People in Antioch loved entertainment. The preacher John Chrysostom found it a little too much. In Homily III he said: “The day before yesterday we set on foot our sermon concerning the Devil, out of our love for you. But others, the day before yesterday while these matters were being set on foot here, took their places in the theatre, and were looking on at the Devil’s show. They were taking part in lascivious songs; ye were having a share in spiritual music. They were eating of the Devil’s garbage: ye were feeding on spiritual unguents.” (1)

But the Antiochenes’ love of music did not die with Chrysostom. When the Crusaders arrived they no doubt started to like the local rhythms and cadences when they got used to them. Some of the musicians they had had along and some of those who visited the Crusader Principality of Antioch together with “the Queen of the Troubadours” Catherina of Aquitaine could use the Eastern sound in their music. Much of French music of the thirteenth century has a Middle Eastern ring. It naturally has to be admitted that the Arabic influence from Spain was strong as well.

Music was also popular in Antakya when F. A. Neale stayed here for seven months in 1847. At that time it was a small Jewish band who was in charge of the entertainment.

They may have been appreciated by the locals, but so not much by the handful of Europeans who were living in Antakya at the time of Neale’s stay. At that time an Italian priest and an Italian physician were living in Antakya. Neale relates: “The priest is a musician, and consequently detests Arabic songs, &c., and styles those present a set of ‘brutti buffoni.’ The doctor, on the other hand, was never guilty of whistling a single bar of any music correctly; and, being moreover a bit of a sycophant, he presents to be enchanted with what is going on, and actually has the audacity to try and beat time with his foot.”(2)

Neale may not be completely fair in his assessment. It seems that he himself did not appreciate the efforts of the Jewish band. Arabic – and Turkish – music may be an annoying experience for those who do not try to understand what they hear. But if you give it a chance it is extremely fascinating.

Today there is no Jewish band, but the same sort of music is played at some of the restaurants in Antakya. The restaurant Mado besides the old parliament building has had a very good band playing classical Turkish fasıl music.(3)

In the restaurant Sveyka (from the Arabic : سويقة “small market”, or a subsection of a market) on Kurtuluş Caddesi a handful of gypsy musicians are playing fasıl and Arabic popular music at certain evenings. You can make them play your favoured pieces by sticking money under the strings of the violin above the hand of the player. Their interpretation of fasıl and Türk Sanat Müziği is not marvellous, but their Arabic songs are well performed. Still it has to be admitted that it is difficult to live up to the performance of the late master of Türk Sanat Müziği Zeki Müren.

PS: I forgot to mention that the priest in Neale’s story was killed a couple years later. Two workers from a local soap factory appeared at his home, slit his throat and put him on the altar of the chapel with a carpet or blanket over. The instigator was fined and sent to Iraq. The priest was buried on a plot of land in front of what is called the Grotto of St. Peter.

1. John Chrysostom, (NPNF1-09) St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises; Select Homilies and Letters; Homilies on the Statutes (URL: Author(s): Schaff, Philip (1819-1893), Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, p. 234.

2. Neal, F.A., Evenings at Antioch, London 1854, p. 31

3. A popular variation of Türk Sanat Müziği [Turkish Art Music] mostly played in Istanbul tavernas.

About Antiochene

Writer and translatorliving in Antioch on the Orontes (Antakya, Turkey) and Copenhagen.
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