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How French is frenkçin?

  • OWEN WRIGHT (a1)

It is by no means unknown, in Middle-Eastern art-music traditions, to find claims that a given rhythmic cycle was invented on a particular occasion by a particular musician, the most obvious and reliable instance being provided by ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Marāġī (d. 1435), who tells us that he was commissioned to create a new cycle to commemorate a victory. With frenkçin, then, a cycle where the very name clearly suggests some form of western derivation or inflection, it was perhaps only to be expected that we should encounter a similar narrative that pinpointed its origin, associating its creation with the impulse provided by a particular cultural encounter with the West. It has to be said, though, that no such account appears as a standard feature of the contemporary theoretical discourse surrounding Turkish art music: works that deal with the rhythmic cycles tend to be expository catalogues unconcerned with origins and derivations, and it is only in one major modern reference work that we come across the notion of western inspiration, together with a tentative suggestion as to the period during which frenkçin emerged. The detailed narrative of origin certainly first appears in a text by an eminent Turkish scholar, but it is one written in French—the comprehensive survey article by Rauf Yekta Bey published in 1922—and possibly in consequence it has so far been relayed primarily in western languages. The discussion by Kösemihal, the one significant Turkish scholar to have accepted this account, appears to have had little impact, and it remains to be seen whether the relatively recent translation of Rauf Yekta Bey's article into Turkish will stimulate renewed interest in this version in Turkey itself.

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G.M. MacLean , The rise of oriental travel: English visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580–1720, (Basingstoke, 2004)

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
  • EISSN: 1474-0591
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-royal-asiatic-society
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