The Genevan Psalms in Turkish? Incredible but true. Here’s the story:
The versifier was one Wojciech Bobowski, who was born in Lvov 400 years ago this year and died in 1675. Musically-gifted, Bobowski was a Polish Reformed Christian who was kidnapped at age 18 by Tatars and sold as a slave to the Ottoman Sultan. He became translator, treasurer and court composer to the Sultan, converting (at least nominally) to Islam and changing his name to Ali Ufki. Among his many impressive achievements, he translated the Bible into Turkish and versified the first 14 Psalms in that language, enabling them to be sung to their proper Genevan melodies. This small collection was published in 1665.
Listen to Psalm 9, performed by The King’s Singers and Sarband. Incredibly, though the Genevan tune is instantly recognizable, when Sarband kicks in, it sounds authentically Turkish! The recording is called Sacred Bridges: Christian, Jewish and Muslim Psalms.
In the video below the singers of Festivalensemble Innovantiqua begin with Psalm 124 in Hebrew, proceed to sing Genevan Psalm 9 in Turkish, followed by Sarband’s instrumental rendition, complete with whirling dervishes. Then comes Psalm 6, also versified by Ali Ufki, performed by soloist and instrumentalists. This is from a concert performed by the two groups in January 2009 at the St. Arbogast Reformed Church in Winterthur, Switzerland.
Incidentally, when I first told my Cypriot-born father about my discovery of Ali Ufki’s renditions of the psalms, he knew exactly whom I was talking about. It seems Ali Ufki’s fame is well-established in that part of the world.