Romantic India

John Napier J.Napier at UNSW.EDU.AU
Thu Jun 18 00:20:56 UTC 1998

On Wed, 17 Jun 1998 11:54:25 +020,
  Klaus Karttunen writes:

>Dear friends
>A few months ago someone briefly referred  to "Shubert's
>opera Sakuntala". Finding the note I made then I have tried to check
>it. Supposing Franz Schubert was meant, a list of his (nearly
>forgotten) operas does not including anything Indian. Shubert I do
>not know.

An early work, long lost, recently (ie since c1980) rediscovered.

There is at least one opera founded on KAlidAsa's play,
>namely Franco Alfano's La leggenda di Sakuntala, premi=E8re at Bologna
>town opera in 10.12.1921.

Co-incidently orientalist, Alfano is best remembered for completing
Puccini's "Turandot"

Much earlier the Hungarian componist Karl
>Goldmark composed a ZakuntalA ouverture, first performed in 1865.
>There is further an opera about the VikamorvazIya by W. Kienzl,
>performed in the 1880s "mit Erfolg" according to a contemporary
>source. All these have been forgotten, I have not been able to hear a
>note of them.There are also a few ballets on Indian themes, for
>instance on ZakuntalA (music by S. Bachrich, performed in Vienna
>1884; and another by Reyer, performed in Paris, I don't know when).
>To these may be also added Elgar's Indian Suite, the only one I have
>actually heard.

Lots of operas on Indian themes, ranging from the popular "Indian" operas
of early C19 England (Bishop's "Englishmen in India", Smith's "A
Trip to Bengal") many of which featured highly fashionable "Nautch" scenes
(performed by London dancers!), to later classics such as Bizet's "Pearl
Fishers", Delibes' "Lakme" and (I think) Massenet's "Le Roi de Lahore".

Sticking closer to Indian texts, there is Gustav Holst's "Savitri", and his
hymns from the Rig Veda (in translation). Untranslated is the Sanskrit text
(Bhagavad Gita) of Philip Glass's "Satyagraha": I'm
curious as to how European singers approach memorisation.

>Strictly speaking, this is not Indology, but nevertheless an
>interesting part of the Western conception of India. It would be
>interesting to know, whether there are more examples.

Also worth mentioning the work of three French composers, Albert Roussel
and Maurice Delage in the early part of this century, and of course Olivier
Messiaen. All three were profoundly influenced by Indian music, rather
than just text. Apart from merely the title of his enormous "Turangalila
Symphonie", Messiaen adopted rhythmic procedures derived from the
Sangitaratnakara, and a type of phrase structure which matches phrase ends
to form "musical rhyme" (comparable to the mukhra of North Indian Music).
Much European music matches phrase beginnings.

An interesting looking book, as yet unread by me, is Gerry Farrell's
"Indian Music and the West" (Oxford University press 1997). This is getting
a little far from core Indology!

John Napier

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