ULVI CEMAL ERKIN (1906 - 1972)
One of those who was a student of Nadia Boulanger at the end of the 1920s was Ulvi Cemal Erkin. He grew up in a world full of sound, since his mother played the piano and his brother the violin. When he lost his father at the age of seven, the family moved to live with his grandfather. In those days, Ulvi Cemal began to study with foreign tutors who taught piano to the well-known families of Istanbul. His interest in and love of music continued throughout his secondary education. While studying at Galatasaray Lycée, one of the best schools in Istanbul, he made great advances in learning the piano. The Ottoman Empire was in decline during those years. A series of wars following World War I had culminated in the formation of a new state, the Republic of Turkey, in 1923. The territory of the Empire that had been dispersed over a wide area, gave way to a nation state under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This young country was in need of development, renewal and the correction of deficiencies in every sphere. In order for the revolution to be successful, the young generation needed to be well educated and then to apply their learning for their country. For this reason, it was decided to send able young people abroad on scholarships. One of those sent to Paris in the field of music was Ulvi Cemal Erkin, then 19 years old. Thus an educational period of five years began for the young man. Ulvi Cemal Erkin spent the years 1925–30 in Paris. The city was suffering from negative economic effects following the war with Germany and Austria, but in one sense it resembled a cultural capital of Europe. Many artists coming from different geographical regions participated in the lively Paris scene, and a more simple and everyday artistic consensus emerged in opposition to romanticism and to Wagner. Ulvi Cemal Erkin was not slow to adapt to this world, which was quite foreign to him. In addition to improving his knowledge of French to the level necessary for his studies, he needed to prepare for acceptance into the Paris Conservatoire with many private lessons. At the Conservatoire he studied piano with Isidor Philipp and Camille Decreus, harmony with Jean Gallon, counterpoint with Noel Gallon, and took composition lessons from Nadia Boulanger after entering the École Normale de Musique at the end of the 1920s. Shortly thereafter Nadia Boulanger, who would soon be considered one of the legendary teachers of the 20th century, became foremost among those who influenced the young Erkin during his Paris years. Returning to Turkey in 1930, Ulvi Cemal Erkin began work as a teacher of piano and harmony at the Musiki Muallim Mektebi in Ankara, the capital city of the Turkish Republic. This school, which had been established a short while earlier with the purpose of training music teachers, was to become the Ankara State Conservatoire a few years later, in accordance with the recommendations of Paul Hindemith, and would play a very important rôle in Ulvi Cemal Erkin’s life. He was director of the school during the years 1949–51 and he would continue to work there without a break for about 42 years, training young Turkish musicians until his death in 1972.