Posts Tagged ‘Carnatic’

A couple of book reviews

November 6, 2007

A Scott who fell in love with Tamils

Anand Kumar Raju reviews a biography of Caldwell:

Above all his great contributions to the Tamil language like A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages (1856) remain a monumental testimony to a Scot who fell in love with Tamil and Tamilians. Kumaradoss’s book is a touching but unsentimental tribute to a man whose life is a model for modern social workers everywhere.

An outstanding Carnatic classic

Sulochana Pattabhi Raman recommends the four volume Tana Varna Tarangini of B M Sundaram:

This monumental work cannot be measured by mere words: it is an outstanding classic in both qualitative and quantitative terms. His searing passion for the art, unlimited hours of hard work, concentration, and commitment have all enabled the compiler to reach Golan Heights of achievement.

Take a look!


Championing Carnatic (by objecting to Hindustani)?

October 25, 2007

In his Encore piece in the Hindu, Sriram Venkatkrishnan seems to imply that Sambanda Mudaliar championed Carnatic music when he objected to the use of Hindustani tunes in South Indian movie music (Throughout the post, the bold emphasis in the quotes is mine):

It was perhaps appropriate that at the end of the first decade of Tamil cinema, Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar, eminent playwright, actor and film director of the early period, took time to analyse the role of classical music in South Indian films. His article, “South Indian Talkies — Carnatic Music vs Hindustani Music” appeared in The Hindu dated July 18, 1941, in the paper’s Friday round up of films.

Born as he was in 1872, Sambanda Mudaliar could truly claim that it was his “good fortune to hear almost all the best musicians from the South, including the famous Maha Vaidyanatha Aiyar. I have been thrilled by the sweet strains of Tirukkodikaval Krishna Aiyar on the violin, Seshanna on the Veena and Sarabha Sastri on the flute; I can boast of having heard every exponent of Carnatic music for the past 50 years, both at music parties and on the stage.”

Mudaliar emerges from the article as a strong champion of Carnatic Music. His first paragraph itself is titled “Objections to Hindustani Music!” In it he decries the tendency of music directors of the period to bring in tunes from that idiom. He bases his objection on the fact that “very few South Indian musicians know how to sing northern tunes properly… Probably musicians who have studied both the systems of music scientifically can be counted on the fingers of one hand. What 99 per cent of the people of the South who attempt Hindustani music do, is to hear gramophone records of Northern music, or in a few cases hear Northern musicians in person, and try to imitate the tunes; the result is in most cases a dismal failure.”

I do not know if Mudaliar’s objections about the lack of training of Carnatic musicians to sing Hindustani tunes is true; even so, I can not accept that objecting to Hindustani is in anyway championing Carnatic.

Further, I also found some inconsistencies in Mudaliar’s stand (from what Sriram quotes in the piece, of course — I did not read the original piece); take a look at the following two quotes:

While accepting that Hindustani tunes have a “catchy style which appeals easily to the popular mind,” Mudaliar wrote that the grafting of such tunes into South Indian films also has the problem of getting Tamil/Telugu words to fit into them. Such attempts, he says, go “against every rule of vernacular prosody; it is a jingle of words, which may please the illiterate, but which must make the lover of literary language shudder.”

Perhaps referring to “Sakunthalai,” starring M.S.Subbulakshmi-GNB, Mudaliar writes that “in a talkie which is at present running to popular houses in the whole of southern India in which one of the sweetest-voiced actresses of South India has taken the chief feminine role, though she sings both Carnatic and Hindustani songs, it is the former that sends the audience into raptures and captivates them.”

Finally, I found some of Mudaliar’s arguments to be distasteful:

He uses this to buttress his stance that “the greatness and sweetness of Carnatic music can never fade, and in the hands of proper artistes it can hold its own against northern music or the music of any other country.” Mudaliar ends his article with a scathing attack on English Notes. “Some actresses and actors indulge (thank God they are very few!) in what are called English Notes. There is neither harmony nor melody in these attempts. They are mere servile imitations, which do not please even the European public.”

Oh, come on — music is not about one-up-man-ship — nor is it a weapon to be held against other forms/traditions.

