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(March 14, 1906 – September 15, 1972)

Ulvi Cemal Erkin is a member of the pioneer group of polyphonic music composers, later named, "The Turkish Five", who were born in the period 1904 - 1910 and who set out the direction in which Turkish contemporary music would progress.

Born on March 14, 1906, in Istanbul, his aptitude for music was noticed at a tender age by his mother who played the piano. His father, a senior civil servant in the Ottoman administration, contracted septicemia and passed away when the young Erkin was seven years of age. The widowed mother and her three sons took refuge at the mansion of the maternal grand-father also a high ranking official of the declining Ottoman Empire and an intellectual.

Erkin took his first piano lessons from Mercenier, a frenchman, and later from Adinolfi; then, a renowned professor of music in Istanbul.

Concurrent with his studies at the Galatasaray Lycée dispensing education in the French language, he pursued his efforts in the path of becoming a musician and availed himself of every opportunity which could contribute to his aspirations.

Among the numerous endeavours to build up a cultural identity in the wake of the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, figured the modernisation and development of the national music, formerly confined to folk tradition and monophonic modal forms. The leader of modern Turkey, the great Ataturk, had long pondered a renovation also in this domain and was very keen on seeing it in progress. To this end, scholarship schemes were established to train gifted young students in European academic institutions. Ulvi Cemal Erkin, was 19 years old when he won the contest of the Ministry of Education and was awarded a scholarship to study music in Paris.

He studied piano with Isidor Philippe, and composition with Jean and Noel Gallon and Nadia Boulanger at the Paris Conservatoire and the École Normale de Musique. Upon his graduation in 1930, he returned to Turkey to be designated Instructor at the School of Musical Education which was subsequently re-devised by Paul Hindemith as the first Turkish Conservatoire of Music.

Erkin, who composed his first works while a student in Paris, was productive as a composer throughout his career as a professor of music which he embarked in 1930 at the age of 24, or occasion appearing as a pianist to perform a concerto, on others as an accompanist or as an orchestra conductor to interpret his own works or operas. He also conducted the Conservatoire Student Orchestra at its periodic concerts and composed the "Sinfonietta", a work composed expressly to help instrumentalists overcome certain rhythmic and modal difficulties, peculiar to Turkish music.

On September 29th 1932, he married Ferhunde Remzi, a pianist, graduate of the Leipzig Conservatoire, and his colleague at the school in Ankara. She became his muse and best interpreter and they shared a lifetime of dedicated endeavours to encourage and train young musicians with the scanty means afforded to institutions and to build up audiences of polyphonic music throughout Anatolia. With its genuine quality, warmth and apparent simplicity Erkin's music was very influential in arousing the enthusiasm of the Turkish public towards polyphonic music, and his works were among those most frequently performed. This is still the case to-day. The spiritual power of modal traditional music is masterfully reflected in spite of the absence of quarter tones in western orchestral instruments and the uneven rhythmic beats of folk music are exquisitely employed in enchanting harmonic structure and orchestration.

His works are widely and frequently performed and broadcast outside Turkey and he personally conducted his own works with orchestras such as the Czech Philharmonic, the Colonne Orchestra at the Brussels Fair and the "The Paris Radio Symphony Orchestra".

Erkin's heart had been failing since his late forties and he succumbed to a last stroke on September 15th, 1972 at the age of 65.

Erkin was conferred the title of State Artist by the Turkish Government and the orders of Chevalier and Officier de la Légion d'Honneur by the French Government.

For information concerning musical scores and recordings etc., please contact her daughter at icten-erkin@hotmail.com.