Idil Biret
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Biography

Prof. Wilhelm Kempff in Turkey

Idil Biret read from this text for the Bayerische TV programm Prepared by Sefik Yüksel – recorded in Ammerland in 1995

It was in June 1982 during a weeklong stay of Idil Biret in Italy with Prof. Kempff in his Villa overlooking the Mediterranean from the Positano village heights that the subject of Prof. Kempff’s visits to Turkey came up. He was particularly happy that day. He had played a Schubert sonata in the late afternoon and Idil had joined him for a photograph taken near his piano.

Later in the evening, after dinner, the question of his first visit to Turkey was posed. Was it in the 1930s? “No, much earlier” was his reply. “I first visited Turkey in 1927”, said Kempff and then continued, “I gave a recital in Ankara at the Halkevi (a hall for public concerts, theatre shows etc.). Kemal Pasha (he referred to Atatürk always so) then invited me for dinner with his friends at the Presidential residence (note: in Cankaya, a hilltop in Ankara). There was a large gathering of people in the evening and the dinner lasted until about 11.00 pm.

As the guests were leaving he asked me to stay behind and when everyone was gone we passed into his study. There Kemal Pasha started the conversation by saying that as part of a drive for modernisation in Turkey he was introducing many reforms in law, education and other areas affecting the public life.

He continued to say that classical music was an integral part of the western culture which was the source of his reform movement. He therefore felt the necessity of the widespread introduction of classical music in Turkey as part of the drive towards modernisation in the country.

Kemal Pasha said that he was afraid that without also parallel reforms in music in Turkey his reforms in other areas would remain incomplete. Kemal Pasha then asked my thoughts on how this could be achieved, the schools, institutions to be formed for this purpose and the eminent musicians and musicologists I may recommend for invitation to Turkey to help build the foundations of classical music.

I expressed my ideas, advised him to consult also with Wilhelm Furtwangler on this subject and perhaps invite him to come to Turkey to assist with a plan of organisation to introduce classical music systematically in Turkey.

Our discussions continued until 4.00 am in the morning at which time I took my leave.” Prof. Kempff then looked towards the sea and after a moment of silence said, “Kemal Pasha was a great man”. (Turkish government subsequently extended an invitation to Furtwangler to come to Turkey to provide the necessary advice to establish the institutions for education in classical music.

Because of his engagements he was unable to do so, but recommended that Paul Hindemith be invited for this purpose. Hindemith then came and prepared a report and a plan of action for the establishment of the Ankara Conservatoire and other institutions for public music education).

Prof. Kempff visited Turkey many more times during a period of 36 years from 1927 to 1963. He was much loved by the public, had many close friends there and he knew personally Mr. Ismet Inönü who became president after Atatürk in 1938.

In November 1963, when Inönü was this time prime minister, he took his whole cabinet to a concert Kempff was giving in Ankara. During the same trip Prof. Kempff was scheduled to perform in Istanbul on 23 November.

When he heard about the tragic death of President Kennedy on November 22nd he became very sad and then said to Mr. M. Berk, the manager of the Orchestra, “Idil was scheduled to play today with the Boston Symphony Orchestra her US debut concert. What will happen now?” (***) The Istanbul concert on 23 November was given as a memorial to Kennedy and before the concert started Kempff came on the stage alone and played the 3rd movement “Marcia Funebre” from Beethoven’s Sonata op.26 in memory of the late President. The public was asked not to applaud. He then played Bach’s Concerto in F Minor and Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the Orchestra. This was Prof. Kempff’s last visit to Turkey.

(***) The death of President Kennedy was announced during the intermission of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s concert on 22 November 1963. After an initial proposal to cancel the second half, it was decided to continue with the concert in memory of Kennedy and Idil Biret played Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto. (a recording of this performance exists; please see “America Debut” for downloading.)