A train trip with Ataturk

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Francesco Martinelli takes
A Train Trip with Atatürk

rare Baidaphone 78

Train trips in Asia Minor begin from the stately Haydar Pasa station, looking over Bosphorous with its columns and turrets: planned as the terminal of a direct line connecting Istanbul to Mecca, it was built with German and French capital. The enterprise was abandoned in 1923, when Turkey became a secular Republic and its territory no longer extended to the Holy Places of Islam. The limited network left by the Empire became a starting point for modernization in Republican times, celebrated in the Ten Years March - "We covered the country with a web of iron." Symbolically, during the war for independence, Atatürk - then Mustafa Kemal Pasa - established his residence in the very simple house built for the station director. There he roughed the tough Ankara winter and spent the darkest days of the war, with the Greek Army burning and plundering villages close by. The building is now a museum, and the heart of the Turkish Republic beats in these austere rooms, maybe more so than in his grandiose mausoleum. In 1935 his main goals were accomplished: the Republic had clearly defined borders, a Latin alphabet was adopted in place of an arcane Ottoman script unfit to Turkish and read by a fraction of the population, women had lost their scarves and gained the right to vote. He was removed from day to day government duties, and the Republic gave him a more leisurely train. In his own car, now preserved at the museum, there's an up-to-date German-made music system integrated into the furniture, and a collection of 78 rpm records.


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).

Audio Selections
The burning gazel sung by Hafız Yasar Bey contrasts with the elegant vocal lines of Münir Nurettin Selçuk; the stately mahur beste by Hamamizade Ismail Dede Efendi with the symphonic arrangement of a pesrev by Giriftzen Asım Bey; longing Rumeli Türküleri sung by small choirs in spontaneous arrangements or by the intense Safiye Ayla stand side by side with nostalgic operetta arias and romantic Turkish tangos. A powerful early recording by Müzeyyen Senar, recently celebrated in the "Crossing the bridge” movie, explains her status in Turkish music, while art music composers like Bimen Şen and Haşim Bey represent different styles.

cd cover 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.

rail car

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