Ensemble Constantinople; Kiya Tabassian, Music Director, setar; Didem Başar, kanun; Tanya LaPerrière, viola d’amore & baroque violin; Kianoush Khalilian, ney; Patrick Graham, percussion; Hamin Honari, tombak & daf
Ensemble Constantinople performs the music of Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723), a Moldavian prince, scholar, composer, and diplomat. A fascinating historical figure, Cantemir’s compositions are considered part of the Ottoman music repertoire. More influential though are the over 350 instrumental works that he preserved in his book, Edvar-i Musiki, using his own innovative notation system, which remains as one of the most important collections of 16th and 17th century Ottoman and Middle Eastern music.
This concert is generously supported by Fran Watters & Paul Devine and Sharon E. Kahn.
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Dowr-e Kabir, Dimitrie Cantemir
Kanun solo, Didem Basar
Ushak Ashirani pishrow
Zarb-e Fatih, Dimitrie Cantemir
Barafshan, Dimitrie Cantemir
Setar solo, Kiya Tabassian
Mohammes, Dimitrie Cantemir
Darbeyn-e Jadid, Dimitrie Cantemir
Ney solo, Kianoush Khalilian
Darbeyn, Dimitrie Cantemir
Dowr-e Ravan, Dimitrie Cantemir
viola d’amore solo (folias), Tanya Laperrière
Samai-e Lang, Dimitrie Cantemir
Percussion duo, Hamin Honari & Patrick Graham
Bousalik Ashirani pishrow
Samai-e Lang, Dimitrie Cantemir
Dimitrie Cantemir – The man of learning
Dimitrie Cantemir —also known as Dumitrashco Beizade, Boghdan prensi, or (in Turkish) Kantemiroğlu — is one of the most famous figures in the history of the Orient. A complex and unpredictable man, his life was full of journeys, migrations, and exile. A brilliant diplomat, scholar, and composer, he was vovoide (military governor) of Moldavia and a knaez (prince) of Russia, and his oeuvre spans the fields of history, philosophy, theology, geography, ethnology, literature and — most important for us — music. An admirably skilled performer on the tanbur (a long-necked lute), he wrote beautiful tunes and invented a system of notation that assured the survival of his own compositions and of the works he knew and played. He was also active as a diplomat during several periods of his life. He came from an orthodox family, and kept a spiritual orientation of Eastern orthodoxy until the end of his life.
We will attempt to summarize Cantemir’s life by dividing it into five distinct periods.
Dimitrie was born on October 26, 1673 in the town of Silişteni, then within the borders of Moldavia and now in Romania. His father, Constantin, vovoide of Moldavia from 1685 to 1693, was a brave soldier who had served in the Polish army and then in that of the Ottomans. After holding the rank of sardar for several years his Ottoman overlords rewarded him for his exploits and acquisitions by creating him hospodar (Lord) of Moldavia. Though illiterate, Constantin was a man of culture, and cultivated friendships in elite society. Dimitirie’s childhood was spent in Moldavia in a rather intellectual milieu, surrounded not only by his family but also by important politicians, solidiers, and men of culture. His father arranged for Dimitrie to be privately tutored by a highly respected Greek monk, Jeremia Cacavelas. As well as introducing Dimitrie to the social sciences and humanities, and particularly to literature, philosophy, and mystical theology, Cacavelas also gave him a solid grounding in Greek language and culture. Cantemir developed his insatiable appetite for learning at a young age, and retained it throughout his life.
First stay in Constantinople
Constantin was obliged to assure his submission as a vassal of the Ottomans by sending one of his sons to the imperial capital to live as a hostage. Thus, in 1687, he sent 14-year-old Dimitrie to Constantinople to replace, as hostage, Dimitrie’s older brother. During almost all of the next 23 years, avid for knowledge and discovery, Dimitrie immersed himself in the ethnic and cultural diversity of this exceptionally cosmopolitan city. The young man quickly won acceptance and esteem in intellectual circles. He entered the Academy of the Ecumenical Patriarch, a school renowned for open-mindedness and freedom of thought; as well as Greek and Latin, which Dimitrie studied, the curriculum included philosophy, science, and medicine. Cantemir’s teachers at the Academy included masters such as the great philosopher, humanist, and statesman Alexandre Mavrocordatos, the geographer Meletius, and the grammarian Iacomi. He studied Turkish and Islamic culture with the learned mathematician, astronomer, and physician Sadi Efendi, and Arabic with Nafioglu, a celebrated intellectual and commentator on the Koran.
