Sufi Sounds from the Sultan’s Court:
The Nevâ Duo

Ethereal music from Sufi ritual and the Ottoman court is performed here by two outstanding specialists in Turkish music: Murat Aydemi on the tanbur (lute) and ney (flute) master Salih Bilgin. Composers in the court wrote music for both secular and religious purposes, including the Sufi rites of the Mevlevi order (known in the West as the whirling dervishes). The Nevâ Duo performs music from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. Recorded live at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 2006 in conjunction with the exhibition Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from the Ottoman Empire.



Sufi Sounds from the Sultan's Court: The Nevâ Duo
Murat Aydemir, tanbur
Salih Bilgin, ney


Taksim (improvisation) on ney in
makam (melodic mode) Bayâtî Seyfettin Osman Oğlu (1874–1926)
Peşrev (prelude) in makam Bayâtî Aziz Dede (1835–1905)
Saz semaisi (finale) in makam Uşşak


Taksim on tanbur in makam Uzzâl Sultan Murat IV (d. 1640)
Peşrev in makam Uzzâl Veli Dedi (d. 1860)
Saz semaisi in makam Hicâz


Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz (d. 1876)
Sirto in makam Hicâz


Taksim on ney and tanbur in makam Mâhûr Baro Gazi Giray Hân (1554–1607)
Peşrev in makam Mâhûr Sultan Selim III (1761–1808)
Saz semaisi in makam Pesendî


Dede Efendi (1778–1846)
Selections from Ferahfezâ Ayini (Mevlevi ritual)


Recorded live at the Freer and Sackler Galleries January 13–14, 2006, and presented in conjunction with the exhibition Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from the Ottoman Empire.


Ottoman Music

Ottoman music came into existence in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as musicians and composers adapted specifically Turkish rhythms, modes, and lyricism to pan-Islamic forms. This art music evolved in a context of far-reaching institutional support. The state-funded composition and performance provided extensive musical training and even captured prized foreign music experts from across the empire to teach and perform at the imperial court in Istanbul. Foreign musicians also came on their own, drawn to a court and city in which sultans moonlighted as composers, musical amateurism flourished, and money flowed to talented artists.

Art music was also appropriated by Istanbul’s religious establishment, becoming part of the musical language of the Mevlevi order of Sufi mysticism (known to the West for its whirling dervishes). Mevlevi composers and thinkers were fixtures at the court. The Mevlevi dervish ceremony, created in this period, was usually arranged by a single composer, who drew on and deeply influenced secular art music. The deep involvement of both state and religious institutions, combined with a general assimilation of local Turkic musical forms, created the rich musical environment in which Ottoman music was gradually distilled.

Most importantly, this period saw the development of the backbone of Ottoman classical performance, the cyclical suite (fasil), which consisted of a succession of instrumental and vocal compositions. Each fasil began with an instrumental prelude (peşrev), followed by a four-line classical poem sung in Turkish (beste) and perhaps other vocal genres, leading to an instrumental conclusion (saz semai), usually in 6/8 rhythm. The hinges of these musical parts were non-metrical, instrumental improvisations (taksims) on the general melodic

mode or scale of the fasil. These allowed for intricate modulations and melodic progressions through the performance of an entire fasil.

-- Notes provided by the artists

Ottoman Composers

Seyfettin Osman Oğlu (1874–1926)

He was the youngest son of Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz (d. 1876), himself a composer whose music is heard later in this podcast. Seyfettin Osman Oğlu was a performer on tanbur and kamençe (fiddle), as well as a singer, painter, and patron of the arts. During the last days of the Ottoman Empire, his residence was a meeting place for musicians. He died in France and is buried in Syria. Thirty-five of his works survive in the modern repertory.

Aziz Dede (1835–1905)

After training at the Gelibolu Agazade dervish lodge, Aziz Dede was invited to become principal ney player at the Galata Mevlevi Lodge. He later held the same title at several other important Mevlevi lodges. According to legend, his sound on the ney was such that it took ten ney players to replace him. He taught music until his death at age seventy. Only seven of his works survive.

Sultan Murad IV (1612–1640)

A conqueror of Persia and Baghdad known for restoring the authority of the state and for his brutal methods, Murad IV was the last Ottoman sultan to lead an army into battle. He also banned smoking and the drinking of alcohol under penalty of death. He is said to have patrolled the streets himself in disguise and personally executed anyone caught violating the ban. The sultan himself, however, died of an alcohol-related liver disease. Despite his ironfisted temperament, he wrote poetry, composed music, and patronized the arts. Sixteen of his musical works survive.

Veli Dedi (1808?–1860?)

A virtuoso on the ney as well as a composer, Veli Dede was named to a top post at a major Mevlevi lodge and became its principal ney player. His reputation was such that the governor of Egypt offered him a farm in Cairo, which he accepted. Twenty-three works of his survive.

Sultan Abdulaziz (1830–1876)

The first Ottoman sultan to visit Western Europe, Sultan Abdulaziz was knighted by Queen Victoria while he was in England. The private rail car in which he traveled is on view at an Istanbul museum. He was later visited twice by the Prince of Wales. His chronic financial mismanagement of the Empire led to violent uprisings, brutal suppression, and his imprisonment and death, either by suicide or murder. In addition to being a composer, Sultan Abdulaziz also played ney, lute, and piano.

