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An Introduction to the History of Music Debates in Turkey

What significant differences can we observe between the twentieth century and earlier periods when we look at theoretical as well as other works on Turkish music? It is certainly beyond the scope of this paper to give a comprehensive history of pretwentieth century discourses on music and the following analysis is not even remotely rigorous.1 My aim is to highlight a few elementary differences of twentieth century discourses from earlier ones. We know that strictly theoretical works written on Ottoman/Turkish music before the twentieth century-especially in the period between sixteenth to nineteenth centuries-were few in number (Behar, 1987, pp. 26-7; Wright, 1992). Nevertheless, the works of Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Jewish theoreticians between the ninth and sixteenth centuries can be considered important sources (Farmer, 1965). This is not simply because of the multiple affiliations between these cultures, but also because contemporary theorists of Turkish music often take these works as their starting point (e.g. Yekta, 1986 [1922], pp. 24-8). In addition to these theoretical works, there existed various other texts such as biographies, travel books and anthologies that occasionally focused on music and musical instruments. Also worth mentioning are theological, mystical or philosophical treatises about the origins and significance of musical instruments-the passages about the ney in Mesnevi being one of the most famous examples-and various parables about the powers of music.