From the first three decades of the twentieth century, the music here is so transfixing, intensely devotional and sublimely beautiful, that some contemporary listeners thought they were levitating.
Drawn from recordings made in Istanbul by the Gramophone Company and HMV, amidst the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, To Scratch Your Heart crosses and mixes the folk and classical heritage of Turks, Greeks, Armenians and Gypsies, Muslims, Christians and Jews, urbanites and country-people, and the demands of tradition and modernity, musical improvisation, composition and system.
Most of the singers here are ‘hafiz’, versed in a musical reading of the Koran, and renowned for mastery of the exalted, improvisatory form of the ‘gazel’: there are several magnificent examples here, by legendary artists. Three gazelhans beautifully interpret folk songs, and another contributor, the folklorist Agyazar Efendi, sings a long Armenian air with utter authenticity, but in the style of a gazel. Exemplifying the new political freedoms of the Republic, there are two heart-melting female vocal performances of a kind of art-song called ‘sarki’. Also featured is the ‘taksim’, a kind of improvisation in which one-off musical fireworks, designed to ravish the listener’s soul, illuminate deep fluency in the ‘makam’: a who’s who of the pre-eminent instrumentalists of this first half-century of Turkish recording, in performances which are simply stunning — breath-taking, exquisite and other-worldly.
Brilliantly restored at Abbey Road, fully annotated with rare photographs, and luxuriously presented in both formats.