Gazi Giray Han (1554–1607)

The oldest piece in this program was written by this military ruler of Crimea, his homeland. In addition to being an accomplished instrumentalist, he wrote many songs on the themes of bravery and victorious joy. He died on the way to battle in Persia.

Sultan Selim III (d. 1808)

Ascending to the throne during the French Revolution, Sultan Selim III was admired as a reformer during a tumultuous era of uprisings and conflicting allegiances. Nevertheless, he presided over one of the most prolific periods in the history of Turkish music when many of its most revered composers were active. Selim III was a religious man and a member of the Mevlevi Sufi order. His musical output includes more than eighty surviving works, both vocal and instrumental, as well as thirteen original makams (musical modes or scales).

Dede Efendi (1778–1846)

The most important Turkish composer of the nineteenth century, Dede Efendi wrote in both secular and sacred genres, even composing works imitating the Western style. He was personally invited to perform at the palace of Selim III, who later made him a palace music teacher. Dede Efendi was also a prominent ney player, composer, and singer for the Mevlevi Sufi order.

-- Notes on the composers provided by the artists

The Exhibition

Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey

The first international exhibition devoted to sumptuous and graphically stunning imperial Turkish robes (kaftans) from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were on view at the Sackler Gallery October 29, 2005–January 22, 2006, presenting robes that dazzle with their audacious play of colors, bold designs, and rich finish. At the core of the sixty-eight objects on view were a group of opulent imperial robes from the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, the largest repository of Islamic textiles in the world. Additional works were on loan from the Mevlana Museum, Konya, Turkey, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and several national collections.

Broadly organized according to technique, the exhibition celebrated Ottoman artistic creativity and its success at transforming silk into the most potent and visible symbol of the empire’s power and wealth. Many of the robes were exhibited on custom-made mannequins that show off their full splendor. In addition to robes belonging to Sultan Selim (reigned 1512–20), Sultan Suleyman (reigned 1520–66), and his son Bayazid, who was executed in 1561, the exhibition includes trousers, hats, cushions, and floor coverings, as well as several large, inscribed textiles from the Topkapi’s renowned collection. Examples of ecclesiastic copes and chasubles made from Ottoman silks and velvets were also on display.

At its height in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the mighty Ottoman Empire (1281–1924) extended from present-day Iraq in the east to the Balkans in the west to North Africa in the south. Ottoman society was rigidly hierarchical, and luxurious ceremonial robes—worn for civilian and religious ceremonies, as well as on the battlefield—played a central role in court life. The finest and most precious robes were reserved for the sultan and his family, but “robes of honor” (hilyat) were also distributed to foreign dignitaries, local courtiers, and state officials, thereby conferring royal favor, political rank, and social status. The number and quality of robes a dignitary received were indicative of his status in the eyes of the sultan.


Salih Bilgin, ney, is a graduate of the National Turkish Music Conservatory. Since 1984, he has been a member of the Istanbul Classical Music Chorus and is co-founder of the Izmit Music Conservatory. In 1996, he appeared with the production “Parthenon to Istanbul” in Nashville, Boston, Princeton University, and at Hunter College in New York. The same year, he performed at Harvard as part of MIT’s Aga Khan Project. In 1997, Salih Bilgin performed in a large-scale Mevlevi Sufi ritual at the Sarajevo International Festival. In addition to authoring articles on ney and appearing on numerous recordings, he is a craftsman who makes neys, including the one he plays on this occasion.

Murat Aydemir, tanbur, was invited at age sixteen to play with the Turkish Music Ensemble of the Ministry of Culture in Istanbul. He later graduated from the National Turkish Music Conservatory. He was deeply influenced by the early twentieth-century recordings of tanbur master Cemil Bey. Murat Aydemir studied with Necdet Yaşar, perhaps the leading tanbur master alive at the time, who himself was in the artistic lineage of Cemil Bey. Beginning in 1990, Murat Aydemir was a member of the Classical Music Chorus of the Istanbul Ministry of Culture. Aydemir’s first two CDs for Golden Horn Records were released in the United States and Turkey. He toured Germany in 2003 and the United States in 2005. In 2002, Aydemir recorded the album, Neva, with Salih Bilgin (ney), which was released in Turkey by Kaf Müzik and in the United States by Golden Horn Records. Aydemir is also a member of the Cantemir Ensemble, which made two CDs to accompany Yalçın Tura’s translation of Cantemir’s music treatise, Kantemiroğlu Edvarı, published by Yapı Kredi Culture and Art Publications in Turkey. Hear his performance of Cantemir’s music at the Freer and Sackler Galleries on this podcast:


This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Musicians’ tour coordinated with Golden Horn Records (CA). Audio recording and editing by Andy Finch and Suraya Mohamed. Web production by Gio Camozzi. Copyediting by Ian Fry. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share this performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. This performance was recorded live at the Freer and Sackler Galleries January 13–14, 2006, and presented in conjunction with the exhibition Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from the Ottoman Empire.