Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: Taksim

After spending nearly four hours on a post which I’m now leaving as a draft as it kept getting bigger and bigger as I continued to type (I guess I have lots to say, eh?) what I decided to post instead is the first of a new weekly blog series focusing on the cello as it’s used in non-Western contexts.  I almost began with one of my favorite non-Western cello figures, Mesut Cemil (son of the more famous Ottoman Classical musician Tanbûrî Cemil Bey), but decided I might end up writing a post that would be just as long and involved as the previous one.  So instead, I present to you some cello taksims in lieu of me getting long-winded.

A brief note about taksims

Taksims (the Arabic version is usually transliterated taqsim) are instrumental improvisations in Turkish Art Music.  Usually unmetered, the instrumentalist will play a taksim within a specific makam (Arabic transliteration: maqam) which, for lack of a better way to describe it, consists of a scale (dizi) and rules for melodic progression (seyir).

Notice the usage of a drone under the cello taksims below.  This is a technique attributed to Mesut Cemil (1902-1963) during a time he started to incorporate a number of revolutionary changes in Turkish Art Music around the time of the Congress of Cairo which he participate in around 1932.  Rather than fill this post with a long rambling historical text though, I present you with some beautiful cello taksims–enjoy!!

So for now, on Sundays, I will present a new non-Western cello topic.



Related Link:


  1. I used to bellydance so this music brings back some memories. It’s always great to hear the different music cello can be a part in creating.


  2. Interestingly, two of the ensembles I play with regularly play for bellydancers (and other ethnic dance styles). I’ve always found it fascinating that Western strings have been a part of some Middle Eastern ensembles for nearly two centuries and I really love how they are used!


  3. Great expressive use of glissandi in the first number. It should be possible for a solo cellist to return to the low C to imply a drone, though I don’t see it as an absolute necessity. A C G C G tuning could be useful as well. Saskia Rao De Haas uses this drone-friendly tuning in her interpretations of Indian classical music.

    I studied the Oud and maqamat for a while. How convenient that the Arabic Oud and the cello are both tuned to the low C and have a similar range! There are plenty of solo Oud recordings that an interested cellist can use as inspiration for incorporating these sounds into their improvisations. The fourths-tuning and extremely agile risha plectrum make it very challenging to perform note-for-note transcriptions, though. Oud ornamentations are amazingly intricate and often seem to put to shame western guitarists ^_^

    I remember reading that while the erhu continues to enjoy usage in classical Chinese ensembles (it hasn’t been supplanted by the western violin, thankfully), the cello often replaces deeper-pitched snakeskin bowed instruments since it is far more deep-toned and resonant.

    Really enjoying your blog. Your writings on underserved audiences are in line with present-day academic views of minorities and cultural “integration” — basically, a “melting pot” can often be a culture-eraser (though there *is* something to be gained when cultures learn to communicate and understand eac other). So many folks lost their music and even their sense of rhythm in order to fall in line with anglocentric culture. gave up their culture.


    • Turkish and Arabic cellists sometimes use alternative tunings. I’ve had some discussions with other cellists who play music from these traditions and it seems to be the case that some alternative tunings–like the A to G make so many of the tunes from this part of the world work better.

      Since this is Turkish, and the Turks tend to be a bit more fastidious about the melodic direction of their Makamlar, that was likely the correct final note to end on.

      Yes–that is very true of the cello in traditional Chinese orchestras (as well as string bass). There have been several attempts at making a bass erhu or a bass instrument modeled on other Chinese instruments to take the place of the cello and bass but most have failed or been rejected. And really–the erhu and all those bowed Asian fiddles are more like cellos in many ways than a violin if only because they are all played upright!

      Saskia and I occasionally correspond through facebook–we’ve wanted to talk shop/exchange notes about all the new techniques that cellists must use in adapting the cello to these non-Western styles but we haven’t had much opportunity to connect in real time.

      I’m half tempted to edit a book about all this and maybe have interviews with people like Saskia, Ugur Isik, Rufus Cappadoccio since no such work has ever been published (to my knowledge).

      And thanks for the kind words–it was time I started doing this regularly–especially as I realized playing for underserved audiences has been a driving force for me the past several years.

      And yes–the “White-Out” effect–assimilation (now I’ve got the Borg in mind). The melting pot ideal is outdated and very misleading and doesn’t ever address the issue of actual communication and understand as you note!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s