Upstairs the Laterna Shrieked
The “laterna”, a type of barrel organ or hurdy-gurdy, first appeared in Istanbul in the late 19th century. It was then that Giuseppe Turconi began to import the instruments from Italy to sell in his shop in Istanbul. The laternas arrived programmed with Italian melodies and waltzes. They were especially popular with the Greek communities of Izmir, Syros and Thessaloniki, where they provided a cheap accompaniment for dancing, but the repertoire was limited and foreign. One of the problems of adapting the laterna to play popular music in Turkey and Greece was that late Ottoman music was composed in non-western modes and rhythms. Greek craftsmen, working with Turconi, managed to overcome these difficulties, producing a large repertoire of popular late Ottoman music on their wooden rolls. By the turn of the 20th century laterna-grinders, often accompanied by a defi of tambourine player, were a common sight in the cities of western Turkey and Greece. They became such a feature of urban life that they were immortalized in films, songs and literature. In this brief introduction to the laterna, I will introduce a 98 year-old Greek master laterna player and argue that, far from being considered mechanical devices, laternas were regarded as an “instruments” and the men who turned their handles, musical artists.