Bartok and Saygun at collection


by A. Adnan Saygun

One day in May of 1936 I talked with my friend , the Turkish musicologist Mahmut Ragip Gazimihal, about the means of setting foth the true character of the folk music of Anatolia, hitherto unknown to folklorist. Our train of thought had been started by a monograph, in Hungarian, containing a map of folklore areas in which the Anatolian peninsula had been indicated as belonging to the Arabo-Persian region. We decided to publish, each of us individually, a booklet, with the end in view of correcting the error and showing the ties that bound Anatolia on the one hand with Asia and on the other with Hungary, Ireland, etc.

We did so without delay, and did not neglect to send copies to the author of  the monograph mentioned. After but a few weeks, we received a letter from our adresse informing us of Béla Bartók's interest in the subject. Some bits of music were included, written out by the composer, who wished to know whether in Anatolia one could find songs exhibiting this this turn of phrase. Thus Bartók became interested in the folm music of Turkey and expressed a desire to undertake a trip trough Anatolia. His only request was for a second-class round-trip ticket.

Towards the end of October he arrived in Istanbul, and from the day after his arrival we went to work in the archives of the Conservatory hearing one after another folk pieces there recorded on disks. On one occasion, he jumped up and -clearly moved- asked met o play the song over again. It was a dance tune, in 9/4 aksak (irregular meter), divided thus :   . But no : he drew my attention to certain irregular and almost imperceptible prolongations which modified this rhytm, thus : , or :  I had to confess that my east accustomed to the regular aksak rhythms, had played a trick on me and that my preconcieved notions  had prevented my observing this barely perceptible irregularity. This strange irregularity in a piece of dance music had come as a suprise to him.

His metucuolus mind kept him constantly alert not only to everything he heard but also to everything he saw. After a day of listening to a great many records, we took a short walk through the streets of Istanbul; and at one point he stopped in front of a store where he had noticed a kind of fruit that he had never seen before.  We bought some. I can stil see him looking at it as we walked along, and then stopping - as he often did when he had something important to say- to ask me if we had any songs with texts describing this fruit. Thus a new subject of conversation was broached - fruit and folk music.

How could i ever forget that other example of his valiant and keen spirit which, like a child's, was interested in everything. asking questions and then hastening to make comparisons: how oflen in Adana we ran after some wagon covered with rustic designs! He was greatly interested not only in these designs but also in the way the horses were hitched, and the various kinds of bells that were custamarily attached to them. Running .thus from one wagon to another was great sport; and of ten, leaving the wagons, we would stop before the caravans of camels, to capture and savor the strange rhythm and harmony of their bells.

At Ankara, where he had given three lectures on folk music (interestingly enough. The first in French, the second in German, and the third in Hungarian) and three concerts, we had been able to  collect some songs. Perhaps it might be well to say a few words about his manner of working which, in my opinion, deserves to be known by folklorists. Bartok had assigned to me the phonetic transcription of the texti ; I took down this text only during the singing. For his part,  he tried to write down as exactly as possible the melody itself. If i happened to finish with the text before he had completed his notation of the melody, i was to set to work writing down the melody also, for later comparison with his version. Of course, i jotted down on my piece of paper the necessary data about the singer, the place where the song was collected, etc.

Using a metronome, moreover, we would indicate the tempo at the beginning of each song; and with a pitch pipe we would verify and note the register of the voice. In the course of thw repetition of  the  melody, we constanly tried to indicate the variants that presented themselves and i was to pay special attention to the changes that might occur in the course of the repetition of the text.

Obviously, it was not easy to write  all this down at one time; But af ter this first part of the work had been completed, there remained for us only the task of turning on the old Edison recording machine, to get the song down on the wax cylinder. I was not at all pleased with this piece of apparatus, which had many inconvenient features. It could not, for example, record dearly both the voice and the accompanying instrument at the same time. Truly it was also annoying to Bartok. But he preferred it to the other machines, which needed either to be plugged into an electric system or to be accompanied by heavy storage batteries.