In parallel with his studies in the human sciences, Dimitrie launched himself into the study of Turkish art music. His two teachers were both Greeks. Kemäni Ahmed Celebi, a convert from Orthodox Christianity to Islam, was an excellent player of the kemancheh (a bowed string instrument) and taught at the Topkapi Palace School. ‘Orthodox’ Angeli (as Dimitrie called him) was an accomplished player of the tambour and composer; four of his pieces are included in Cantemir’s Collection of Notations. Over the course of 15 years, Dimitrie learned to play the tambour and studied music theory with his two teachers.
In 1691, Cantemir returned for a period of almost two years to Iași, the principal city of his native country where, as he tells us in his History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire, he continued to study classical Turkish music. Helped by Daltaban Pasha de Silistra, a family friend, Cantemir briefly became voivoid of Moldavia when, in the Spring of 1693, his father died. His reign turned into a catastrophe after only three weeks and Dimitrie, then 19 years old, was obliged by the Ottomans to return to their capital.
Second stay in Constantinople
After his return to Constantinople in 1693, where he remained for the next 17 years, until 1710, Dimitrie’s status changed. His older brother Antioh was appointed Hospodar (governor) of Moldavia (1695-1700 and 1705-1707) and Dimitrie served as his brother’s diplomatic representative to the Sublime Porte.
During those many years in Constantinople, Dimitrie spent much of his time writing and playing music. He continued to study with his two masters for 9 of those 17 years; and, several years after his return to Constantinople, he compiled a treatise, Edvar-i musiki (Textbook of Music). The first of its two parts concerns music theory. The second part, the Collection of Notations, is an anthology of notated music. His position as a diplomat to the court and his knowledge gave Cantemir access to some of the greatest artists both within and beyond the Ottoman Empire. His friends, including great Turkish viziers and foreign ambassadors, supported him in all his activities.
In 1699, Dimitrie married Cassandra Cantacuzio, the daughter of the former hospador of Wallachia; he drew the plans for the palace he had build on land and on foundations inherited from his father-in-law. During this period he lived a comfortable life, dividing his time between music, philosophy, and diplomacy.
Voivode of Moldavia
In November 1710, Dimitrie Cantemir was appointed vovoide of Moldavia by Sultan Ahmad III. Because of his good works during the preceding two decades, and the respect and loyalty he won at the sultan’s court, Dimitrie had been chosen so as to assure control of Moldavia at a time when the Ottomans were preparing for war with Russia. Cantemir was officially named ruler of Moldavia at a ceremony conducted by the grand vizier Baltaci Mehmed Pasha (1710-1711) in the presence of the sultan. During this ceremony, it is said, Cantemir played his celebrated piece Nevâ Saz Semâîsi, and delighted the sultan by doing so.
In those days, the Russian tsar Peter the Great was planning war against Sultan Ahmad III so as to liberate the Christian territories in the Balkans. After moving to Iași as vovoide of Moldavia, Cantemir changed his plan of action; he decided to break with the Ottomans and become an ally of Russia, a crucial decision surely made after much reasoning and reflection. On the one hand, he doubted the durability of Ottoman power; he would later describe the empire’s decadence in the very title of his History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand, he desired independence for Moldavia.
So, in April 1711, Cantemir concluded a secret treaty with Peter the Great. He agreed to supply 10,000 troops to support the Russians in their war against the Ottomans. In exchange, the Tsar would guarantee to protect Moldavian independence, and keep control of the country in the hands of Cantemir and his family.
Exile in Russia
After the unexpected victory of the Ottomans over the Russians in 1711 at Stănileşti on the Prut river, Cantemir fled to Iași to collect his wife and children, joined the retreating Russian troops, and took refuge in Saint Petersburg in Russia. He was clearly very warmly welcomed by Peter the Great, retaining his hereditary title of Prince of Moldavia and being named a knyaz (a Russian prince) by the Czar. Peter also gave him a state in Ukraine to rule, assuring him a comfortable life; a seat in the Russian senate; and a role as a personal consultant on relations and diplomacy with the Orient. Cantemir was a great diplomat; he forged friendships with everybody of consequence, whether Russians or statesmen visiting Russia. He was fluent in 11 languages: Arabic, French, Greek, Italian, Latin, Persian, Romanian, Russian, Slavic, Tatar, and Turkish. He made several journeys to France and Germany, either on diplomatic missions or for scientific meetings.
After several years, in 1713, Cantemir moved to Moscow so that he could better discharge his duties as a senator. His wife Cassandra died shortly after this move, however, and Cantemir then decided to settle with his children in Saint Petersburg. There, among other activities, he helped found the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1714, Cantemir was named a member of the Royal Academy of Berlin in recognition of the totality of his scientific work. In 1718 he met Princess Anastasiya Trubetskaya, the third daughter of Prince Trubezkoy, and married her the following year.
During his years in Russia Cantemir spent the majority of his time on diplomacy and historical studies. His book Incrementorum atque decrementorum aulœ Othomanicœ (History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire), a masterly overview of the history of the Ottoman empire, cemented his international reputation as an eminent historian. Another of Cantemir’s preoccupations in this period was studying Islamic culture. His Sistima clearly demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of Islam, though it was written to serve a specific and utilitarian purpose; the tsar, had asked Cantemir to explain the social life, culture, manners, and customs of the Muslims of the Caucasus so that the Russians who were about to occupy the territory would understand its inhabitants.
In 1722, while taking an active part as councillor to Peter the Great during the Russian campaign in the Caucasus, Cantemir was also busy with ethnographic and ethnological studies, and with translating the Tsar’s letters into Caucasian languages and into Persian. After several months, exhausted and ill, he decided to return to Russia. Shortly after his return, in Dimitrovka, the Ukrainian city where he had his Russian home, on August 21, 1723, he died. As well as an enormous cultural heritage, he left six children: a daughter and four sons by his first wife Cassandra, and a daughter by his second wife, Anastasiya.
Cantemir the musician
We shall now sketch some of the important elements of Cantemir’s involvement contribution to music.
Cantemir contributed as a creator and a clever researcher to the field of oriental music, integrating practice, theory, and history. Versatile and open-minded, he developed a personal vision of music and breathed new life into this art.
Based on what we now know of Cantemir’s life and work, he made his major musical contributions during his second stay in Constantinople (1693-1710). We have scant information on his literary studies in music, but it is clear that he was profoundly knowledgeable about the practice and theory of Turkish, Persian, and Byzantine music. We know that he frequented the tekke (Dervish lodges) of Constantinople and that several of his close friends were musical dervishes; and he tells us, in his books, of his admiration for the men and musicians of the Mowlavi order, founded by the Persian poet Rumi.
Cantemir makes no mention of the teaching or practice of secular vocal music. We know, however, that he frequented the orthodox churches of Moldavia, Constantinople, and Russia, and thus we can assume, given his talent and curiosity, that he could sing Byzantine chant, and had a very good grasp of the practice and theory of Byzantine music. We also know that he transcribed and translated hymns in Old Church Slavonic for use in Russian Orthodox churches.
Cantemir sazendeh (Cantemir the performer)
Cantemir was recognized as a master of the tanbour. He knew and played a wide range of the pieces of his own time and those of previous centuries, and performed at the most important royal banquets.
From the complexity and expressiveness of his pieces we can deduce that Cantemir’s technique on this instrument was very advanced and probably innovative. In the first part of his treatise Edvar-i musiki he has a chapter analyzing the concept, history, and function of the taqsim. Clearly he understood this, the art of melodic musical improvisation, and clearly he had his own personal vision of taqsim, his own language on the tanbour.
Cantemir bestekar (Cantemir the composer)
Cantemir composed several instrumental pieces — both pesrev and semâ’î —of which some 50 have come down to us. His Collection of notations, the second part of his Edvar-i musiki, includes 15 of his own compositions. Other of his works were notated by his students such as Kowsari, a musician who made copies of the Edvar-i musiki and who, following Cantemir’s example, also compiled a collection of pieces using the musical notation system devised by his teacher. Despite being innovative in their genre, Cantemir’s works were passed on by generations of musicians and attracted the attention of various researchers. One of these was Charles Fonton (1725-1793), a cultivated young Frenchman who lived in Constantinople. In his book on Turkish music Fonton included — using conventional occidental notation — a celebrated tune by Cantemir, whom he described as one of the greatest musicians of the Ottoman Empire, As well, several works by Cantemir have been passed down to us through oral tradition.
The phrasing and forms of Cantemir’s work are distinctive. His compositions are the fruit of great creativity and advanced knowledge of Turkish, Persian, Byzantine, and even European music. In his works he demonstrated the desire to explore remote regions within the structures of maqam, using little-used maqam and even going beyond the rules of the art.
He expressed himself in his works in his own distinctive and renewed language. It should be noted that, living in a time of great social change, Cantemir and his contemporaries laid the foundations for a new approach to music; increasingly they strove to express an identity distinct from that of Persian music. They were forging a new musical language.
Cantemir the theoretician
After the Middle Ages, a golden age of the great systematic theoreticians, the theory of the music of the Middle-East was neglected. Because he deplored this neglect, so contrary to his vision of the science of music, Cantemir decided to write a treatise on the theory and history of Turkish music. Kitab-i Ilmu’l Musiki’ala Vechu’l Hurufat (Book on the Science of Music through Notation), also known Edvar-i musiki. It was commissioned by two important beaureaucrats, Daul Ismail Efendi and lâtif Çelebi, both treasurers of the Topkapi Palace and both students of Cantemir. It is clear that he took advantage of this official commission to explore his personal concerns and develop his own vision.
Cantemir the inventor of a system of musical notation
Cantemir also revolutionized the transmission of music by his invention of an alphabetical system for notating music; it combined numbers and Arabic letters to express both the rhythmic and melodic aspects of musical works. Letters represented how low or high notes were in each maqam while the numerals represented the duration of each note. Theoreticians of the music of the Middle-East had been using this concept of notation, in other forms, for centuries. Cantemir’s system, however, by improving how letters of the alphabet were matched to perdeh (degrees of the scale or frets), was simpler to use.
The legacy of this great scholar and encyclopedic mind comprises multiple and exceptional works on philosophy, history, music, geography, ethnography, diplomacy, literature, culture, and oriental civilizations. Cantemir was one of the greats in the history of humanity. Despite the enormous effort expended by ethnomusicologists and musicians on the works of Cantemir, a great deal remains to be done before he is rendered due homage.
© Kiya Tabassian
Translated by Seán McCutcheon
Founded in 1998 by its artistic director Kiya Tabassian, Constantinople is a musical ensemble inspired by the ancient city straddling the East and West. Since its founding, the ensemble promotes the creation of new works incorporating musical elements of diverse musical traditions around the world; drawing from medieval manuscripts to a contemporary aesthetic, passing from Mediterranean Europe to Eastern traditions and New World Baroque. Underpinned by a spirit of research and creation, Constantinople has joined forces with leading international artists such as: Marco Beasley, Suzie LeBlanc, the Mandinka griot Ablaye Cissoko, the Greek ensemble En Chordais, the Belgian duo Belem, The Klezmatics, sarangi virtuoso Dhruba Ghosh, and Iranian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor. They are regularly invited to perform in international festivals and prestigious concert halls including: the Salle Pleyel (Paris), the Berliner Philharmonie, the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music (Morocco), the Rencontres musicales de Conques (France), the Aga Khan Museum (Toronto), the Cervantino Festival (Mexico) and the Festival de Carthage (Tunisia). Constantinople has 19 albums to its credit. Over the past fifteen years, Constantinople has created nearly 50 works and travelled to more than 240 cities in 54 countries.
Kiya Tabassian, Music Director, setar
In 1990, at age 14, Kiya Tabassian emigrated with his family to Quebec from his native Iran, bringing with him some initial musical training in Persian music. Determined to become a musician and composer, he continued his education in Persian music, studying with Reza Gassemi and Kayhan Kalhor. At the same time, he studied composition at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal with Gilles Tremblay. In 1998, he co-founded Constantinople with the idea of developing an ensemble for musical creation that draws from the heritage of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, of Europe, and of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Serving as its artistic director, Kiya has developed close to 40 programs with Constantinople. Numerous musical groups and institutions have called upon his talents as a composer, including the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne and the European Broadcasting Union. He has also composed music for documentary and feature films, including Jabaroot and Voices of the Unheard. Since the summer of 2017, he has held the post of Associate Artist at Rencontres musicales de Conques festival in France. In 2017 he co-founded the Centre des musiciens du monde in Montreal. Kiya also sits on the Board of Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.
Didem Başar, kanun
Born in a family steeped in music, kanun (Turkish zither) player and composer Didem Başar began her music education at the Istanbul Turkish Music State Conservatory when she was 11 years old. After completing the Conservatory’s kanun program, she continued training at the same institution and received a bachelor’s degree in composition.
Her interest in examining the effects of art on society led her to pursue a master’s degree in the musical analysis of Mevlevi music at Marmara University. She gave lectures on Turkish music and kanun playing techniques at Halic University’s Turkish Music Conservatory and the Istanbul University State Conservatory from 2001 until she moved
to Canada in 2007. Relocating to Montreal has given Didem the opportunity to reinterpret her music in a new environment whose vividness is the result of the turbulent convergence of manifold cultures flowing from different parts of the world.
