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In search of Liszt Turkey’s Hungarian Virtuosos
2002 / October

When the celebrated Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt came to Istanbul, a city he had dreamed of visiting, he gave a concert at the palace for the sultan and another at a venue on the shores of the Bosphorus. These concerts were the start of what was to become a growing interest in western music in Ottoman Turkey. He arrived in 1847 and although he remained just forty days this splendid city more than fulfilled his expectations. Following his recital for the sultan, Liszt was presented with an order of merit, a jewelled tobacco case and a silver water pipe.
Two other Hungarian musicians who listened to Liszt as children and followed in his footsteps in their musical careers were drawn by Liszt's reminiscences of Istanbul to settle in Turkey and remained there for the rest of their lives. Both made major contributions to Turkish music culture and trained musicians in western musical tradition

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In search of Liszt Turkey’s Hungarian Virtuosos
2002 / October

The first of these was Liszt's student, the pianist and composer Alexandro Voltan of Venice (1846-1941). It is said that Voltan was the nephew of Mehmed Ali Pasa, who was of Hungarian extraction and rose to the rank of field marshal in the Ottoman army, and that his father was Turkish. In Turkey Voltan took the name Tevfik and settled in Izmir, where he related the following biographical details to a local journalist: 'My mother, Countess Allegri, was a pianist. I took my first lessons from her at the age of six. She endeavoured to give me a good training as a composer. Since she was an outstanding musician, famous musicians visited our house every evening. Liszt, Wagner and Holbert were the most regular visitors. I began to give concerts at a young age. I studied at the Austrian Naval College, graduating as an artillery officer.'

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In search of Liszt Turkey’s Hungarian Virtuosos
2002 / October
Known in Turkey as Hungarian Tevfik or Tevfik of Venice, Voltan was invited to Bucharest at a young age and stayed at the palace as a guest of Queen Maria Elizabeth of Romania. During the two years he spent in Bucharest he gave piano lessons and concerts and conducted operas. He came to Istanbul in 1877 and later settled in Izmir. He converted to Islam and married the daughter of an eminent family. Tevfik's compositions were published in Italy, Austria, Hungary and France, and thanks to him musical life in Izmir flourished. Many of his pupils went on to become eminent musicians, among them the famous composers Ismail Zühtü Bey and Ahmet Adnan Saygun. Tevfik recognised Saygun's great talent while he was still a boy, and became his first teacher. In old age he was reduced to poverty and spent the last years of his life in a home for the old and infirm, where he died in April 1941. He was buried in a cemetery for the destitute.
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In search of Liszt Turkey’s Hungarian Virtuosos
2002 / October

Gez de Hegyei (1863-1926), another of Liszt's students, decided to see Istanbul for himself after listening to Liszt's account of his visit, and liked it so much that he too settled in Turkey. He was a Hungarian Catholic, and made a living giving music lessons to Catholic pupils and at the imperial palace, where his favourite pupil was Þehzade Abdülmecid Efendi, who was an accomplished artist as well as musician. Hegyei became close friends with Abdülmecid Efendi and also gave music lessons to his wife Sadiye Sultan and Princess Iffet of Egypt.
When Hegyei first began giving music lessons in Istanbul, one of his pupils was a young Greek girl who displayed great talent. Hegyei determined that she should be his wife, but had to wait until she reached marriageable age in 1906. When he died in 1926 a memorial concert was held by the State Conservatory of Music, then known as Darülelhan

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In search of Liszt Turkey’s Hungarian Virtuosos
2002 / October
Nimet Vahit Hanim, granddaughter of Osman Hamdi Bey the celebrated Ottoman Turkish painter and founder of the Archaeological Museum, and the first Turkish girl to graduate with a first degree from the conservatory in Berlin, sang at this concert.
A third Hungarian musician who settled in Turkey was Charles Berger (1894-1947). He had never met Liszt, who died before he was born, but he is known to have been an enthusiastic admirer of his music. As a child his music teachers told him about Liszt's life, including his brief but memorable stay in Istanbul, and he too was drawn to the city. Berger began taking violin lessons at the age of five and was awarded a scholarship to Vienna Conservatory, where he graduated as first in his class. He played solo violin with famous orchestras and gave recitals in many European countries. He came to Istanbul in 1920 and was received as the guest of the last caliph Abdülmecid Efendi. He gave lessons to both the caliph and his wife Sabiha Sultan.
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In search of Liszt Turkey’s Hungarian Virtuosos
2002 / October

Concerts which he gave at the Union Française in Galatasaray enchanted Istanbul audiences, and he was also invited to give concerts in Iran by the Shah.
Berger can be said to have pioneered violin teaching in Turkey, and his greatest gift to our country were a brother and sister who both became celebrated virtuosos: Necdet Azak, who later became a professor at the conservatory, and Ferhunde Erkin. Another of his pupils was Ayla Erduran, a musician of worldwide repute. In 1946 Berger married the Turkish painter Aliye Berger, and before his death became a Muslim and took the name Ömer Baki. He is buried in the Muslim cemetery on Büyükada, next to his father-in-law Sakir Pasa.

* Taha Toros is a historian.

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