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 Şerif Muhittin Targan was a sophisticated, versatile person coming from a well-established family. He was a painter who also studied law and literature, interested in hunting, but his greatest virtue was that he was a unique musician and had introduced and promoted the oud to the world.

We spoke with Yurdal Tokcan about the striking life and artistic personality of Şerif Muhittin Targan. 

The artist was born on January 21, 1892 in Istanbul as  the son of Sabiha Hanım and the last Emir of Mecca of the Ottoman Empire, Vizier Ali Haydar Pasha. Raised with private lessons until the age of 18, the artist learned Persian, Arabic, English and French during this period, and then studied law and literature in Darülfünun. 
Influenced by the musical meetings at home, he had an interest in music at a young age, learning to play the piano and the oud. He took Turkish music lessons from Ali Rıfat Çağatay, Rauf Yekta Bey and Ahmet Irsoy. When he reached the level of virtuosity in oud-playing, he started composing. He was only 13 when he matured enough to compose the Hüzzam Saz Semai, one of the instrument works in classical style. 

When his uncle Şerif Cafer Pasha said, “Muhittin, how about if you study a Western musical instrument that has a literature?”, he started studying the violoncello around the age of 14. He continued to take lessons first from Monsieur Ricci in Beyoğlu, then from Klender's (Julius Klengel: 1859-1933) student, because Monsieur Ricci was old and tired. When the violoncello artist Istanou, who was about to leave for Romania,  listened to Targan through Monsieur Coppe, who brought musical notes to him from Europe, he changed his mind and helped with the violoncello education of Targan. Istanou is the student of the famous David Popper (David Popper: 1843-1913). When his teacher left the country due to the March 31 Incident, Targan continued to advance his violoncello performance by himself.

When the World War I started and his father was appointed as the Emir of Mecca due to the outbreak of an uprising in Hejaz, he had to go to Syria together with his family. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and seizing of all their assets in Hejaz by the rebels dealt a major blow to the family financially, and for Targan, who wanted to save his family from his financial burden, the journey to America started under these conditions.

On the fourth day of his arrival to the USA, the oud recital he gave in a gathering at the pianist and composer Leopold Godowsky's house attended by the famous violinists was a good reference for him, allowing him to support himself afterwards by playing in various trios and quartets.

He gave a concert on December 13, 1928 at the Town Hall, where he played the oud and the violoncello, and was admired for his performance. In his concert program, he played the C Minor sonata of Saint – Saens and D Minor sonata of Locatelli, four of his works composed for the oud, then ended his concert again with the violoncello playing the works of J.S Bach, Debussy, Ravel and Davi Copper. The Herald Tribune, one of the most important newspapers in the USA reported this concert with the headline of “Targan gave an amazing concert in a style and technique never heard of before”.

In the music section of the New York Herald Tribune, two famous US musicians and critics, Godousky and Kreisler, used this exact expression about Şerif Muhiddin Targan: "In the Oud, Şerif Muhiddin has made the revolution Paganini made in the violin".

His close friend, the poet Mehmet Âkif Ersoy wrote his poem titled "Şarka Davet" (Invitation to the Orient) with the sorrow he felt for Targan's going to the USA and not performing his music in Turkey.

When he returned from the USA in 1932, upon invitation of the Iraqi Government, Şerif Muhiddin went to Iraq to establish the music department of Baghdad Academy of Fine Arts, and acted as the chairman of Mahed’el Musiki for 12 years. When returned to Istanbul again in 1948 due to health problems, Targan was appointed as the Chairman of the Scientific Board of Istanbul Municipality Conservatory, but he resigned voluntarily after two years. 

Targan married the esteemed vocal artist Safiye Ayla on April 8, 1950, and gave his last concert at Saray Movie Theater on March 3, 1953. When he was playing the violoncello in this recital, Cemal Reşit Rey conducted the orchestra. 
In addition to his success in music, Targan also has important works in  portrait and landscape painting. A large number of his paintings are included in various collections. One of his two Abdülhak Hamit portraits is in Topkapı Palace Museum, and the other one is at Istanbul University. Some of his paintings are in Süleymaniye Library.

