Music of the Mystics in the Ottoman Empire

Walter Zev Feldman, ethnomusicologist and artistic director, Elena Frangakis-Syrett and Daniel Goffman in Shared Sacred Space. Sunday, Nov. 6, 9:30am, $30 (lecture).
Concerts: Thursdays, Nov. 17 and Dec. 8 and Jan. 26, 8pm, $30 each at the 92nd street Y, NYC. Shared Sacred Space celebrates historical periods and regions in which the art, music and ideas of different cultures and religions have not only co-existed, but have flourished side by side and yiedled rich, cross-cultural material. The Ottoman Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries is one of those societies and it is the focus of this season’s Shared Sacred Space series.

The series opens on Thursday, Nov. 17 with “Sabbatian Mysticism and Jewish Composers of the Ottoman Court”, featuring the Istanbul based Bezmara Ensemble. Fikret Karakaya, music director of the ensemble, is the force behind the group’s dedication to reviving long forgotten compositions and performing them on instruments they fashioned based on miniature paintings and written sources describing the ancient originals. the concert features 17the century Sufi hymns by Niyazi MISRI, an important Muslim mystic who was also a friend of the Jewish mystic and messianic figure Sabbatai Sevi (1626-1676), who eventually embraced Islam and is considered a fascinating, but enigmatic, figure in Jewish history. The concert also features works by Tanburi Isak Fresco (1745-1814), the greatest of the Ottoman Sephardi (Jewish) composers. The group’s 1999 CD “Splendours of Topkapi” was released on the French label Opus 111.

Thursday Dec. 8, another Istanbul based group, the Lalezar Ensemble, Reha Sagbas, music director, presents “Music of the Mevlevi Dervishes”. In 2001 the Lalezar ensemble released a four volume recording of Ottoman muisc (The Sultan Composers, Music of the Dancing Boys, Minority Composers, and Ottoman Suite) on the Turkish Traditional Crossroads label, with extensive notes written by Walter Zev Feldman. the Mevlevi Tradition is a Sufi, or mystical Islamic tradition that traces its roots to the great 13th century Sufi mystic and poet, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. the music of the Mevlvi, or Whirling Dervishes, was hugely influential throughout the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious and cultural communities of the Ottoman Empire, especially among the educated urban elite. The Mevlevi believed hat music iteslef was a spiritual discipline that reached beyond religious distinctions. For this reason, the Mevlevi lodges (cobination residences and gathering places) functioned as conservatories where Greek, Armenian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish musicians were all welcomed. The Music of the Mevlevi Dervishes has been sustained for more than 600 years. Reha Sagbas, a leading authority on the music of the Mevlevi, leads the singers and the instrumentalists of the Lalezar Ensemble in both secular and religious works by Ismail Ded Efendi (d. 1846) , the most prominent cmposer of this tradition. The religious work featured is a large-scale setting of the ayin, a musical ceremony unique to the Mevlevi that was performed as part of their spiritual practice. The music of the 19th century Mevlevi ayin represents the height of the compositional development of Ottoman Turkish music. On the one hand, its ancient structure and form varies little from the medieval Persian and Turkish motets on which it is based, but its melodies and harmonies and significantly more modern.

On Thursday January 26, the series concludes with “Sacred Music of the Ottoman Jews and Greeks: The Maftirim and the Psalters”. Beginning in the 17th century, a group of elite, urban Jewish composers and cantors, known as maftirim, composed original choral settings of mystical Hebrew texts in the style of Ottoman (secular) court music of the time, with some Mevlevi influence as well. The Lst of the great composers in this 400 year old tradition was Moshe Cordova who was born in Edirne, Turkey, in 1881 and died in Tel Aviv in 1967. In this concert, Cordova’s music is performed by students of the composer’s foremost living disciple, Cantor Rafael Yair Elnadav, a resident of Brooklyn, NY. Also performing is a young Israeli choir, the Israel Maftirim Ensemble of Jerusalem, which specialies in Middle Eastern art music, including Cordova’s work. The ensemble draws on material from a collection of Cordova’s manuscripts recently relocated among his heirs in Israel. the members of the choir, mostly of Middle Eastern (Iraqi or Libyan) descent, represent a bridge between the older generation of Middle Eastern art musicians and the next generation of Israel players and composers.