Near Adana, where we went in hopes of finding same nomad tribes, the Master did not seem to me completely satisfied despite the good harvest of songs we were gathering there. As we were coming into one of the villages he told me why: he particularly wanted to record some songs that were sung by women. This presented quite a problem, for Moslem women would not easily consent to sing, especially in the presence of a stranger. I did all i could to persuade these country folk to produce a woman-whether a Iively young girl or an aged lady-to sing for us; but i was unsuccessfu1. They had plemy of time to observe us after our arrival. Surely they could not impute evil intentions to us; we did not seem to be bad fellows. Certainly they could trust us. Finally, our host promised me that after dinner his wife and his daughter would sing. I hastened to tell Bartok the good news, which he received with childlike joy. We waited impatiemly for the dinner hour. Finally it was announced. After dinner, we sat back with our cups of good Turkish coffee, which had been roasted, ground, and brewed right there and which the Master liked so much. Suddeiily a person among the little group  of observers who had accompanied us on this trip, addressing our host; blurted out, "Well, where are the women?" I can still feel the blood rush to my face. At that moment, a glacial silence invaded the room, where there were about fifteen of us, including the others who had been invited. This was one of the most  insulting things that could be said to a Turkish peasant. Our host glanced with flashing eyes at the one who committed this piece of folly. No one moved. And Bartok, though he did not understand a word, was fully aware that something serious was happening: he remained puzzled, his cup of coffee in his hand, his eyes fixed on me. I tried to open a conversation (insignificant, i weIl knew) by speaking of the village mill we had visited that afternoon. After that, we had to take our leave. The next morning, at dawn, we left-the two of us- without saying anything to anyone.

In a neighboring viIIage we had the good foriune of fiiiding two musicians, one of whom played the zurna, a kind of rustic oboe with piercing tane, and the other the davul, a species of primitive big drum. This was the first time Bartok had seen these instruments. That evening, we set up our equipment in a schoolroom, full of country people, our inquisitive spectators. Seven oil Iamps spread a pale and wavering light in the room. As usual, before recording we were to write down the melody of the zurna and the rhythm of the davul. The musicians began to play, and-something strange resulted: the blows that the old felIow gave to his instrument made the, whole building shake. The panes of glass in the windows never
stopped making their extraordinarily droll answers to the powerful drum beats. The piercing cry of the zurna made the air of the room most vibrant, producing a deafening and bizarre roar. And to crown the situation, as each blow of the percussion instrument jarred both the oil and the wicks, the light of the seven lamps dimmed in cadence almost going out, and then in a moment coming back on again most brilliantly so that there was a peculiar and constant alternation of light and darkness in the room. I can still see Bartok, with a start, dropping his pencil and paper, signalling me to continue, and carrying his hands to his ears. He remained thus, his ears tensely stopped, to the end of the performance. This posture that he assumed greatly amused the countrypeople, who did not cease laughing. Truly it amused us too.

Bartok had set to work for some  time studying ihe Turkish language. The words common to the two languages repeatedly became the subject of our conversation. Having encountered considerable difficulties in convincing not only. the women to sing but also, the men. whether young or old (for they had a vague apprehension before a stranger who did not speak their language), I proposed to the Master that we make up a sentence that would be almost the same in Hungarian and Turkish. Then whenever we again met same people who were intimidated by the presence of a stranger, I would take over and give them a little talk about the history of the two peoples, in  which i would say that ihe Hungarians were only Turks who had settled somewhere else,  that they always had spoken Turkish, but that evidently in the course of the centuries their accent had become more or less different. After that I would ask the composer to repeat the sentence we concocted. Bartok would repeat it readily with an anxious smile barely  visible on his lips. Of course, everyone understood it, and after several disquisitions on this subject we quietly set to work. Here is the sentence:

In Hungarian: Pamuk  tarlon sok  arpa. alnia, teve, sator, balta, esizma, kicsi kecske van.
In Turkish: Pamiik tarlasinda  çok arpa, alma, deve, çadir, balta, çizme, küçüh keçi  var.
(Translation: In the cotton field are much barley and many apples, camels,tents, axes, boots, and young goats.)

We returned,  first to Ankara, then to  Istanbul, where he took the train for Budapest. The trip had convinced him of the cIose relationship between Turkish and Hungarian foIk music. We decided to collaborate on these songs and publish them together. From Budapest he sent me copies of some of the wax cylinders I had transcribed. I sent him the  translation of the texts.

In 1937 he was expecting me in Budapest. But, alas-the political situation was daily becoming more grave. I had my anxieties; he had his. One day I received a typewritten letter from him-which surprised me, since he had always been accustomed to write by hand. lt was after the Anschluss. Bartok told me in his letter that since Vienna was being occupied by the Nazis he could no longer maintain contact with his publisher. On the other hand, he saw clearly that he could no longer live in Hungary. He asked me if i could find a position for him in Turkey that would permit him to establish permanent residence there. We  could then work together advantageously on the study of the folk miisic of Tiirkey which, he said, was of lively interest to him. He would be content with a very small salary. Alas, again!  I was  not able to obtain anything for him. Some foreign musician who had been given the joy of organizing musical education in Turkey stood in the way. In leaving Hungary, accordingly, he went to find his home in the United Stales, whence he was not to return again to the Old World.