Targan died on September 13, 1967 in Istanbul. 

I have heard from my elders that I showed much interest to music when I was around three or four. I still remember some of the pieces in my repertoire around the ages of five or six. Folk songs such as“Üsküdara Gideriken”, and “Kabağıda Boynuma Takarım”, and the first section from Asım Bey’s (Griftzen) rast peşrev (prelude in rast). When I had the opportunity, I played these works on the piano for my mother's guests.

My father loved fine arts. He painted and was very fond of listening to old music. At times when fasıl music gatherings were organized with the attendance of Ali Rıfat Bey (Çağatay), Rauf Yekta Bey, and Kanuni Hacı Arif Bey, I was given permission to listen in these exceptional nights. The next morning, before the rooms were cleaned, I would get up early, collect the discarded strings, attach them to the three pegged wood I had made at the carpenter's shop, and make sounds by myself. Later on, I learned that my father did not want me to start studying music, thinking that I would neglect my lessons. 

Around the age of ten, I found a small oud and hid it under a large sofa in the guest room. I asked my nanny, who was keeping the key to this room, not to tell anyone. In this way, I found a way to study. After everyone in the house went to bed, I would light the candle holder, pass the corridor between the room I slept in and the living room, and study by myself until I get tired in front of the window of the living room seeing the Marmara Sea and Istanbul. When the minarets of Istanbul lit up, I would understand that the morning was close, place the oud back to its place fearing that those who get up early might give me away, and go back to my bed. A few seasons passed in this way. Sometimes the gerdaniye (thinnest string of the oud) would snap and I would play the passages from the neva (second string of the oud). Sometimes even that snapped, and I would struggle on the other strings. When I found new strings and completed the missing ones, I would feel that the things that I found difficult before got easier. Eventually, when I was around 13, my state of inability to sleep and the start of severe palpitations when I lied down gave me away. One night, I woke up my big brother and told him to call our mother. The palpitation was continuing severely. That night, I understood the magic in a mother's hand. When my mother said,“you are fine my son” and rubbed his hand around my forehead, I calmed down and fell asleep soon after. Upon this incident, the inquiry at the house was deepened, and it was discovered that oud sounds were heard from the living room at night, which lasted until the morning. This event was concluded in my favor, and I was allowed to play the oud in the evenings after I finished my lessons. 

Let me also name the persons from whom I benefited in our music. I have never taken any oud lessons from someone who told me how to place my fingers or how to use the pick. Since my childhood, I have listened to the late Mr. Rıfat (Ali Rıfat Çağatay) and learned from him greatly. I studied from him the works of great masters such as Itri, Zaharya, Halim Ağa, and Dede. Then, I benefited from Zekai Dede and Master Ahmet Efendi on the maqams and procedures. Regarding the oriental music instruments, the most exceptional artist to whom I have listened and who has left an unforgettable influence on me is Cemil Bey from the times he played his tanbur with a pick.

The oud has a deceptive easiness. When the order of the six strings is right, anyone who has an ear enough to distinguish the right sound from the wrong,  can start to play a few things after learning a little about the frets. One who continues to study this way, completes the peşrevs, semais, songs, and soon joins the master oud players. I did not content myself with this much. Let me give you a little example. When studying, I always paid attention to use the necessary and measured picks, and not to use the unnecessary ones. I also always took into consideration the circumstantial difference between the open and closed frets. In order to keep the expression strength under control in the left hand technique, I made it a habit of using the closed frets instead of the open strings where I deemed necessary. Among these, I tried to bind the fingers and picks I found logical in my own way. 

For example, a melody can be performed in a few ways. It can be expressed by using the open strings randomly, by not using the open strings, and by using the open and closed strings together.