Across the Bay

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Apologies, Clarification, and More

My apologies for the long absence. That's due to two things: tight and successive deadlines, followed by a long overdue vacation with the family. I'm still not totally in the clear work wise, but I'm almost there (before my teaching duties for the fall semester resume in a week!). For those of you still coming back, thanks for your patience!

As for the change in my signature (for those who noticed!), it's just for some esoteric fun. For one, this is how my parents used to playfully call me as a kid, given that my grandfather's name was Antoun. Efendi is a Turkish title of Greek origin (ΑΥΘΕΝΤΗΣ - pronounced: afthendis, which became afendi/efendi. It means "master, lord") that's still used, along with several others (like Bey/Bek, Hanim, Basha, etc.) in parts of the ME (and Greece) as a remnant of the Ottoman heritage.

This heritage with its complex interconnection of cultures is the other reason behind the name Anton Efendi. Anton Efendi was a 19th - early 20th c. Ottoman musician of Greek origin, who played the Lavta, an instrument similar to the Oud, whence his title Lavtaci Anton Efendi (the -ci |-gi| ending is another, linguistic, remnant of Turkish Ottoman influence on the spoken dialects of the Arabophone ME. It's still used to denote profession, e.g.: bostaji = bus driver. Kihrabji = electrician. etc. The form also exists in modern Greek as -tzis.)

The form of the title is typical, as family names weren't used. Anton's family name was Kyriatzis. He and his two brothers, Civan (Zivannis) and Hristo (Christo), were all musicians and players of the Lavta. They, along with other Greek musicians (like Kemençeci [kemençe player] Nikolaki, Udi [Oud player] Marko, Kemençeci Vasilaki, Udi Yorgo, and before them Hanende [cantor] Zaharya, etc.), were a crucial part of the development of Ottoman music in the late 17th-early 20th c. Beside Greek composers (Rum bestekârlar), other "minority" musicians and composers included Armenians (Ermeni bestekârlar), and Jews (Yahudi bestekârlar), like Mısırlı (Egyptian) Ibrahim Efendi, Tanburi Izak (Romano), and Izak Algazi Efendi (click on "Örnek" ["sample"] to hear samples of his songs, both secular and religious). In fact, the notation system of Ottoman musicians, before the introduction of the Western system (and alongside it), was the Hamparsum system, named after the Armenian Hamparsum Limonciyan, the chief musician of the Armenian Church in Istanbul, and was itself based on Armenian church musical neums (somewhat similar to the Byzantine psaltica). In fact, the written repertoire of Ottoman music is indebted to three non-Muslims: the 17th c. Polish captive of war Albert Bobowski (Ali Ufki), the 18th c. Moldavian Prince Demetrius Cantemir, and the Armenian Hamparsum Limonciyan (18th-19th c.), who notated much of the repertoire of the 17th, 18th, and 19th c. and saved it from oblivion.

One severely influential Armenian composer was Kemani [violinist] Tatyos Efendi (Ekserciyan). He was taught in part by the elder Kyriatzis brother, Lavtaci Civan (who also taught Vasilaki), but he was a student of another Armenian, Kemani Sebuh. Tatyos influenced Turkey's foremost composer/musician of the late 19th-early 20th c., Tanburi [player of the Tanbur] Cemil Bey, who studied Tatyos' music, and paid tribute to him by playing several of his compositions and recorded some of them for posterity during the early days of gramophone recordings, with Orfeon Records and the Blumenthal Brothers (in fact, Tatyos' and Cemil's compositions are among the most well-known and often-played pieces of the Ottoman repertoire. Perhaps a good illustration is the fact that on this CD by famed Oud player Udi Yorgo Bacanos, there are two Saz Semais and one Peşrev. The Muhayyer Saz Semai is by Cemil, the Kürdilihicazkâr Peşrev is by Tatyos. The third (Nekriz) Saz Semai is by Refik Fersan, Cemil's pupil! Tatyos' Kürdilihicazkâr Peşrevi and Saz Semaisi, and Rast Peşrevi are among his best known compositions. Cemil recorded his Hüseyni Saz Semai (sample here, under Disc 1). Sami el-Shawwa recorded his interpretation of Tatyos' Rast Peşrevi around 1920, seven years after Tatyos' death. El-Shawwa's interpretation is the template for Levantine and Egyptian musicians today.). My favorite composition of his is the Peşrev Bestenigâr, although his Peşrev Suzinak is simply brilliant. Real Audio downloads of his compositions can be found here, and the musical scores of his compositions, along with those of dozens of other great Ottoman composers, listed under the names of the respective makams (which you'd have to know!), can be found at this magnificent Turkish site.

