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Zennup Pınar Çakmakcı

It is a known fact that, in addition to the administration of state, the Ottoman sultans were closely interested in music as well. The Ottoman sultans created valuable works of art in  music, painting and literature, etc. This article will focus on Selim III, the Ottoman sultan who had a special interest in music besides other branches of art. 

Sultan Selim III was among the leading Ottoman sultans who were interested in music. In the later periods, Sultan Mahmud II, Sultan Bayezid II and Sultan Abdulmejid had set their hearts on music, too. 

Sultan Selim III was born in Istanbul on December 24, 1761. His father was Sultan Mustafa III and his mother was Mihr-i Şah Vâlide Sultan. His father Sultan Mustafa III showed great attention to the raising of Şehzade (Imperial Prince) Selim, and tasked a committee composed of selected scientists with his education and training. Şehzade Selim was given a special education by this committee beginning from the age of five.

After the death of his father Sultan Mustafa III in 1774, Sultan Abdulmejid I ascended the throne. According to the Ottoman rules of government, the Kafes (Cage) period started for Şehzade Selim. At first, Sultan Abdulmejid did not allow the strict rules of the Cage be applied for Şehzade Selim. However, due to the Grand Vizier Halil Hamd Pasha incident in 1775, Şehzade Selim was completely taken into the Cage and subjected to its strict rules. Living under the strict rules of the Palace, Şehzade Selim fully devoted himself to music and literature until his ascension to the throne in 1789.

The place of Sultan Selim III in our musical history is of great importance compared to the other sultans. Apart from being a performer and a composer, Selim III was also an art-lover who encouraged and supported the musical scholars and artists of his time to carry out new studies. Thanks to his guidance in music, it has become possible for very important sources that will enlighten the theoretical and applied areas of the Ottoman/Turkish music to reach the present day.

Sultan Selim III ascended the throne in 1789 at the age of twenty-eight and remained until 1807. He was an innovative and progressive sultan who followed the advancements in the West closely during his reign.

His years in the Cage made him an elegant, fine person fond of poetry, and especially music.

He wrote poems under the pseudonym “İlhami”, which reached the present day. He has many compositions still listened to and loved in our present day. This characteristic put his name in history as the composer and artist sultan.

The reign of Sultan Selim III was the period where the palace music united with the Ottoman music, lived its golden age, and reached its peak not only as an instrument of entertainment, but also artistically. Sultan Selim III revived the forgotten makams (mode) of the Turkish music, thus allowing the traditional Turkish music to live its golden age. In this period under the reign of Sultan Selim III, the Ottoman Palace became an institution which followed the musical activities in Istanbul, supported the successful musicians and artists, provided them with resources, and took an important role in their cultural development.
Sultan Selim III not only learned the nazarî and applied aspects of the Ottoman/Turkish music in the best way possible, but also reached an advanced level to be able to compose fifteen new makams.
The makams (modes) composed by Sultan Selim III are as follows: Acem-Bûselik, Arazbar Bûselik, Dil-nevâz, Evcârâ, Gerdâniye-Kürdî, Hicâzeyn, Hüseynî-Zemzeme, Isfahanek-i Cedîd, Nevâ-Kürdî, Nevâ-Bûselik, Pesendîde, Rast-ı Cedîd, Sûz-i Dilârâ, Şevk-Efzâ and Şevk-ı Dil.
104 compositions of Sultan Selim III that reached the present day consist of 1 Ayin (Rite), 1 Durak (Pause), 1 Tevşih, 2 İlâhis (Hymns), 29 Peşrevs (Preludes), 29 Saz Semai, 1 Kâr, 10 Compositions, 10 Semais and 20 Songs.
Another characteristic of Sultan Selim III was that he made very qualified composers and performers part of our musical history. A prodigy, Hamâmîzâde İsmail Dede Efendi and a high level singer, Basmacı Abdi Efendi, were just a few of them.

