Hear some of the first examples of Turkish choral singing and group improvisation, forms pioneered by Mesut Cemil. Features seminal archival recordings of some of the greatest 20th century Turkish performers, including Sadi Isilay, Cevdet Cagla, and Yorgo Bacanos.

Mesut Cemil

Instrumental & Vocal Recordings

Original label from 1930’s
Genre: Turkish & Ottoman Classical.


CD 1
1. Rehavi Pesrev, composed by Tanburî Ìsak (1745-1814)
Performed by Mesut Cemil (tanbur), Sadi Isilay (violin), Cevdet Çagla (viola), Yorgo Bacanos (ud), Fikret Kutlug (kanun) and passing taksim into makam Suzidilara is performed by Mesut Cemil on tanbur
2. Makam Sultanîyegâh. Performed by Mesut Cemil (tanbur), Süleyman Erguner (ney), Cevdet Çagla (viola) 16:03
3. Makam Müstear Performed by Mesut Cemil (çello), Sadi Isilay (violin), Cevdet Çagla (viola) 13:19
4. Classical Turkish Music Chorus
Directed by Mesut Cemil (cello) recorded on 7/23/1963. Announcer: Mesut Cemil
CD 1 Total time: 67:30
CD 2
1. Segâh Pesrev, Taksim, Sûznâk Saz Semaisi
a. Segâh Pesrev, composed by Yusuf Pasa (1821-1884) b. Group Taksim c. Sûznâk Saz Semaisi, composed by Nikolaki Efendi. Performed by Mesut Cemil, Cevdet Çagla
2. a. Isfahan Taksim: Mesut Cemil (cello) b. Isfahan Pesrev, composed by Tanburî Ìsak c. Violin Taksim d. Neva Saz Semai, composed by Ziya Pasa (1849-1929). Performed by Mesut Cemil (cello), Sadi Isilay (violin), Fahire Fersan (kemençe) 12:20
3. Bestenigâr Taksim (Cevdet Çagla) and Bestenigâr Pesrev, composed by Numan Aga (1750-1834). Performed by Mesut Cemil and Cevdet Çagla 9:40
4. Gerdaniye Pesrev, Gerdaniye Saz Semaisi, Hüseyni Oyun Havasi
a. Gerdaniye Pesrev, composed by Suphi Ezgi (1869-1962) b. Gerdaniye Saz Semaisi, composed by Suphi Ezgi c. Passing taksim: kemençe, kanun d. Hüseyni Oyun Havasi “Çeçen kizi”, composed by Tanburî Cemil Bey. Performed by Mesut Cemil (lavta), Vecihe Daryal (kanun), Rusen Kam (kemençe)
5. Tahirbuselik Taksim on tanbur 6:10
6. a. Sedd-i araban Pesrev, composed by Tanburî Cemil Bey. Performed by Mesut Cemil (tanbur), Ercüment Batanay (tanbur). b. Nihavent Taksim: Mesut Cemil (tanbur) c. Nihavent Saz Semai: Playing his own composition on tanbur, accompanied by Ercüment Batanay on tanbur. 15:16
CD 2 Total time: 70:48

Mesut Cemil (1902-1963)


Mesut Ekrem Cemil was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1902. He was the son of the legendary Tanburî Cemil Bey. Mesut Cemil learned basic kemençe (a three stringed Turkish violin) techniques from his father but never took any tanbur (a fretted, long necked lute) lessons from him. At the age of 14, immediately following his father’s death, Mesut Cemil started taking tanbur lessons from Kadi Fuat Efendi and Tanburî Refik Fersan who were both pupils of Tanburî Cemil Bey. Few years later Mesut Cemil joined the Eastern Musical Society and attended Dervish convents of Yenikapi. Later he met Neyzen Emin Dede of the Galata Mevlevi Convent and took lessons from a well known musicologist Suphi Ezgi Bey. 

Mesut Cemil Bey attended law school but did not complete it. In 1921 he went to Germany and studied cello under Hugo Becker and returned to Turkey after three years. He started teaching music in high schools and joined Istanbul Radio in 1926 as an announcer. Mesut Cemil stayed with the Turkish State Radios and later rose to the rank of director of Turkish and Western Music and eventually became the General Director of Ankara Radio.

