Cevad Memduh Altar1902-1995
Türkçe | Français | Deutsch | Italiano | Español



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

Published Works

Books and researches:

  • Goethe, musiki Hayatı (Goethe, the Musical Aspect of His Life), Kanaat Kütüphanesi, Istanbul, 1932
  • Goethe ve Sanatı (Goethe and His Art), Varoğlu Yayınları, Istanbul, 1944
  • Georges Bizet ve Carmen operası (George Bizet and Carmen), Kültür Basın ve Yayın Kooperatifi, Güney Matbaacılık ve Gazetecilik T.A.O.,Ankara, 1948
  • Sanat Yolculukları (Travels in Art), Milli Eğitim Basımevi, Istanbul, 1953 (enlarged new edition: Pan Yayınları, Istanbul 2006)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, Istanbul, 1953
  • Opera Tarihi (A History of the Opera), 4 volumes: Volumes I and II Milli Eğitim Basımevi, 1970, 1975; 4 volumes together: Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, Ankara 1981, 1982, 1989; revised new edition: Pan Yayınları, Istanbul 2000: Volume I: Pan Yayınları, Istanbul 2010
  • Onbeşinci Yüzyıldan Bu Yana Türk ve Batı Kültürlerinin Karşılıklı Etkileme Güçleri Üstünde Bir İnceleme (A Study on the Intensity of Interaction between Turkish and Western Cultures from the Fifteenth Century to Our Day), Kültür Bakanlığı Yayınları, Kültür Eserleri Dizisi: 1, Ankara Üniversitesi Basımevi, Ankara, 1981
  • Paul Hindemith ile Karşılaşmam (My First Encounter with Paul Hindemith), Ankara Alman Kültür Merkezi yayını, Ankara, 1984
  • Sanat Felsefesi Üzerine (On the Philosophy of Art), Yapı ve Kredi Yayınları, Istanbul, 1996, Second edition: Pan Yayınları, Istanbul, 2009

Published papers presented in international congresses

Mozart Im Licht Osmanisch-österreichischer Beziehungen Beziehungen (Mozart, From the Viewpoint of Ottoman-Austrian Relationships) A congress organized by Austrian Arts Academy held at Vienna University for the Mozart Bicentenary, Vienna, 1956 (Published in the periodicals: Breicht über den Internationalen Musikwissenschaftlichten Kongress, Wien, Mozart Jahr 1956, Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nachfg/ Garz-Köln 1958; Revue Belge de Musicologie, publiée avec le concours de la Fondation Universitaire de Belgique, Vol. X, fasc. 3-4, Bruxelles, 1956).

Osmanoğullarının ilk imar teşebbüslerine dair Bizans ve Batı kaynaklarında görülen bazı tezatlar tezatlar (Some contrasts observed in the Byzantine and Western reference sources on the early Ottoman architectural attempts), I. International Turkish Arts Congress, Ankara, 1959 (published in the periodicals: Ankara Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi, Türk ve İslam Sanatları Tarihi Enstitütüsü, Milletlerarası Birinci Türk Sanatları Kongresi, Kongre Tebliğleri, Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, Ankara, 1962; Translated Edition in Foreign Languages: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, Ankara, 1961)

Le point culminant de l'unique dimention dans la miniature, la poesie et la musique turques anciennes (The pinnacle of the single dimension in Turkish miniature, classic poetry and music), International II. Turkish Arts Congress, Venice 1963 (published in the periodicals: II. Congresso Internazionale di Atte Turca, Venezia 1965; Atti del Secondo Congresso Internazionale di Arte Turca, Venezia 1965; Atti del Secondo Congresso Internazionale di Arte Turca, Napoli 1965)

Liberté de la critique dans l'art (Freedom of criticism in art), International Association of Art Critics (AICA) IX. Congress, Prag, 1966

