Bartók’s Anatolian collecting work

In 1935 Bartók was asked by a leader of the Turkish Halkevi cultural organization to give a few concerts and lectures and direct a demonstration trip to collect folk music. Bartók arrived in Istanbul on 2 November 1936, studied the material of the conservatory for a day and with Turkish composer Ahmet Adnan Saygun left for Ankara. He delivered three lectures and played in a few concerts. He could start collecting there, then went to south Turkey around Adana. Back in Budapest Bartók immediately started transcribing the tunes recorded on 64 cylinders. He completed the bulk of the work by May 1937. Of the collected Turkish tunes he announced:

“The following conclusions can be drawn after a thorough examination of the material:

(1) The apparently oldest, most characteristic and homogeneous part of the material amounting to 43 % of the corpus contains four-lined, eight- or eleven-syllabic Dorian, Aeolian or Phrygian tunes of descending structure and parlando rhythm, in which traces of the pentatonic structure familiar from Hungarian and Cheremiss tunes also appear.

(2) The eight-syllable tunes of the songs described in the previous paragraph coincide with the Hungarian eight-syllabic material of the old style; the eleven-syllabic ones are closely related to it. All this alludes to the common West-Central Asian origin of the Hungarian and Turkic material and defines its age as at least one thousand five hundred years.”

(Saygun 1976: IX–XI)

It is less known that instead of America he would have gladly gone to Turkey to continue the research. He asked A.A. Saygun, his companion during his fieldwork in Turkey, to inquire whether there was a chance for him to work as an ethnomusicologist. All he would require was a modest salary. The great Turkish composer A. A. Saygun put down the following about Bartók’s letter:

“In a letter written to me in February 1936 Bartók… reminded me of his deep interest in Turkish folk music, stressing that the best destination for his emigration would be Turkey. Then he asked me to make inquiries at the competent authorities whether it was possible to involve him in the folk music research of our country, adding that together we could do useful work in this area. If I remember well, he added that a modest sum would suffice to cover his costs of living. I immediately took the necessary steps but unfortunately all my efforts were unsuccessful. Bartók was namely persona non grata in Ankara. It aggravated the situation that Bartók’s proposal was mediated by another undesired person …”

(Saygun 1976)