In 1932 Mesut Cemil Bey represented Turkey in the Cairo Eastern Music Congress with Rauf Yekta Bey and started to be considered as one of the utmost tanbur players and interpreters of Turkish classical music. Mesut Cemil Bey founded an all-male ensemble ("Unison Erkekler Korosu") with whom he gave several concerts and recorded a number of records. He was criticized by conservatives but did not concede from his clean, plain (as opposed to ornate) style. Mesut Cemil accompanied the now famous religious cantor Kâni Karaca and together they performed for the first time some wonderful examples of religious and classical repertoire. He also accompanied Münir Nurettin Selçuk in his concerts and recorded many records with him. Later he established a mixed chorus at the Ankara Radio where he prepared classical music programs. In 1951 he moved to Istanbul and founded the Istanbul Classical Music Chorus. This classical chorus performed weekly 45-minute programs. Many pieces were performed for the first time by this ensemble. It became a school for many young and talented musicians providing an opportunity for some to shine such as Necdet Yasar, Niyazî Sayin and others. This ensemble performed many pieces for the first time. Mesut Cemil Bey also worked in Baghdad Conservatory with his friend Cevdet Çagla and represented Turkey in several festivals in Europe. He died in Istanbul on September 31, 1963.

His Significance

Mesut Cemil Bey was an incredibly talented individual excelling in everything he did. He was a virtuoso tanbur player and according to some perhaps achieved the same level as his father. He was am excellent, concert quality cello player. He was also very good on kemençe, lavta (fretted ud), ud, violin, viola, baglama and other folk instruments of Turkish music. He was an unsurpassed chorus director whose interpretative style had become an example to some of the following famous directors (such as Nevzat Atlig.) Mesut Cemil was also an ethnomusicologist reviving some classical pieces and interpreting them for the first time. This intellectual man was also an exceptional writer and public speaker. He authored a book and several hundred articles regarding various subjects of Turkish classical music. Mesut Cemil Bey touched so many people in so many different ways.

Mesut Cemil with his tanbur Mesut Cemil Bey significantly influenced the interpretation of vocal and instrumental Turkish classical music. This music suffers from the lack of low-pitched instruments. His father Tanburî Cemil Bey was the first to introduce the cello and the bowed tanbur into Turkish music and Mesut Cemil continued to use the cello masterfully in concerts and in his classical ensembles. Mesut Cemil Bey’s tanbur style both carries marks of his father’s style but at the same time departs from it significantly. We see the same masterful interpretation of makams with appropriate modulations and rich melodic lining, but we do not see his father’s agitated, rapid and at times almost frantic playing (with the possible exception of some of his very early recordings such as the selections 1 and 2 on Volume 1). His exposition of the makam is succinct, making masterly use of ornamentation and glissendo to bring out the characteristics of each note and modulations to demonstrate the connection of a given makam to other makams. Mesut Cemil’s style is characterized by deliberate fewer strokes with the wider side of the plectrum, bringing out the resonance of the tanbur fully. Mesut Cemil Bey combined the classical style which he most likely learned from Suphi Ezgi with "çarpma" technique using the ring finger masterfully.

Mesut Cemil also used the yellow strings of the tanbur to produce richer and fuller sounds. He was also influenced by the folk style of baglama playing and used techniques similar to the glissendo found in folk music. In his taksims during his mature years Mesut Cemil emphasized single notes, reaching a very refined, almost philosophical level (e.g. müstear, tahirbuselik taksims).

Mesut Cemil Bey’s recordings are invaluable not only because of his unsurpassed virtuosity but, more importantly, because they reflect his personal interpretation of a given makam. His interpretations of scored classical instrumental works with 2 or 3 other instruments are beautifully melodic, romantic and free from unnecessary ornamentation. In these radio recordings Mesut Cemil Bey was usually accompanied by his best friends, great kemençe player Rusen Kam and violinist Cevdet Çagla as well as other talented musicians such as Vecihe Daryal, Sadi Isilay, Cevdet Kozanoglu and in some recordings Yorgo Bacanos.