Giuseppe Verdi and his Works since the 1839 political and social reforms of "Tanzimat" in Turkey, IV. Giuseppe Verdi Congress organized by Instituto di Studi Verdiani (Parma), Chicago, 1974

Conferences delivered and published in Turkey and abroad

Chopin et la Turquie (Chopin and Turkey), International IV. Chopin Concourse organized by Poland Chopin Institute, Warsaw, 1949 (published in: Ulus Newspaper, Ankara 1949; in Polish: Buch Muzyczny NR 16(94), Cracow 1949)

Ludwig van Beethoven, conference delivered in the commemorative meeting on the 125th anniversary of his death, organized at Ankara State Theatre, 1952

Le développement de l'art et la culture depuis la reforme d'Atatürk (Developments in culture and arts since Atatürk Reforms), delivered upon an invitation from USA at Sloane House, New York and Agnes Scott College, Atlanta, 1954

Entwicklung der Musik in der Turkei (Development of music in Turkey), at an invitation by Hammer-Pursgstall-Gesellschaft, Vienna 1959 (printed in the periodical: Mittellungsblat de Hammer-Purgstall-Gesellshaft, Vienna 1959)

Le développement et la progression des arts en Turquie depuis la réforme politique et sociale de 1839 jusqu'a nos jours (Development of fine arts in Turkey from political and social reforms of "Tanzimat" in 1839 to our day) Strasbourg University, Pasteur Hall, 1967 (Published in the periodical: Turcica I, Institut Turcologie de Faculté des Lettres et Science Humaines de Strasbourg, Départment d'Orientalisme, 1967)

Paul Hindemith ile karşılaşmam (My first encounter with Paul Hindemith), published on the occasion of Hindemith Week organized by Ankara German Culture Center between April 25-29, 1983 in Ankara. (Texts in Turkish and German were printed by the organizer, Ankara, 1984)

Other publications

Cevad Memduh Altar has innumerable articles and journals published in various periodicals and other publications between the years 1930-1994. Principal newspapers and magazines that have published the writings of Cevad Memduh Altar who was deemed worthy of the Press Card of Honors are given below:

Newspapers: • İstanbul • Zafer • Ulus • Milliyet • Cumhuriyet
Other Periodicals: • Radyo Dergisi • Orkestra • SED Sanat•Edebiyat • Meydan • Türkiye Fikir ve Kültür Derneği Bülteni • Mimar Sinan Dergisi • Millî Kültür • Gösteri • TBMM Dergisi • Erdem, Atatürk Kültür Merkezi Dergisi • Millî Eğitim Dergisi • TÜBİTAK Dergisi


  • Armoni (Harmonielehre), Prof. Dr. Johannes Merkel, Devlet Matbaası, Istanbul, 1929
  • Kontrpuan (Kontrapunkt), Prof. Dr. Johannes Merkel, Devlet Matbaası, Istanbul, 1930
  • Bastien und Bastienne, opera libretto of the 1st act, prosodic translation by: Cevad Memduh Altar, Necil Kâzım Akses, Ferit Alnar, Celal Emrem, 1938
  • Nora, A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen (together with a text of monographic study), 1st edition: Maarif Basımevi, Istanbul, 1942; 2nd edition: Maarif Basımevi, Istanbul, 1959; 3rd edition: Millî Eğitim Basımevi, Istanbul, 1977
  • John Gabriel Borkman, Henrik Ibsen (together with a text of monographic study), Millî Eğitim Basımevi, Istanbul, 1951
  • Madam Butterfly (Madama Butterfly) opera libretto, prosodic translation by Necil Kazım Akses, Hasan Ferit Alnar, Cevad Memduh Altar, Celalettin Emrem (1941)
  • Palyaço (Pagliacci) libretto, prosodic translation by Nurullah Şevket Taşkıran, Cevad Memduh Altar (1949)
  • 9th Symphony, Ludwig van Beethoven, a prosodic translation of the chorus part, Nurullah Şevket Taşkıran, Cevad Memduh Altar (1952)