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Today is 9/30/2014, the seventh day of Navaratri. In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a composition of a 20th century composer. Today also, I am thinking of sharing a composition from another 20th century musician.
It’s often said that the ragas are infinite – “ananta”. Practically speaking, there are only a few hundred ragas that are in currency at any point in time. But due to many reasons, some well known ragas go out from circulation and some ragas considered rare become very famous at some other point of time. This cycle has repeated in the past millennium, and I guess the trend will continue to the next as well.
Right from the 14th century there were attempts at classifying ragas into different groups, based on the notes used in those melodies. This is very similar to how elements (and their compounds) are organized in the Periodic table. This method helps to understand similarities, differences etc, There were many such systems of classification, the last of which came in around 1650 AD. In this classification, Venkatamakhi not only did classify the ragas that existed at his time, but also built a framework for classifying such ragas that were yet to be invented at that time. This framework is known as the 72 mELa scheme. A mELa is a collection of notes, and does not become a raga by itself; but it is possible to create a raga by building around these notes.
This scheme paved the way for later day composers to experiment with notes and come up with newer melodies. For example, Muttuswamy Dikshita composed in all the 72 mELa rAgas postulated as possible by Venkatamakhi. Tyagaraja composed in most of these 72, and he also came up with some more with some permutation and combination of notes used, by dropping notes. This method was a bit different from earlier times, when a raga was defined by the form and phrases used rather than just from the notes and the order of the notes that occur in.
In general, when a raga is solely defined by the notes it uses and skips and the order of those notes, it offers less scope for elaboration. However, over time, such ragas also can develop their own character, and thereby become more expansive and can fire the imagination of more composers to come up with compositions. We can see examples this happening to many of the new ragas that were brought to life by Tyagaraja.
Ranjani is one of the ragas that were “created” by Tyagaraja. He composed only one composition in this raga. This raga is quite popular today, and many later day composers have also contributed to it’s popularity. One such composer is GNB.
G N Balasubramaniyan, better known as GNB was a star in the musical world of the 20th century. He was also a star on the silver screen, at a time when actors had to be good singers as well, and acted in several movies in the early 1940s. He has composed about 50 compositions and “Ranjani Niranjani”, praising the Goddess Parvati is one of his very popular compositions.
Now listen to this kriti played by Mandolin U Srinivas:
The composition ends at around time 28:00, but you you can’t stop there, you are not to blame! One can go on listening to the Mandolin magic no end!
Today is 9/29/2014 – The sixth day of Navaratri. The first five days of the festival, I wrote a about a composition praising the Goddess whom we worship during Navaratri , and also wrote some notes about the composer of that composition. Today also, I am going to do just that.
The influence of Tyagaraja and his lineage of students to current day’s Karnataka sangeeta is immense. During his lifetime, Tyagaraja taught a good number of disciples. Often there are differences in how some kritis are handled in the traditions of Umayalpuram, Thillaisthanam and Walajapet traditions ( termed so because of the major disciples who hailed from these places.
There was also a disciple by name Rama Iyer from the town of Lalgudi. This town , downstream on the Kaveri river, on which Tiruvaiyyaru where Tyagaraja lived stands has a temple dedicated to Saptarshishwara & his consort Srimathi ( a form of Shiva and Parvati). Tyagaraja visited this town and stayed with his disciple for a few days, and at that time he composed a set of five beautifyk compositions about these deities, which have come to be known as Lalgudi Pancharatna Kritis.
Lalgudi Rama Iyer trained his son Radhakrishnan to be a violinist. In an earlier post, you’ve read how the violin was adapted to play Karnataka sangeeta by Baluswamy Dikshita, the younger brother of Muttuswamy Dikshita. And two generations later, Radhakrishnan’s grandson Jayaraman became one of the greatest violinists the world has ever seen.
Lalgudi G Jayaraman, or LGJ or just plain Lalgudi, as he is called by his millions of fans, passed away in 2013. But his music, in the form of numerous recordings and compositions remain with us. LGJ has composed a number of excellent compositions, many of which have become very popular.
A Tillana is a composition that is primarily composed for dance – so generally only the charana does have any words. This Tillana in Raga Mand, that I chose to share today has the sahitya lines about Goddess Gowri. The raga is a 20th century import from Hindustani, and is considered a minor raga. There are only a few compositions exist in this raga, but it is a very pleasant and bright raga!
Listen to the beautiful Tillana in raga Mand, composed by LGJ and played on the mandolin by U Srinivas:
Today is 9/28/2014, the fifth day of Navaratri. In the first four days of the festival, I had written about some music compositions about dEvi, whom we celebrate during this festival season. In the post yesterday, I mentioned how Mysore and Thiruvanathapuram stood out among the last princely states in their support of classical music. Thus today, I thought of sharing a well known composition of a composer who was associated with both these places.
Harikesanallur Muttaiah Bhagavatar is one of the very well known composers of the 20th century. He was a Harikatha Vidwan, as well as played on instruments such as Chitraveena. He lived in Mysore as the Asthana Vidwan of the Odeyar court for a few years. Later on, he lived in Thiruvananthapuram for a while where he gave second life to some of Swathi Tirunal’s compositions. Some of Swathi Tirunal‘s compositions which had lost their original musical form were re-tuned by Muttaiah Bhagavatar.
Sometime in 1927, when he was performing at the Mysore palace for the first time, the concert did not go too well because Bhagavatar had a bad throat that day. He was honored as per palace traditions and sent off. However, few days later Muttaiah Bhagavatar payed a visit to the Chamundeshwari temple atop the hill, and was singing to himself when king Krishnaraja Odeyar visited the temple. Very impressed with his singing, the King requested Muttaiah Bhagavatar to be the Asthana Vidwan.
