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What is a makam?

Oransay described makam (Turkish makam, plural makamlar; Arabic maqam, plural maqamat) as 'composition rules'. They are definite scales which are governed by certain rules which we will talk about later. A makam has no intrinsic (allegorical) value and is not bound to certain times of the day or year, as is the related Indian raga. The makam names designate an important note in the scale (i.e. Turkish Cargah, Arabic Chahargah: fourth position), or a city (i.e. Esfahan, it is sometimes spelled as Isfahan), a landscape (i.e. Turkish Hicaz, Arabic Hijazi), a person (i.e. Kurdi) or a poetic abstraction (i.e. Suzidil: heart glimmer).
Makam principally distinguishes the eastern classical tradition from western musical practice. Based on the use of untempered intervals (with as many as 53 microtones amplifying the western octave), a given makam follows a particular scale and a set of associated musical practices. Each makam joins a tetrachord (Turkish dortlu), and a pentachord (Turkish besli). Certain rules/characteristics of a makam may include the entry tone (Turkish giris, Arabic mabda), the final tone (Turkish karar, Arabic qarar) which may or may not be the same tone as the entry tone, the leading tone (Turkish yeden), dominant (Turkish guclu) and tonic (Turkish durak), as well as stressed secondary tonal centers. The seyir (path, way) (Arabic zahir) of a makam is determined by the direction of the melody, which may be either ascending (Turkish cikici) or descending (Turkish inici) or a combination of the two (Turkish inici-cikici). Range (makam may be extended above and below the octave without repeating), modulation, temperament, melody types, and cadential endings (i.e. suspended cadences) may also determine a makam's make-up. Compound makamlar exist which combine elements from two makamlar. Thousands of makamlar have been theoretically conceived though only a few hundred have been used. Of these, about one hundred have been fully developed into musical settings.
The computation of the exact sizes of the microtones and the notation of makam are rather complicated, and several alternatives were presented at the Cairo Congress on Arab Music in 1932. Some of the scale systems discussed at this meeting were obtained through mathematical computation and some were established experimentally. The most important systems were those presented by representatives of the Royal Institute of Arabian Music in Cairo, by Idris Ragib Bey and I. Shalfun of Egypt, by Xavier Maurice Collangettes of the University of St. Joseph in Beirut, the Turkish system of Rauf Yekta Bey from the Conservatory of Turkish Music, and the system of Shaykh Ali al-Darwish (student of Rauf Yekta Bey). The differences between theorists and musicians, as well as modern research on the tonal structure of vocal and instrumental music indicate that none of these systems provides an accurate description of actual musical practice. They are merely convenient tools for prescriptive and didactic purposes. Conservatories, musicians and theorists in different countries use different scale systems which leads to the differences in the notations of accidentals and makam names.
It is impossible for us to explain all the different systems or makamlar. In the "Music" section of this web-site, there are a few pieces by famous Turkish composers. Because of our Turkish musical background and to understand the accidentals and the pieces better we would like to say a few words about the Arel-Ezgi system. In Turkey, Rauf Yekta Bey's work was continued by Subhi Ezgi and Sadettin Arel. The system they came up with, later know as the Arel-Ezgi system, is the most widely practised system currently. The Arel-Ezgi system consists of a theory of intervals, involving such discrete intervals as the koma (comma). Every whole step is divided into 9 commas and accidental markings indicate raising or lowering the pitch by 1, 4, 5, 8, and 9 (which is the double sharp/flat) commas:

Reprinted from:

Kurt Reinhard: The New Grove: Dictionary of Music and Musicians. vol. 19. ed. London: Macmillan, 1980

Josef Pacholczyk: The New Grove: Dictionary of Music and Musicians. vol. 1. ed. London: Macmillan, 1980

Karl Signell: Makam: Modern Practice in Turkish Art Music. New York: DaCapo Press, 1985

Walter Feldman: Music of the Ottoman Court. Berlin: GAM- Media GmbH, 1996

[mirrored from www.kairarecords.com]

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