Leylā Saz, Ottoman woman composer


The Turkish pianist, poet, writer, and composer Leylā Hanım grew up at the Ottoman Court, the daughter of the court doctor. After her marriage she lived in various provincial capitals before returning to Istanbul, where her husband later became Prime Minister.

From the age of seven she received piano lessons from an Italian pianist and also studied Turkish classical music; she played both Turkish and Western music with the palace orchestra. She was fluent in Greek, French, and Arabic and extremely well educated for a woman of her time and place.

Hanım was at the center of an artistic circle in which both Turkish and Western music and literature were cultivated, and she wrote articles on the lives of Turkish women for journals. She received her nickname “Leylā Saz” for her particular interest in the saz instruments (a general name given to stringed instruments in Turkey). She composed about 200 instrumental and vocal compositions, including a collection of 50 songs for which she wrote the lyrics.

This according to “Hanim, Leyla (Leyla Saz)” (International encyclopedia of women composers I. [New York; London: Books & Music 1987]; this resource is one of many included in RILM Music Encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works).

This year marks Leylā Saz’s 17oth birthday! (Her exact date of birth is unknown.) Below, a Turkish radio broadcast from the late 1980s focused on her life and music.

Related article: Dil-Hayât Kalfa Tanbûrî, Ottoman woman composer

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