Elegy For Itri

Unesco Has Declared 2012 The International Year Of Itrî On The 300th Anniversary Of The Composer’s Death. We Wanted To Add Our Own Tribute To This Shining Star Of Turkish Music.

There’s hardly a Turk who does not know Itrî as the composer of the ‘Tekbir’ (AllahuAkbar, or God is Great) in the Segâh mode, one of the most important works of sufi music and an inseparable part of our religious holidays. A prayer recited when viewing the holy relics, the Segâh Salât-ı Ümmiye the Mâye Cuma Salâtı and the Dilkeşhâveran Gece Salâtı have lost none of their impact in 300 years but remain works of art known by heart in the Islamic world. And the Segâh Mevlevi Hymn and Rast Naat’ı Mevlânâ recited at the start of all Mevlevi rituals are Itrî’s most important and lasting contribution to Mevlevî music. Frequently repeated in the Islamic world, these works have made him the composer largely responsible for creating Turkish classical and religious music. ALL WELL AND GOOD BUT… Heading the list of Itrî’s non-religious works, the Neva Kâr is one of the most prized pieces in the entire Turkish classical music repertoire. The richness and originality of its melodies, modal modulations and rhythmic patterns make it a masterpiece. The words of the Neva Kâr, a vocal composition, are by the renowned 14th century Iranian poet, Hafez of Shiraz. Indeed, all is well with the great composer up to this point. But then everything starts to go awry when you come up against the stumbling block that his very existence is a matter of debate. For Itrî is a somewhat elusive and idealized figure in the world of music. A will of the wisp, if you will. The number of serious studies up to now on this giant of a man could be counted on the fingers of one hand. But legends are rife, and this is precisely where they come into play. Perhaps the most solid piece of information we have about Itrî is that he was a Mevlevi. One of the main reasons the Segâh Ayin-i Şerif is attributed to him is that no one not intimately familiar with that milieu could possibly have composed a Mevlevi hymn. But this too has its debatable aspects. Was he a sheikh, a dervish, or merely a sympathizer, a regular visitor? Even if we don’t know the answers, the fact remains that a man who composed a Mevlevi hymn cannot have been a stranger to Mevlevi dervish lodges. When we consider that acquiring expertise in just a single branch of the traditional arts was not the norm, then we have to take seriously the claims that Itrî was also a calligrapher and a poet. It is apparent from his poems in the old manuscript anthologies that Buhurizade Mustafa Itrî, an accomplished calligrapher in the taliq script, was a poet, who composed eulogies of the Prophet Muhammad, ghazels, quatrains and poems written in emulation of earlier models as well as syllabic verses. The lyrics of some of his musical works are known to have been composed by him as well. It is fortunate that Yahya Kemal Beyatlı (1884-1958) wrote a poem about Itrî; otherwise we would have been left suspended in thin air when it came to describing him. But of course Beyatlı is not the only one who has depicted Itrî for us. Yılmaz Öztuna’s famous 1987 study is the most reliable to date. It is crucial that Öztuna wrote his book; otherwise there would have been no source for the many Master’s and doctoral dissertations about the composer. But the fact is that Yahya Kemal Beyatlı’s lines, “Few people understand our old music / And those who do not don’t understand us either”, actually tell us a great deal. The great mystery behind the importance attached to Buhurizade Mustafa Itrî again lies concealed in the spirit of Beyatlı’s lines. A look at the names behind the giant reputation attributed to him reveals Hâfiz Post, Nasrullah Vakıf Halhali, Kasımpaşalı Koca Osman Efendi, Derviş Ömer Efendi to have been the other outstanding composers of the 17th century. At the same time, however, the few works of Itrî’s that have survived to our day are actually the primary source of the fundamental notions we have formed of him. INDICATION OF HIS GENIUS Although everything we know about him is open to question, one thing we can say for certain is that Itrî is the composer most frequently performed and listened to today. That his Segâh Tekbir is known and performed throughout the Islamic world is the true indication of his genius. One thing is sure: Buhurizade Mustafa Itrî is regarded as nothing short of a legend by our musical cognoscenti today, a larger-than-life figure who despite all the controversies has engraved himself in the soul of a vast musical community. He is the crowning glory of Turkish music. A figure who is created anew at every instant and in every period, he is the pole star in our musical firmament. Are there no encouraging developments then? There are, without a doubt. The Istanbul State Turkish Music Performance and Research Ensemble is putting together a series of Itrî albums, and the Turkish Music Research Center looks like filling the gap in the field to date. QUESTIONS SURROUNDING BUHURİZADE ITRÎ l Although he is thought to have composed over a thousand pieces of music, only around 40 or, according to some sources, 20 of them have survived. l The dates of his birth and death remain uncertain. l It is not known whether or not he played a musical instrument. Some sources stress the beauty of his voice but this too is disputed. l Since his compositions were only written down 200 years after he died, there is serious debate regarding their originality. l Considered the apogee of Turkish classical music, the Neva Kâr is said not to represent the style of the period in which Itrî lived, thereby casting doubt on its authenticity.