Piano Quintet

Composer: Ulvi Cemal Erkin (b. 1906 - d. 1972)
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Composer: Ulvi Cemal Erkin (b. 1906 - d. 1972)

Performance date: 03/07/2019

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1946

Duration: 00:22:24

Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:Piano Quartet/Piano Quintet

Artists: Finghin Collins - [piano]
Borusan Quartet (Esen Kıvrak, Özgür Baskin [violins], Efdal Altun [viola], Cağ Ercağ, [cello]) - [quartet]

Ulvi Cemal Erkin [1906-1972]


Piano Quintet [1943-6]

1. Moderato

2. Ritmico energico

3. Adagio mesto

4. Allegro vivo


Erkin was born in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and came of age just as the new Turkish Republic was taking the place of 600 years of Ottoman rule. The Ottoman Empire was on the losing side in the Great War and most of its Empire was carved up by the victorious Allied Powers. The new Turkish Republic led by Kemal Ataturk was born in bloodshed after a vicious war of independence.


Following the establishment of the Republic, Ataturk undertook a massive programme of political, religious, social and cultural reform and modernisation. One element of this policy was to encourage Turkish composers to build connections between the traditionally monadic and modal music of Turkey with European polyphony.  Thus at the age of 19, Erkin was awarded a music scholarship and consequently travelled to France to study piano and composition at the Paris Conservatoire and the École Normale de Musique. Erkin studied under Nadia Boulanger, Isidor Philippe und Jean and Noël Gallon. He returned to Turkey after concluding his studies and was appointed as professor at the Conservatory in Ankara at the early age of 24. During his musical career, Erkin was active not only as a composer but also as a conductor and music professor.


His Piano Quintet dating from the mid-forties is a strikingly powerful work with a ferocious piano part, possibly written for his pianist wife, Ferhunde Remzi. This unknown masterpiece packs more into its short span than many of the overlong nineteenth century quintets. There are echoes of Shostakovich, coincidentally born the same year, a manic, hard-driven Scherzo, a funeral march slow movement and a curiously off-hand Finale.


The quietly lyrical opening of the first movement gives no hint of the tempests to follow. Initially the strings lead the way, first the cello, later the first violin with the piano holding back until he picks up an almost incongruously shapely melody. As if to say there is no place for such tenderness it immediately leads into a series of brutally jagged chords. The strings try their hand with the melody leading to an even more aggressive rejection, whereupon the piano takes off on a wild solo run before handing over to the strings to lead the way back to the opening material and a powerful development. The movement finishes with an orderly recapitulation and a quiet close.


In the score the Adagio mesto is placed second but performers prefer to play the brief but brilliant Scherzo next. This puts the pianist centre-stage and he drives the movement relentlessly forward, strings striving to keep up with bow-hair flying, three and a half minutes of mayhem before the funeral march. The solemn tread of the Adagio mesto opens with cello and piano, the other strings joining in turn. At the centre of the movement the funeral tread gives way to a cry of pain from the strings before the march returns. The all-too-brief Allegro vivo banishes all serious thoughts and dances its way to a bright and boisterous conclusion.

Francis Humphrys