european musical instruments in India

Srinivasan Pichumani srini at
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 
compromise ! 

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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