Suzinak Solo Cello
Transcription of a Kemence (Turkish Spike Fiddle) Taksim (Improvisation)
Arranged by Edward J Hines

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Sheet Music:
Yeni Makam 3 for Solo Cello

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Stefan Polgar, solo cello; from a 1989 performance at Grace Church, Amherst, Massachusetts

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Suzinak Taksimi Sheet Music Sample

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Suzinak Taksimi was the first work based on my research of Turkish classical and folk music as a Fulbright scholar in 1985-86. It is a transcription of a taksim (instrumental improvisation) originally performed on the kemence (upright spike fiddle) by Resat Uca, a member of the orchestra in the Turkish State Classical Music Chorus based in Istanbul.

The work was the result of daily observations of rehearsals under the direction of Dr. Nevzad Atlig. My mentor, the composer and ethnomusicologist A. Adnan Saygun, worked closely with me to check the accuracy of the transcription, especially the nuances of pitch which are at the core of Turkish classical compositions.

Suzinak Taksimi is written in the ancient system of tuning known as makam (modes). Developed during the ninth through eleventh centuries by Middle Eastern musicians, scientists and theorists, makams are modal systems based on the work of Pythagorean scholars. The makam system is in wide use all over the Middle East and the Islamic world and like any shared cultural phenomena, reflects distinct regional characteristics. The Turkish Suzinak makam and Arabic Suznak maqam have a similar overall structure, but are distinctly different in the interpretation of individual pitches within the mode.

The Suzinak makam is one of the basic makams of Turkish classical music and is constructed by joining Rast, a basic Turkish pentachord and Hicaz, a basic tetrachord.

There are about a dozen basic tetrachords and pentachords whose permutations can yield hundreds of different makams, each with it's own name and characteristics.

The Suzinak makam contains three pitches with accidentals; each accidental is microtonally altered to achieve the authentic feeling of the mode. To understand the nuances of these pitches, we measure each step using the Cent system, where the octave is equal to 1200 cents. We then compare Suzinak as it would be interpreted on a piano using the intervals of Western equal temperament, and any fretless stringed instrument using the Turkish makam system:


The differences between steps #2, 4, 5, are little and indistinguishable to the ear. However, steps # 3, 6 and 7 are an important part of the feeling of the Suzinak makam:

Step #3: The accidental sign indicates the pitch is microtonally lowered by 16 cents when compared to equal temperament. The effect is a slightly lowered B natural, or B natural played 'under' the pitch. The performer should note that lowering the pitch by a quarter-tone (approximately 50 cents), would cause the makam to lose it's authentic Turkish characteristic and make the Rast pentachord sound more like an Arabic Rast pentachord. Lowering it by 100 cents would result in the pitch B-flat.

Step #6: The accidental sign indicates the pitch is an E-flat which is raised microtonally by 16 cents when compared to equal temperament. A slightly raised E-flat, or E-flat played 'over' the pitch.

Step #7: The accidental sign looks like a normal F-sharp, however the pitch should be lowered slightly (approx 13 cents) in order capture the feeling of the Hicaz tetrachord within Suzinak.

The comparison of intervals in Turkish makams with the equal temperament system is done in order to give performers, especially those trained in the Western conservatory style, a starting point in the authentic interpretation of these non-Western modal systems.

Suzinak is also distinguished from other makams through its progression: the point of entry and direction of movement towards the tonic. The work enters on the dominant and gently develops the Hicaz tetrachord for much of the work, giving only a hint of the tonic on several held notes. The listener is then prepared for a strong finalis where the progression descends through the Rast pentachord and comes to a final cadence on the tonic. This progression of developing an upper Hicaz tetrachord and then descending with a cadence on the tonic of a Rast pentachord is common in classical Turkish compositions written in the Suzinak makam.

During the early 1990's, the original manuscript to Suzinak Taksimi was lost. Luckily, a copy of the work was on file in the Ankara office of the Fulbright Commission for Educational Exchange between the United States and Turkey. I will always be grateful to Süreyya Ersoy of the Fulbright Istanbul office for getting another copy to me, which he sent in 2005.
-EJH, Wendell, Massachusetts, August, 2006