Too many strings in a violin?

Here is a must-read piece in the Hindu: Sriram Venkatkrishnan’s Encore piece on Chowdiah, the violinist who introduced seven-stringed violin:

Violin maestro T. Chowdiah was the originator of the seven-stringed violin. In the initial years, he faced stiff resistance from the music fraternity about its usage. His Guru, Bidaram Krishnappa himself led the protest, but was later reconciled to i t.

When Chowdiah used it for accompanying Ariyakkudi, the maestro asked the violinist as to how many more strings he had in his violin-case.

Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer derisively remarked that singing to the seven-stringed violin accompaniment was like singing in a smithy. The violin was so loud that it was only Chembai who was not bothered about it. After all, had he not once sung with the nagaswaram as his accompaniment? Madurai Mani Iyer too, did not have a problem, for in his concerts there was only one mike and so the violin was rather muted.

GNB simply called him ‘Sound-iah’. The Dhanammal family, with their sardonic humour, punned on his name and called him ‘Sevu’diah, hinting that the sound would make ears deaf. But Chowdiah chose to fight on and such was his loveable nature and mastery over the instrument that musicians and audiences were soon won over.

I think, if only internet was there in those days, and if only Dhanammal family maintained a blog, it would have been the blog on music!

Sriram Venkatkrishnan goes on to give more infromation on clashes during conferences and resulting adjournments:

A few die-hards were not, and the chief among them was C.S.Iyer, brother of Nobel laureate Sir C.V.Raman and a former Accountant General. Iyer, an expert violinist, wrote a book titled, ‘The Art and Technique of Violin Play and Other Essays on Music’ in 1941. In this, he argued that the cramped position in which the South Indian violinist holds his instrument has ensured that he does not use more than half the length of the string, with the “mediocres” using only “2/5ths of the string from the neck.”

Also, he said, since violinists are largely accompanists playing to a male voice, they play at low pitches leading to further loss of tone. It is this handicap, said Iyer, which had “forced an artiste to devise the seven-stringed violin with Banjo strings so that he may not have to play above a third of the violin from its neck. As if all his attempts to damp the full violin tone are not sufficient, the violinist occasionally rubs fine oil on his left finger tips while playing, to secure easy movement or slipping of fingers! What a mockery of violin play!”

The write-up was not taken kindly to by Chowdiah and the two clashed bitterly during the Academy Conference of 1942 leading to the adjournment of a day’s proceedings. They were to meet again in 1947 when Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer presided over the conference.

So what happened in 1947?

It could have led to a repeat of 1942 had it not been for the diplomacy of Semmangudi. He immediately intervened and appealed for “adopting the golden mean between purity and orthodoxy on the one hand and innovation and progress on the other. While he said he had his own regard for the good work which C.S.Aiyar was doing on the academic side, he would add his own testimony to the fact of the excellence of the accompaniment of vidwan T. Chowdiah on his seven-stringed violin.” That diffused matters and the presentation ended.

Apparently, Chowdiah went on to experiment with a 19 string violin.

Oh! If only somebody like Sheila Dhar took up the task of writing a comprehnsive history of Hindustani and Carnatic music in the 20th century!

Tags: , ,

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

%d bloggers like this: