Cevad Memduh Altar
With his extensive music culture and investigative nature, Cevad Memduh Altar (1902-1995), one of the leading intellectuals of the republican era, represented Turkey on an international platform for a considerable number of years as a musicologist, art and music historiographer, author and translator, an educationalist and administrator.
Cevad Memduh Altar was born in Istanbul on September 14, 1902. He attended a primary school named Mekteb-i Edep at Ayasofya precinct of his hometown, followed by studentship at Ayasofya Merkez Rüştiye (middle school). After completing his baccalaureate (lycée) at Nişantaşı Sultanî, while simultaneously taking private lessons on the violin, he dropped studying at Yüksek Ticaret Okulu (Higher School of Commerce), and left his country in 1921 to study music abroad.
He first stayed in Vienna and later in Leipzig, where until 1927 he studied at Leipzig State Conservatory under Johannes Merkel, one of the brightest pupils of Franz Liszt, Stefan Krein, a famed composer of his times, Professor Dr. Hermann Grabner, the renowned musicologist and composer, and other well-known theoreticians in music philosophy and music aesthetics. He also studied violin and viola with Hugo Hamann, the alternate Konsertmeister of Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra, the oldest symphony orchestra in the world. After his return to homeland, he graduated from the History Department of Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi (Letters and History-Geography Faculty) of Ankara University, thus completing the cycle of his higher education in a wide-scoped perspective.
Following his return to homeland in 1927, and after a short stint at a position at Sanayii Nefise Mektebi (Academy of Fine Arts) in Istanbul, he took up the post of teacher of Theory at Musiki Muallim Mektebi (Music Teachers’ School) in Ankara. He then taught History of Arts and Music between 1930-1935 at Gazi Terbiye Enstitüsü (Gazi Educational Institute), followed by teaching History of Arts and Aesthetics (1950-1970) at Ankara Kız Teknik Yüksek Öğretmen Okulu (Higher Technical Teaching Institute for Girls). From 1960 until his retirement in 1967, he taught History of Arts, History of the Opera and Aesthetics at Ankara State Conservatory.
After his retirement, devoting himself to a more intensive writing career, he bequeathed his country significant works on musicology. In 1979 he returned to his hometown Istanbul from Ankara where he had worked for 52 years as a high-ranking official and a man of arts, and between 1983-1993 he taught Philosophy of Arts and Aesthetics of Music to post-graduate students at the State Conservatory of Mimar Sinan University. In 1988 he was awarded the title of "professor honoris causa" (honorary professorship) by the same University.
Cevad Memduh Altar, along with his teaching career between 1935 and 1967, the year of his retirement, held the following successive positions as an administrator: Department Head at the General Direction of Fine Arts at the Ministry of National Education (1935), Department Head in charge of the Radio Division at the General Direction of Press and Broadcasting of the Prime Ministry (1943), Director of the Radio Division at the same organization (1944), Deputy Director General at the same organization (1945), Director General of the State Theatre and Opera (1951), Director General of Fine Arts at the Ministry of National Education (1954), Director General a.i. of Ancient Works and Museums (1954) and Deputy Director General in charge of Programs and News at TRT (Turkish Radio and Television) (1964).
Beginning in 1927, Cevad Memduh Altar, in his status as an art historian and musicologist, working under the directives of Atatürk, with whom he had the good fortune to associate in person, served the cultural life of his country for many years while actively participating in the launching of art institutions such as Ankara State Conservatory, the State Theatres, the State Opera and Ballet, working conjointly with world-renowned German experts like Paul Hindemith, Karl Ebert and Ernst Praetorius.
Also as a competent researcher, he worked in the state archives of Venice, Vienna, the Vatican, Berlin, Warsaw and Sarajevo for the purposes of in-situ examination of manuscripts and documents on Turkish culture. He also participated in international and national congresses, symposiums, seminars and conventions where he addressed the audiences on the subjects of music and arts, and presented numerous papers most of which were published abroad.
During the years from 1939 to 1950, he prepared and delivered the weekly program “İzahlı Müzik” (music with explanations) at the Ankara Radio, and, as a music historian, contributed extensively to radio and TV programs which helped formation of a nucleus of western classical music appreciation to be adopted later by the masses.
Between 1939 and 1994, alongside his works as a translator, he produced books largely focused on music and arts, research papers, essays, conferences and articles, and wrote in newspapers about his impressions on the countries he was invited to visit. In retrospect, Altar’s 66 years between 1927 and 1993 seem to be the epitome of a life dedicated to intensive and prolific endeavors.
As a charter member of UNESCO National Commission in Turkey, a charter member of International Association of Arts Critics (AICA) National Commission in Turkey and a fellow of Atatürk Cultural Center of the Atatürk Higher Institute of Culture, Languages and History, Cevad Memduh Altar, at the invitation of Dr. Nejat Eczacıbaşı, actively participated in the instigation of Istanbul Culture and Arts Foundation, and, after months of meticulous and far-sighted efforts, personally prepared the Charter of the Foundation. Between 1986 and 1993, he also worked as a member of the Board of Trustees of the same Foundation.
Cevad Memduh Altar, in view of his services in the fields of culture, was awarded the title of Officier d’Académie of France, the Schiller Medal of the Federal Germany and the first Sevda-Cenap And Gold Medal of Honor ever presented in Turkey.
(Prepared by: İnci Kut, January 2011)
Congresses he participated in and presented a paper
- International Radio University Congress, Strasbourg, 1951
- Mozart Bicentenary Congress, Vienna, 1956
- I. International Turkish Arts Congress, Ankara, 1959
- International Association of Art Critics (AICA) VII Congress, Mexico, 1962
- International Association of Art Critics (AICA) VIII Congress, Tel Aviv, 1963
- II. International Turkish Arts Congress, Venice, 1963
- International Association of Art Critics (AICA) IX Congress, Prague, 1966
- European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Madrid, 1967
- IV. Giuseppe Verdi Congress, Chicago, 1974
- I. Music Council, Istanbul, 1988
- I. Opera and Ballet Congress, Istanbul, 1989