Darü'l-Elhan Collections

First collection: August 1926, in Adana, Gaziantep, Urfa, Nigde, Kayseri and Sivas provinces. 250 pieces were collected.

Second Collection: 1927, in Konya, Eregli, Karaman, Alasehir, Manisa, Ödemis and Aydin. 250 pieces were collected.

Third collection: 1928, in Kastamonu, Inebolu, Çankiri, Ankara, Eskisehir, Kütahya and Bursa. Nearly 200 pieces were collected.

Fourth collection: 1929, in Trabzon, Rize, Gümüshane, Erzurum, Erzincan, Bayburt, Giresun and Sinop provinces. Nearly 300 pieces were collected.

Following these fieldwork efforts, there was a long silent period, which continued until the arrival of the famous Hungarian composer Bela Bartok in Turkey in 1936.  Invited by the Ankara Halk Evi, Bela Bartok made a significant contribution to Turkish folk music with his collections in southern Anatolia.  (See Adnan Saygun, "Bartok in Turkey.)

During the same period, the German composer Paul Hindemith, invited to help with the founding of the Ankara State Conservatory, wrote a report on folk music collection fieldwork.  A directorate of Archives was created in the Ankara State Conservatory, which was founded the same year, and recruiting of collection staff began.  Though many experts and composers participated in this work, Halil Bedi Yönetken and Muzaffer Sarisözen were present during all the fieldwork.  Created to carry out the most comprehensive collections of Turkish folk music ever made, this institution worked ceaselessly for seventeen years.

Ankara State Conservatory Collections

First collection: 1937, in Sivas, Elazig, Erzincan, Erzurum, Gümüshane, Trabzon and Rize provinces. 588 pieces were collected.

Second Collection: 1938, by two separate teams. The first team worked in Kütahya, Afyon, Denizli, Aydin, Izmir, Manisa and Balikesir provinces and collected 604 pieces. The second team worked in Malatya, Diyarbakir, Urfa, Gaziantep, Maras and Adana, and collected 491 pieces.

Third Collection: 1939, in Çorum province. 241 pieces were collected.

Fourth Collection: 1940, in Konya province. 512 pieces were collected.

Fifth Collection: 1941, in Kayseri, Nigde, Maras and Seyhan. 412 pieces were collected.

Sixth Collection: 1942, in Isparta, Burdur, Antalya and Mugla provinces. 426 pieces were collected.

Seventh Collection: 1943, in Tokat, Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, Giresun and Trabzon provinces. 772 pieces were collected.

Eighth Collection: 1944, in Elazig, Tunceli, Bingöl and Mus provinces. 293 pieces were collected.

Ninth Collection: 1945, in Ankara, Çankiri, Yozgat and Kirsehir provinces. 432 pieces were collected.

Tenth Collection: 1946, in Antakya and Mersin provinces. 134 pieces were collected.

Eleventh Collection: 1947, in Edirne, Çanakkale, Kirklareli, Tekirdag and Bursa provinces. 492 pieces were collected.

Twelfth Collection: 1948, in Bolu, Kastamonu, Sinop and Zonguldak provinces. 318 pieces were collected.

Thirteenth Collection: 1949, in Eskisehir and Bilecik provinces. 249 pieces were collected.

Fourteenth Collection: 1950, in Agri, Van, Kars and Artvin provinces. 382 pieces were collected.

Fifteenth Collection: 1951, Istanbul and Kocaeli provinces. 115 pieces were collected.

Sixteenth Collection: 1952, in Bitlis, Siirt, Mardin and Hakkari. 200 pieces were collected.

Seventeenth Collection: 1952, in Izmir. 40 pieces were collected.

Eighteenth Collection: 1954, made among immigrants from Central Asia. 45 pieces were collected.

Turkish Radio and Television Association (TRT) Collections

1961, under the auspices of Ankara Radio, in Erzurum, Van, Hakkari, Erzincan, Diyarbakir, Elazig, Adana, Bitlis, Siirt, Mus and Bingöl provinces. 800 pieces were collected.

1967, by different teams in various provinces, under the name of TRT 1 Folklore Collections; in Gaziantep, Burdur, Van, Erzincan, Diyarbakir, Izmir, Trabzon, Rize and Balikesir. 1738 pieces were collected.

1971, under the auspices of TRT, in the environs of Erzurum and Kars. Nearly 250 pieces were collected.

Besides these, regional artists invited to the TRT studios at different times also collected a great many pieces.

Collections by the Ministry of Culture

The Department of National Folklore Research (MIFAD) (now called Hagem), founded in 1966 by the Ministry of Culture, carried out extensive collection fieldwork in 57 provinces of Turkey, and brought nearly 4000 pieces into its archive.