I am also not too happy with the tone of Sriram’s article; he seems to be in implicit agreement with Mudaliar. You might still want to take a look at the piece if you are curious about the history of Indian classical and south Indian movie music, and their interaction, though.

Internet and classical music

October 16, 2007

As far as Indian classical music goes, the internet is a veritable gold mine. At first this sounds surprising, since, as Sheila Dhar notes in Raga’n Josh,

The Indian mind — and there is such a thing — has never taken kindly to the idea of formal records or, to stretch a point, to the activity of recording.

While it is true that many of the classical musicians of the bygone era were not great fans of (as they used to say in those days) “cutting records” (Veenai Dhanamma — or one of her daughters — is supposed to have said that she did not want her music to be played in hair-cutting saloons), I believe they did allow individual rasikas to make recordings of their concerts. In a different era, such recorded music might have had, but a very small reach. However, with internet, all you need is a true rasika who likes to share the musical bounties with his fellows — the entire world can have access to the music.

So, it is no wonder that but for the archives that some of the rasikas have uploaded, I would not have had the chance of listening to Carnatic stalwarts like Veenai Dhanamma, Tiger Varadacharyar, Mysore Vasudevacharyar, Madurai Shanmukavadivu (mother of MS), and Chembai Subbu (brother of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar).

This is true of many stalwarts of Hindustani music too; for example, I wanted to hear his playing, after reading this moving passage about the Sarangi player Ustad Bundu Khan in Sheila Dhar’s Raga’n Josh:

My father only received one extraordinary letter of thanks three months after his departure. He had dictated it to someone in Urdu and signed his name in his shaky, illiterate scrawl. The letter carried two sentences, the first said that he would never forget all that my father had done for him. The second was somewhat longer and said ‘Here are the important taans of Malkauns.’ About twenty note-patterns in the raga Malkauns followed. My father was so touched that he wept. He said he would never need to use the Malkauns taans in his life, but Ustad Bundu Khan’s intention was to offer him what he considered most precious. …

And, I am certain that I would never have had a chance of listening to the Ustad but for the internet. (Tell me sister, who wouldn’t want to listen to Bundu Khan’s Malkauns after reading that passage?)

What is more, internet is not only for the rare and exotic; when living in a foreign country where buying a cassette or CD of your favourite musician is no longer a matter of an evening walk, my only hope is the internet — especially since my addiction to these musicians and their music is such that, if, for example, I wanted to hear a Hamsadhwani by Kishori and I am not able to it is maddening — I become jittery, irritable and insomniac. (By the way, the nearly one-and-a-half hour Hamsadhwani Jugalbandi of Kishori and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia is one of the best I have heard, which is so beautiful that it defies description — Bharathiar: போ போ! இதற்கு மேல் என்னால் வர்ணிக்க இயலாது (Go away! I can not describe it any further) ).

As a matter of fact, till now, except for twice (when I wanted some specific songs by Musiri and Bhimsen), there are no instances of any music that I could not hear when I wanted to (and, all of it, I heard for free too).

Well, from this piece of Alex Ross in the New Yorker, I understand that what is true of Carnatic and Hindustani is true of Western Classical too:

Like many people, I started blogging out of an urgent need to procrastinate. Yet a nagging sense of possibility also drew me in. Classical music, my subject, was thriving on the Internet in unexpected ways. Not all blogs, I discovered, were devoted to cataloguing continuity errors in the films of George Lucas; a smattering of musicians, composers, and listeners were writing on music with intelligence and verve, revelling in the chance to express ideas that had no other immediate outlet. Between 1980 and 2000, classical music more or less disappeared from American network television, magazines, and other mainstream media, its products deemed too élitist, effete, or esoteric for the world of pop. On the Internet, no demographically driven executive could suppress, say, a musicology student’s ruminations on György Ligeti’s Requiem on the ground that it had no appeal for twenty-seven-year-old males, even if the blogger in question—Tim Rutherford-Johnson, of The Rambler —was himself twenty-seven.

Ross’ piece can also be a nice place to start a tour of western classical sites on the net.

Happy listening times!