It's said that, despite the religious discrimination, these "minority" musicians were highly respected. One story relates how Sultan Selim III, himself an acomplished musician and composer (his Peşrev Suzidilâra is very beautiful, and was brilliantly interpreted by famed Egyptian Qanun player, Mohammad el-Aqqad. Sample here. People like Aqqad and the Syrian [Aleppo] Greek Orthodox violinist Sami el-Shawwa, were the transmitters and reinterpreters of the Ottoman forms Peşrev and Saz Semai to the Levant and Egypt), used to always stand up out of respect every time his Tanbur teacher, Tanburi Izak (Fresko Romano of Ortakoy), a Jew, would enter the room.

These "minority" composers fused their own cultural and religious musical heritages with Ottoman music, and the latter itself influenced the former. Hence, Greek composers of Byzantine church music, like Zaharya, Petros Bereketis, and Petros Peloponesseos, used to perform in the Ottoman court. Byzantine music witnessed a reform movement in the 18th-19th c., when the current notation system used in Greek Orthodox (Rum) churches was set. Anyone familiar with Byzantine music cannot but hear the strong, sometimes overwhelming, similarities between Ottoman music and Byzantine music (here's a possible example, continued here, for those familiar with Byzantine chant). It becomes less of a surprise when you know the history of musical exchange between the two cultures. As noted above, the Armenian Hamparsum was himself a Church musician, and the Jewish composers Tanburi Izak (Fresko Romano) and Izak Algazi Efendi, were both synagogue cantors (Hazanim).

Which brings me back to Anton Efendi. You can hear a sample from his Peşrev Hüseyni here, from a CD called Rum Bestekârlar (Greek composers). Those who read music, can see the music sheet for the piece here (see especially the third Hâne). I loved this piece so much that I decided to use his title. The title also reminded me of my parents, so it was a no brainer! Ottoman music and Byzantine music are without a doubt my favorite forms of music. It also helps that they are the forms of music that I've studied (Byzantine), and that I passionately collect, and enjoy playing on my Oud in my basement!

So there you have it... Now, as for the real business, I'll be coming back to it real soon with some posts I've been thinking about and preparing the last few days (and others that I wanted to post earlier, but never got a chance). Let's see how much I can do. Also, let's wait and see what happens with this Mehlis report. Some developments have taken place, including the rounding up of major suspects (probably to keep them from being assassinated, although Nasser Kandil, Syria's pit bull, is said to have taken refuge in Damascus. But he's a loud nobody.) while leading Lebanese political figures have gone to France for the same reason (to escape assassination!). The most interesting circulating gossip is the resurgence of the Hizbullah factor. You may remember that shortly after Hariri's assassination, I posted information I had gotten from Lebanon about some major political figures not ruling out a Hizbullah involvement. Nasrallah has denied it of course, but Bashar also denied his involvement, so that doesn't count! We'll have to wait and see whether the report says they were invovled or not. How that will be dealt with in Lebanon is a huge question. For now, Lebanese politicians have been dealing with Hizbullah like their predecessors did with the PLO in 1969: they went along with what was clearly a horrible idea, but they did it out of fear that confronting the problem would mean war. Well, it meant war anyway.

Update: Michael Young asks the question: what if Syria is guilty? More worrisome, as noted above, what if Hizbullah is indeed involved?