Ulvi Cemal Erkin

Ulvi Cemal Erkin

Ulvi Cemal Erkin (Turkish pronunciation: [ulˈvi dʒeˈmal eɾˈcin]) (March 14, 1906 – September 15, 1972) was a member of the pioneer group of symphonic composers in Turkey, born in the period 1904 – 1910, who later came to be called The Turkish Five. These composers set out the direction of music in the newly established Turkish Republic. These composers distinguished themselves with their use of Turkish folk music and modal elements in an entirely western symphonic style.


Ulvi Cemal Erkin's aptitude for music was noticed at an early age by his mother, herself a pianist. His father was a senior civil servant in the Ottoman administration, contracted septicemia and died when the young Erkin was seven. The widowed mother and her three sons took refuge at the mansion of the maternal grandfather also a high-ranking official of the declining Ottoman Empire and an intellectual.

Erkin took his first piano lessons from Mercenier, a Frenchman, and later from Adinolfi; then, a renowned professor of music in Istanbul. He graduated from Galatasaray High School. Concurrent with his studies at the Galatasaray High School dispensing education in the French language, he pursued his efforts in the path of becoming a musician and availed himself of every opportunity which could contribute to his aspirations.

The newly founded republic was aiming to expand modernisation and westernisation to every aspect of life, including music. Atatürk had long pondered a renovation also in this domain and was very keen on seeing it in progress. To this end, scholarships were being given to gifted young students in European academic institutions. Ulvi Cemal Erkin, was 19 years old when he won the contest of the Ministry of Education and was awarded a scholarship to study music in Paris, together with two other students, Cezmi Rifki Erinc and Ekrem Zeki Un in 1925. He studied in the Paris Conservatory and the Ecole Normale de Musique. He studied piano with Isidor Philippe, and composition with Jean and Noël Gallon and Nadia Boulanger at the Paris Conservatoire and the École Normale de Musique.

Upon his return to Turkey in 1930, he began teaching at the Musiki Muallim Mektebi (School of Musical Education). He met his wife Ferhunde Erkin (Remzi, her maiden name)at the Musiki Muallim Mektebi. On September 29, 1932, he married her, herself a pianist, graduate of the Leipzig Conservatoire, and his colleague at the school in Ankara. She became his muse and best interpreter and they shared a lifetime of dedicated endeavours to encourage and train young musicians with the scanty means afforded to institutions and to build up audiences of polyphonic music throughout Anatolia.

Erkin shared the grand prize of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi with Ahmet Adnan Saygun and Hasan Ferit Alnar in 1943 for his piano concerto. He wrote the famous Köçekçe orchestral suite the same year. It was Alfred Cortot who gave him the idea of composing a piano concerto during his visit to Turkey, after listening to his Quartet.

The same piano concerto and Köçekçe suite was premiered by the Presidential Symphony Orchestra on March 11, 1943. The orchestra was conducted by Dr. Ernst Praetorius, and Ferhunde Erkin was the soloist. On the request of Ambassador Franz von Papen, the piano concerto was performed in Berlin, Germany on October 8, 1943. The Berlin City Orchestra was conducted by Fritz Zaun and the soloist was again Ferhunde Erkin.

Erkin, who composed his first works while a student in Paris, was productive as a composer throughout his career as a professor of music which he embarked in 1930 at the age of 24, or occasion appearing as a pianist to perform a concerto, on others as an accompanist or as an orchestra conductor to interpret his own works or operas. He also conducted the Conservatoire Student Orchestra at its periodic concerts and composed the "Sinfonietta", a work composed expressly to help instrumentalists overcome certain rhythmic and modal difficulties, peculiar to Turkish music.

With its genuine quality, warmth and apparent simplicity Erkin's music was very influential in arousing the enthusiasm of the Turkish public towards polyphonic music, and his works were among those most frequently performed. This is still the case to-day. The spiritual power of modal traditional music is masterfully reflected in spite of the absence of quarter tones in western orchestral instruments and the uneven rhythmic beats of folk music are exquisitely employed in enchanting harmonic structure and orchestration.

His works are widely and frequently performed and broadcast outside Turkey and he personally conducted his own works with orchestras such as the Czech Philharmonic, the Colonne Orchestra at the Brussels Fair and "The Paris Radio Symphony Orchestra".

Erkin's heart had been failing since his late forties and he succumbed to a last stroke on September 15, 1972 at the age of 65. He was laid to rest at the Karşıyala Cemetery in Ankara.[1]


Erkin was awarded with the Palm Academique, Légion d'honneur chivalarous and official degrees, and the Italian Republic Medal. He was conferred the title of State Artist by the Turkish government in 1971. Erkin was awarded post-mortem medal of honor by the Sevda-Cenap And Music Foundation in 1991. A postage stamp commemorating his life was issued by the Turkish postal system in 1985.

In July 2010, The Municipality of Çankaya (Ankara) organised a national architectural competition for a concert hall with 2000 seats which shall be named after his name; Ulvi Cemal Erkin Concert Hall. The competition won by architects Ramazan Avcı, Seden Cinasal Avcı and Evren Başbuğ; a design team formed by the partners of SCRA Architects and Dist Architects. The site for the concert hall is in Çankaya, the central metropolitan district of the city of Ankara, the capital of Turkey.


See also


  1. "Ulvi Cemal Erkin Kimdir ?" (in Turkish). Sahne Tozu Tiyatrosu. Retrieved 2013-10-22.
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