After composing for different ensembles and playing with different artists over the past 15 years, Didem Başar wanted to create her own project, which would intersect her two musical influences: Turkish and Western classical music. During an artistic residency at the World Musicians Centre in Montreal, she was able to call on the talents of Noemy Braun, a classical cellist with a flair for improvisation, Guy Pelletier, a flute virtuoso and highly versatile musician known for exploring different genres and styles, Brigitte Dajczer, a violinist rooted in Eastern European and Romani folk music, and Patrick Graham, another remarkably versatile musician with a broad knowledge of different percussion instruments from all over the world. The album, Levantine Rhapsody, was released in February 2020 and received the Opus Award for best world music album of the year, as well as many other prestigious nominations.
Tanya LaPerrière, viola d’amore & baroque violin
Recognized for the elegance and passion of her interpretations, Tanya LaPerrière is a graduated violin master of the Royal Conservatory of Brussels under the direction of Mira Glodeanu, as well as McGill University under the guidance of Chantal Rémillard. Co-solo violin of Arion orchestra, she also performs on Canadian and international stages with the celebrated ensembles Caprice, Constantinople, Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal, Clavecin en concert and Les Idées Heureuses. She is currently collaborating as a coach for the baroque orchestra at Université de Montréal (OBUM) alongside Luc Beauséjour.
She also leads as solo violin and founding member her quartet, Pallade Musica, winner of prestigious awards in Utrecht (Holland) and New York (United States), also nominated for two Opus Awards for their recordings on the Atma label. Ms. LaPerrière regularly performs as Concertmaster in Canadian ensembles and is building a solid reputation as a leader in early music throughout the country.
Kianoush Khalilian, ney
Kianoush Khalilian is a Ney player and composer in traditional Iranian style. He began his studies with very distinguished Iranian masters, including Hassan Nahid in 1990 in Tehran; five years later he ranked first in the nationwide Iranian schools competition for Ney performance. Kianoush ranked third in the category of musical composition in Iranian Youth Music Festival in 2009.
He has performed in Iran, Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, and various venues in Canada. Kianoush has been featured at festivals such as Fajr International Music Festival (Iran), San Lorenzo Music Festival (Italy), Toronto Jazz Music Festival and Tirgan Festival (Canada).
He was awarded a Certificate of Traditional Iranian Music in the category of Radif performance from oustad Hassan Nahid. As a music teacher, he has compiled and published technical studies and repertoire he used in his teaching into an instructional book for the Ney.
Patrick Graham, percussion
Over a two decades career based in Montreal, Canadian multi-percussionist Patrick Graham has been described as a “master improviser… on the border of several forms of traditional and creative music, embracing the world of rhythm as a whole” (Yves Bernard, Le Devoir). Patrick displays a talent for fusing an eclectic array of influences—ranging from Japanese percussion, through Indian and Irish rhythms, to Mediterranean frame drumming—as a well as a passion for new sounds and improvisation. This unique cross-genre approach is reflective of an extensive and ongoing study of the art of percussion, including a Bachelor of Music from McGill University in Montreal, as well as private training in several countries with Trichy Sankaran, Glen Velez, Carlo Rizzo, Zohar Fresco and Taichi Ozaki. In addition, Patrick has attended workshops and master classes at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Simon Fraser University, the Labyrinth centre in Crete and participated in the Taiko Koh-Kan workshops conducted by the group Kodō, on Sado Island in Japan.
Patrick performs, tours and records regularly with many groups and ensembles, including Constantinople, as well as contributing to productions by IMAX, Cirque du Soleil and Ubisoft Games. Alongside a busy performing and recording schedule, Patrick is also active as an instructor, teaching percussion and rhythm workshops in Canada, the USA, India, China and Japan, as well as for the Cirque du Soleil.
In March 2020, Patrick released Lumina, his latest solo project.
Hamin Honari, tombak & daf
Hamin Honari is a highly acclaimed percussionist from Iran, known for his unique and inventive approach to Persian music. Born in Zahedan, Mr. Honari comes from a family of musicians – his father and grandfather being prominent figures in the local music scene.He started his musical education at an early age, learning how to play the tombak, a traditional Persian hand drum, from Ramin Bahrami. He quickly developed a deep passion for percussion and began exploring a variety of rhythms and styles, both within and beyond Persian music. He has been an active participant in the dynamic music scene of Vancouver, performing with various ensembles and collaborating with musicians from diverse backgrounds.
His music blends traditional Persian techniques and rhythms with elements of jazz, classical, and other genres. Mr. Honari is renowned for his captivating live performances, characterized by a powerful and dynamic playing style paired with his ability to emotionally connect with audiences. His work has helped to promote and introduce the rich and vibrant tradition of Persian music to audiences around the globe. He has released several albums showcasing his innovative and boundary-pushing approach to percussion and composition.