Münir Nurettin Beken 
The Art of the Turkish Ud

Cover Art

Münir Nurettin Beken is one of the founding members of the State Turkish Music Ensemble and the leading ud performer of his generation in Turkey.  He performs ud recitals in a variety of venues throughout the U.S. and Turkey, and lectures on classical Turkish music.  Just as classical Turkish music (Ottoman court music) is distinct from neighboring musics in Arab countries and Persia, the Turkish ud is distinct from other Middle Eastern uds by the way it is made, its style of playing, and in recent decades, by compositions for it.  Beken arranged this recording to showcase the history and current state of music played on the Turkish ud.   He is indeed a Turkish national musical treasure. 

The two selections that you hear, “Makkam Rast” (this page) and “Makam Ussak”("About this website" page), are extracts from this recording, released in 1997.  Makkam Rast is ascribed to the composer Abdülkadir Meragi (1360?-1435); Makkam Ussak is in the classical Ottoman style.

Notes on the ud from the album, released in 1997:
The ud is a short-necked, fretless lute played throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Legend attributes its invention to the grief-stricken Lamesh, one of the sons of Adam, who fashioned the first ud out of the tree beneath which his beloved son was buried. Crusaders brought the ud back to Europe where it became known as the lute. The word “lute” comes from the Arabic al ud, meaning “the wood.”
Turkish uds vary in construction from one luthier to another, but in general are relatively shallower from the soundboard to the back than are other Middle Eastern ones. This produces a brighter sound than the deeper-bodied Syrian and Egyptian uds. Turkish luthiers also place a single large rosette flanked by two small rosettes. The body of the ud is shaped by thin strips of hardwood such as juniper, maple, walnut, rosewood, and mahogany, usually in two contrasting colors. The fingerboard and pegs are ebony, and the pegbox is made from the same wood as the back. The ud has eleven strings arranged in five double courses, with a single drone string. The first four courses are always tuned in perfect fourths: concert D (highest) A E B. The next two courses are tuned according to the makam, usually to the makam's tonic and dominant. Ud players historically used an eagle quill as a plectrum (myzrap). Today, most use soft plastic.

Makam is the modal system governing Turkish and Arab music. Related systems with similar names govern the music of many Islamic peoples as far away as Xinjiang, China. Turkish classical music has hundreds of makams, each defined by its overall melodic direction (e.g. descending, ascending), melodic development (seyir), ending tone, characteristic phrases, modulations, and scales. Musicians are expected to have a thorough knowledge of many makams so that they can perform taksims (free rhythm improvisations). Usul Usul is the fixed rhythmic pattern of a Turkish classical composition. An usul can have as few as two beats (Nim Sofyan) or as many as 120 beats (Zincir) in a cycle. Aksak, or “limping” usuls, are common. Aksak usuls have odd numbers of beats per cycle in combinations of twos and threes.