During the time Bhagavatar lived in Mysore, Krishnaraja Odeyar requested Muttaiah Bhagavatar to compose 108 compositions on Goddess Chamundeshwari, the presiding deity of Mysore. A scholar Devottama Joisa wrote the sahitya for which Muttaiah Bhagavatar gave the musical form. The composition I have chosen is one from this series. Sudhamayi Sudhanidhi – It is set in a raga called Amrtavarshini.
This raga Amrtavarshini, in popular thought is said to be the creation of Muttuswami Dikshita. But textual traditions prove otherwise, because we have references not only to a name, but even the musical structure several decades before him. It is possible that Muttuswamy Dikshita was the first major composer to use this raga. There is a disputed composition of Tyagaraja in this raga as well. Muttaiah Bhagavatar’s Sudhamayi Sudhanidhi remains one of the very popular compositions in this raga even today.
Now, here is a lovely rendition of Sudhamayi in Raga Amrtavarshini, played on the Veena by artist Rajesh Vaidhya:
Today’s 9/27/2014. The fourth day of Navaratri. In the first three days of this Navaratri, I wrote about a music composition of Syama Sastry, Muttuswamy Dikshita and Tyagaraja, who are popularly called the Trinity of Karnataka Sangeeta and then shared with you links for those compositions being played on a “Veena”. And no prizes for guessing today’s post will be on similar lines!
In the 18th and 19th centuries, when the British had taken over most of the princely states under their arms, only two major kingdoms had remained, albeit under reduced strength. The Wodeyars of Mysore and the Kings of Travencore ( Thiruvananthapuram) continued to be great patrons of music, dance and other art forms. In some cases, the rulers were artists themselves.
Thiruvanathapuram is well known for the chamber concerts at the Navaratri Mandapam, adjacent to the famed Padmanabhaswamy temple. A special feature feature of these concerts is that unlike most other concerts, the main item presented on each day of the music festival is known in advance. The artist of the day elaborates a composition of Maharaja Swathi Tirunal from what is called the Navarati kritis. Each of these compositions is in Samsktra and set in rakti ragas such as Bhairavi, Shankarabharana, Natakuranji, Kalyani etc. I’d written about these compositions earlier during a previous Navaratri series. You can read them here.
Maharaja Rama Varma is better known by his star name – Swathi Tirunal, In a short span of 33 years (1836- 1846 AD) he accomplished a lot musically. He was a Veena player as well. Unlike other composers who had their students spread the compositions across the country, his compositions remained known only in Kerala for quite some time. Also, for some of his compositions nothing but the raga and tALa names were known, and were tuned by later day musicians. In the 20th century his compositions become popular outside Kerala, and now have become a part of the standard concert repertoire.
Swathi Tirunal adapted some Hindustani ragas into Karnataka sangeeta as well – and thus the Raga Hamsanandi was born from Sohini. The composition I’m sharing today, pAhi jagajjanani is in this raga – Listen to this played on electric guitar by Abhay. The Guitar, although a western instrument falls in the class of what has been traditionally called a “Veena” in India.
Interestingly enough, Guitar Abhay has not changed the way the guitar is traditionally tuned. He is a student of Mandolin Shrinivas whom we lost recently. It’s but a sad coincidence, both Swathi Tirunal and U Shrinivas had short lives , but they sure have touched many hearts in their lifetime and will continue to do so much beyond their life time.
Now over to Guitar Abhay’s magical fingers, playing pAhi jagajjanani in rAga hamsAnandi:
Today is 9/26/2014 , the third day of Navaratri. In the posts I made on day 1 and day 2, I wrote about compositions of Syama Sastry and Muttuswamy Dikshita. Today, I am going to write about a composition of Tyagaraja, who together with the before mentioned two composers is generally referred to as the “Trinity” composers in Karnataka Sangeeta. Incidentally, all these there composers were born in the town of Tiruvaroor, in Tamil Nadu.
Tyagaraja spent most of his lifetime in a town called Tiruvaiyyaru on the banks of river Kaveri. He has composed about 800 compositions. His compositions were popularized by his disciples and his compositions have become the mainstay for any concert in Karnataka sangeetha. Since has a large variety of compositions, it would be quite easy to even have a concert
When Tyagaraja visited other places of pilgrimage, he often sang on the presiding deities in those places. When he visited his student Patnam Subramanya Iyer at Chenna Pattanam (now Chennai), he also visited some famous temples around there. One such was the Tripura Sundari temple at Tiruvottriyur, now in the northern part of the city.In that temple he composed five compositions on that deity, which have come to be known as Tiruvottriyur pancharatna. Among these, the composition Darini Telusukonti in raga Shuddha Saveri is well known for the intricate sangatis.
That was the time British had a strong presence in Chennai. If at all one good thing happened due to the British, it was the introduction of Violin into Indian music. Muttuswamy Dikshita’s family was associated with a wealthy man called Chinnaswamy Mudaliyar, who was a translator to the British at Fort St George. It was there Baluswamy Dikshita, younger brother of Muttuswamy Dikshita witnessed the band performances of British army and thereby tried to use the Violin to play Indian classical music. As they often say the rest is history – Violin has become an integral part of Karnataka sangeeta both as a solo instrument and as an accompaniment.
Although instruments such as Dhaurveena had existed in the past,which resembled the violin in the fact that they were played using a bow, they were not in practice in the 18th century and thus we have to be thankful for the British army musicians who were instrumental in creating the interest among Indian musicians of that age to experiment with this new instrument!
Now to end this post, listen to a rendition of Darini Telusukonti, on the violin by a young artist from Bengaluru, Apoorva Krishna: