muslim, but in his less guarded moments confessed an aversion for all forms of organized worship. There is a ney taksim, but it is performed by Neyzen Tevfik, a provocative intellectual who insulted as many sacred cows as possible, in the very tradition of the Sufi saints, presenting himself thus: "Neyzen Tevfik, whose three-dimensionality is manifested in his music, his poetry, and his rakı . Even more significant are the three Greek records Atatürk was travelling with, less than 15 years after the bloodshed, in a time when Venizelos proposed him for the Nobel Peace prize: a tango, and two 78s by Roza Eskenazi, the Istanbul-born Greek-Jewish singer, one of the originators of rebetiko, among them "Trava [Manga] Re Alani / The manga hit the road," a travel song if ever there was one. - Francesco Martinelli
CD info: Atatürk`le Bir Tren Yolculuğu - Yaver Şu Sevdiğim Şarkıyı Çal / A train trip with Atatürk - Attendant, play me that song I love STR productions - 2006
The Museum of the Turkish Republic Railways (TCDD Müzesi ve Sanat Galerisi) is by the Ankara Train Station, Talatpaşa Bulvarı, Ulus, and can be visited free of charge every day but Saturdays, Sundays and holiday days. Website.
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