european musical instruments in India
srini at engin.umich.edu
Wed Apr 2 19:57:27 UTC 1997
John Napier writes:
One assumption often made is that because the accompanying instrument
ideally today blends with the voice, that the aim of accompaniment has
always been to do so.
A related assumption, which seems to have taken strong hold
among Carnatic audiences, is that instrumental music should
towline vocal music... there are a few reasons for this development,
including the dominating presence of some remarkable instrumentalists
in the latter half of this century like Mali (flute), Balachander(vINa),
and Lalgudi Jayaraman (violin) whose style is avowedly vocal.
Also, the instrumentalists' repertoire has come to include a
large number of kritis of the great composers... so a bias
towards vocalism seems natural. Some try to strike a via
media by adapting or completely morphing a few vocal compositions
for their instrumental use... and it all sounds like an uneasy
Yet, that everything was not vocal-like, even at the beginning
of this century, is very clear from various anecdotal evidence
_and_ recorded examples.
Flute seems to have been played in a fairly staccato manner...
in the post-Mali era, this style is parodied as a tap-tap-tap
style which resorted mainly to viralaDi (fast fingering) and
tongueing rather than aiming at fluidity.
NAgasvaram had its own hoary tradition and its practitioners
more or less stuck to their traditional repertoire of mallArI-
rAga AlApana-rakti-pallavi, leaving aside the compositions of
the great 18th-19th century composers. In fact, it is a few
vocalists of this century like GNB, Semmangudi, etc who are
credited with mimicking the nAgasvara style, in very broad terms.
Veena too had an interesting history... many vaiNikas simultaneously
sang, at least in stretches, and played the instrument. The great
composer, Muttusvami Dikshitar (1775-1835), calls him a vaiNika-gAyaka.
Closer to us, Karaikkudi Brothers and Veena Dhanammal did the same
and there are followers of this practice to this day. However,
Rangaramanuja Iyengar, a historian and practitioner of Carnatic
music, makes a crucial observation that in the case of the legendary
Dhanammal, the voice and the wire worked in perfect complement,
rather than simply mimicking each other... he is the only one to
have called this insistence on "vocal-like instrumental music" a
fallacy, that ignores the unique history and development of each
instrument vis-a-vis the voice.
In searching for a blend with the voice, and a perfect legato
(sorry to use the Italian/European word, please provide Indian
equivalent!), two other factors may have been underplayed in
searching for the ideals of accompaniment: the idea of timbral
contrast, and the idea of comparable attack.
Absolutely... this underplaying of the latter ideals while laying
undue stress on "legato"... really, in most cases, legato as understood
merely as an explicit aural continuity through ample volume ;-) ...
seems to have been a major factor in violin becoming an indispensable
accompaniment in Carnatic music. Of course, violin accompaniment
has developed far beyond being just that !
I wonder if there is a direct equivalent of legato as a style...
what is Indian music if it is not all legato ???
At the level of a pair of svaras, legato could very well be subsumed
under the "lIna" gamaka, while "jAru", "mIND" etc refer to slides
over larger intervals.
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