Sultan Selim III requested Abdülbâkî Nâsır Dede, who was also a Mevlevi like him, to study on notation due to the requirement in the musical field. The two works Abdülbâkî Nâsır Dede called "Tedkîk ü Tahkîk" and "Tahrîriyye", which included the notation system, were products of this request. These are very valuable works that shed light on the 18th century Ottoman/Turkish music. Sultan Selim III also tasked Hamparsum Limonciyan to conduct a study on notation, and thus, led to the creation of the "Hamparsum note" based on the Armenian alphabet. Such foresight and guidance of Sultan Selim III saved thousand of works from vanishing and allowed them to reach the present day.

One day Şeyh Galib Efendi asked him: "Who in your opinion are the happiest, my Sultan?" He said: "Animals and plants", and justified his words by saying: "Since these living things are free from the ambition for money, authority and position, they are sincere, which allow them to make those around them and themselves happy". 

He is the leader of the innovative and reformist sultans in the Ottoman history. His trials for the reforms in military and politics were not accepted by the conservative circles and the guild of janissaries, and for this reason, the uprising known as the "Kabakçı Uprising" was organized to dethrone Sultan Selim III. Even though the uprising was repressed by the Rusçuk alderman Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, a supporter of the reform program known as Nizam-ı Cedid (The New Order) and the rebels were executed, Mustafa IV, the newly elected sultan during the uprising sent nearly 20 executioners to Sultan Selim III to preserve his own reign. 

Sultan Selim III was blowing Ney (reed flute) and meditating at the time in Topkapı Palace, and resisted the executioners who entered into his room, but lost his life due to loss of blood caused by the two sword blows to his temple during the struggle. Until that day, the blood of no member of the dynasty dethroned as a result of the uprisings and fights for the throne was spilled in the Ottoman history. The members of the dynasty were strangled since their blood was considered sacred. Selim III was the first sultan who was killed by spilling his blood in the Ottoman history.

The following lines written by the composer-spirited Selim III, who can be defined as the first sultan to plan and start the Ottoman/Turkish modernization, clearly show us his lifelong melancholic state of mind;
Ruz u şeb dîdelerim derdin ile kan ağlar
Vâkıf olan benim esrârıma hemân ağlar
Derd ile rûyuna baktıkça senin İlhamî
Gerçi handân olur amma ciğeri kan ağlar… 
My pupils bleed day and night with your sorrow
He who has grasp of my secret cries all the time
Whenever İlhamî looks at your face with sorrow, 
Even though he becomes happy to see the lover's face, he tears his heart out


KARAKAYA, Oğuz,  Asst. Prof. Dr., Selçuk University, Dilek Sabancı State Conservatory, Department of Traditional Turkish Music, Turkish Classical Music Department, Sultan III. Selim’in, 18. Yüzyıl Osmanlı/Türk Müziğine, Teorisine ve Nota Yazım Biçiminin Gelişimine Katkıları (Contributions of Sultan Selim III to 18th Century Ottoman/Turkish Music, Theory and the Development of Notation Format).

ÖZKUT, Süleyman Arif, Melankolik bir sultan: III. Selim (A Melancholic Sultan: Selim III), Lacivert Magazine, Issue 32, February 2017

ÖZTUNA, Yılmaz (2006), Türk Mûsikîsi Akademik Klasik Türk Sanat Mûsikîsinin Ansiklopedik Sözlüğü (The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Turkish Music, Academic Classical Turkish Art Music), Istanbul, Orient Publications Volume I – II.

SALGAR, Fatih (2001), Üçüncü Selim Hayatı Sanatı Eserleri (Life, Art and Works of Selim the Third), Istanbul, Ötüken Neşriyat

YURTTADUR Oğuz, CİLİLLİ H. Canan, III. Selim ve Döneminde Osmanlı Saray’ındaki Kültürel Hayatın Sanat ve Mimarideki Etkileri (Selim III and Impacts of Cultural Life in Ottoman Palace During His Reign on Art and Architecture). (Kalem İşi Magazine, 2015, Volume 3, Issue 5)