VIDEO Parfums ottomans
Ottoman Fragrances
Arab-Turkish Court Music

Julien Jâlal Eddine Weiss is a musical traveller. For the past quarter of a century he has concentrated all his efforts – his intelligence, his sensibility – on exploring the complex, refined domain of Sufi traditional music, which he has distilled and brought back to its sources, working from his base in Aleppo, the pure, noble capital of northern Syria.

Today, the great qānūn player has decided to turn his fascinated gaze on Istanbul, the city of empire and court. All the musics of the ‘second Orient’, whether Turkish, Arabic or Persian, probably Indian too, and perhaps even a little Chinese and Japanese, all these flowering musics with their fragrances, wafted through the Perfumed Hall, in that prestigious salon looking out on the glittering Bosporus.
AL-KINDÎ, Ottoman Fragrances. All those musics are to be heard here, with their Baudelairean correspondances:


« In a tenebrous and profound unity,
Vast as the night and as clarity
Scents, colours and sounds answer one another.»

A beautiful fountain of cool water rises and falls in crystalline bouquets in one of the splendid marble basins of Topkapi Palace.

 Salah Stétié

«  There are strong perfumes for which any matter
Is porous. It is as if they penetrate the glass.
On opening a chest come from the Orient
Whose lock grates and resists with a shriek,

Or, in an abandoned house, some wardrobe
Full of the pungent smell of time, dusty and dark,
Sometimes one finds an old bottle that remembers,
Whence rushes full of life a returning soul. »

Charles Baudelaire, « Flacon » (Les Fleurs du Mal, XLVIII)

Ottoman Music

The traditional art music of Islam is the continuation, enriched over thirteen centuries, of the ancient modes and of refined Arab, Persian, Turkish, and Indian music. This confluence in the sphere of music excluded neither originality in the legacy of the various peoples concerned, nor the specificity of the local styles favoured by the caliphates and the princely courts. From the fourteenth century onwards, the decline of the Arabs and Iranians and the ascension of the Ottoman Turks resulted in the latter’s inheriting the elitism of the caliphate.

At the moment when Constantinople became Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks arrived with new cultural elements. Ottoman classical music, a learned synthesis of Byzantine, Persian, Arab and Turkish influences, attained an incomparable degree of richness and eclecticism.

“Apart from oral tradition, whose principal vectors of transmission are the Sufi orders, the surviving Arab transcriptions are often defective, and hardly go back any further than the late nineteenth century. In my epistemological frenzy, and flouting all intercultural ostracisms, I set out to study Ottoman sources in the shape of two seventeenth-century manuscripts from Istanbul: the first was written in western notation around 1650 by the santūr player Ali UfKi alias Wojciech Bobowski, a Polish Jew sold as a slave and converted to Islam; the second was written in alphabetic notation around 1690 by the extravagant Moldavian Christian prince, diplomat and tanbur player, Dimitrie Cantemir. These sources contain collections of pieces by Turkish composers, but also Persians, Indians and Arabs, dating from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Many of these musicians had been captured by the Turkish conquerors of the great metropolises like Cairo and Baghdad.”

Julien Jâlal Eddine Weiss