Cantemir Ensemble

Cantemir Ensemble
Cantemir Ensemble at the Smithsonian

Line up

  • Amy Brodo (baroque viola da gamba)
  • David Wilson (baroque violin)
  • Lars Johannesson (baroque flute, piccolo)
  • Linda Burman-Hall (director, harpsichord, percussion)
  • Mesut Özgen (lute, early guitar, percussion)
  • Murat Aydemir (tanbur)
  • Neva Özgen (kemence)


This program honors the amazingly rich life of Prince Dimitrie Cantemir (Turkish: Kantemiroglu, 16731723). Born in Moldavia (now parts of Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine) but educated in Istanbul, he becameduring his many years at the heart of Ottoman culturea master musician, composer, linguist, and lexicographer. After twenty-two years in Istanbul, he finally was sent home to rule Moldavia as the representative of the Ottoman Empire. Cantemir, however, betrayed the sultan by attempting to liberate his people with the aid of Tsar Peter the Great. Defeated, he fled with his court into exile in Russia where, among other achievements, he helped translate the Greek Orthodox liturgy into Russian. He was given the title Prince of the Russian Empire by Peter the Great.

As Cantemir's birthplace was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, he had been sent to Istanbul as a guest of the court to ensure Moldavia's loyalty. There, he studied the tanbur, a long-necked Turkish lute, earning a reputation for his knowledge of the historical Ottoman repertoire and theory. Cantemir's treatise on Turkish music, Kantemir Edvari, was a major contribution to musicology, preserving three hundred fifty-two works in a unique notation style he developed to document his music study. Many of these works were composed in the Ottoman pesrev and saz semai forms.

A CD recording devoted to Cantemir includes most of the musicians performing at this concert. Released in 2004, Cantemir: Music in Istanbul and Ottoman Europe around 1700 features co-directors &304;hsan Oezgen and Linda Burman-Hall and the Santa Cruz-based quintet Lux Musica. In our concert and lecture-demonstrations at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Turkish musicians Neva Oezgen and Murat Aydemir perform kemence and tanbur, respectively, in the place of &304;hsan Oezgen.

This concert explores three repertoires. The first section, "The World of Cantemir: Istanbul and Ottoman Europe around 1700," presents music composed by Cantemir along with traditional Moldavian dances that he might have heard back home during his wedding. The next section, "New Music in Honor of Cantemir," begins with a kemence taksim (a genre of solo improvisation for the bowed kemence), a form that had just gained popularity when Cantemir was in Istanbul. It is followed by a beraber taksim, a new and experimental form of improvisation pioneered in recent years by &304;hsan Oezgen. This "new music" section also debuts two compositions inspired by Cantemir's musical legacy, one by the late Lou Harrison and arranged by Linda Burman-Hall, the other composed by Yalcin Tura, a devoted scholar of Cantemir who recently published a full transcription of the prince's Book of the Science of Music. The next section, "Turkish Images, European Reflections," presents English and French music in the alla Turca style, which was popular in the eighteenth century and included Turkish-inspired percussion, rhythms, and "exotic" melodies. The concert concludes with more music by Cantemir, along with improvisations in the Turkish classical style (taksim) and two additional Moldavian dances.

Notes by Linda Burman-Hall