Mesut Cemil Bey liked long prolonged drone sounds in his cello playing (e.g. suzidil fasil). Drone sounds staying on the same tone bring rich low-pitched background to instrumental music providing something of a tension and giving it an exciting character. Mesut Cemil’s interpretative style appeared to be searching for a "horizontal" harmony suitable for Turkish music also evidenced by his invention and use of group taksims ("beraber taksim"). In these taksims musicians sequentially or simultaneously generate a sense of communication exploring the limits of a given makam and generating an artistic intimacy. He was fond of joining a taksim with long drone sounds thereby creating a tension, especially towards the karar.

As a chorus director Mesut Cemil was very precise and careful and at the same time wonderfully melodic. With the exception of a few records made with the “Unison Male Chorus” he did not allow the use of percussion instruments, a style of conducting and interpretation which was later passed on to Nevzat Atlig who also came under criticism for not using percussion instruments. According to his critics this led to a loss of the rhythmic structures in Ottoman compositions. Nevertheless, Mesut Cemil tried to compensate for this loss by the use of ud and kanun (zither) in a rhythmically enhanced way. He established beautiful harmony using low-pitched instruments such as the cello and ud. On a more fundamental level, one can question the authenticity and structural suitability of chorus genre to essentially monophonic Turkish music altogether. The debates on these issues, however, do not change the fact that Mesut Cemil was the chorus director and his performances with choruses are the most beautiful, romantic and carefully nuanced examples of this genre departing dramatically from old style of singing called “gaygayli okuyus.”

Until Mesut Cemil Bey, Mevlevi ayins were only performed in Mevlevi convents and religious gatherings. Later he helped commercially record an ayin (with percussion instruments) and mevlut (the first LP recorded in Turkey sung by Kâni Karaca) and also performed on State Radios of secular Turkey which helped this most artistic form of classical repertoire be enjoyed by wider audience.

During this time, in contrast to its earlier somewhat negative bias against Turkish classical music, Turkish state radios, under the watchful eye of Mesut Cemil, played an important role in educating musicians and disseminating Turkish classical and folk music. As previously mentioned Mesut Cemil was a very impressive orator almost always announcing his own programs and reading the lyrics majestically. He had great influence on other musicians. To be scolded or praised by Mesut Cemil Bey meant something. In order to earn his approval, musicians prepared and tried hard to create good opening or passing taksims. He is known to leave an important meeting to find out which musician was performing a taksim barely audible. If he was unable to meet the performer he would leave a note like the well known one written to his friend Rusen Kam congratulating him for a wonderful passing taksim. Mesut Cemil Bey set the standard or rather he became the standard to which musicians sought very hard to conform. In short, Mesut Cemil Bey, with his impeccable taste, musical and occupational authority (as director of Turkish radio) provided an atmosphere for good music. He provided musicians a context which became almost void after he passed away.

His Prominent Works

His “Semai in Nihavent” is probably Mesut Cemil’s most famous composition. In addition to this beautiful semai, a short longa (dance piece) in makam sehnaz and a few pretty songs are known. Perhaps because of his impatient nature, Mesut Cemil was not a prolific composer of scored pieces. He did however, create a large number of outstanding spontaneous improvisations (taksims) and performed beautiful interpretations of scored classical pieces. He authored an exceptionally well-written book on the life of his father Tanburî Cemil Bey and the musical environment of the time and many articles on different subjects of classical music.

In presenting the selections we were constrained by the sound quality of available recordings. Among technically acceptable recordings we tried to present a selection to capture diverse aspects of Mesut Cemil’s art. We also sought to include a large selection of makams. Not counting many modulations in taksims the selections contain the following makams: Acemkürdi, Bestenigâr, Gerdaniye, Hicaz, Hicazkâr, Hisarbuselik, Hüseyni, Isfahan, Kürdilîhicazkâr, Mahur, Müstear, Neva, Nihavent, Nikriz, Rehavi, Segâh, Sultanîyegâh, Suzidil, Sûznâk, Sedd-i araban, Sehnaz, Tahir, Tahirbuselik and Ussak.

We would like to express our gratitude to Walter Z. Feldman, Abraham Marcus and Abby Temeltas for generous assistance.

Notes by Ercüment G. Aksoy, Director of Golden Horn Heritage Series

Review by