Dimitrie Cantemir: A Global Man of Music

Did you know that Dimitrie Cantemir, who has created the modality, tempo and notations one of the keystones of Turkish music, had a life story extending from the countryside of Romania to the shores of the Golden Horn in Istanbul?

Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723) was born in the 16th century at the town of Silisteni, which is located within the borders of Romania today. Cantemir, who is brought to Istanbul upon the appointment of his father by the Ottomans as the Bogdan Chiefdom, becomes involved in many musical works during the years at the Sublime Porte. He studies under the Ottoman educational system. Once he starts to play ”the saz” – a stringed instrument – he comprehends the foundations of Turkish music. At the age of 19, he writes a book which is still discussed today, titled ‘Kitab-ı İlmü’l-Musiki ala Vechi’l – Hurufat’ (The Book of the Science of Music Through Letters), and establishes the keystones of Turkish music. In this book, which consists of two volumes, he provides theoretical information on modes and tempo as well as his own compositions from the 16th and 17th centuries. The fact that his book and compositions have survived up until today was due to the fact that it was all presented to the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed II and written in a notation system.

In later years to follow, Dimitrie who is appointed as the governor of the district of Bogdan, secretly bargains with the Russians causing a revolt. With the Ottoman’s victory against the Russians, Dimitrie is dismissed from his position and flees to Russia. Cantemir, who spends the rest of his life in Russia, is also known for his contributions to Russian literature.

If one is to speak of Ottoman music, there is no doubt that the contributions of Dimitrie Cantemir also be spoken. Although, those times had coincided with the halting and regression period of the Ottomans in terms of politics, they were nevertheless the peak times of the national arts in the Empire.

There is a satisfaction and rhythm within the compositions of Dimitrie Cantemir that were far beyond the times he lived in. His compositions are neither just melancholy or full of joy. Cantemir was able to attain the synthesis of social emotions within the folk songs together with the western music. Although this phenomenon, which is out of the ordinary for the artists of the 18th century, you may still feel eastern mysticism through the use of western style instruments.
After 200 years, Dimitrie Cantemir, who passed away in Russia, was reburied in the town of Yas in Romania in the year of 1935. He has left behind a heritage consisting of literary, political and musical traces belonging to three different cultures.

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Süleyman Beyazıt

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