Pandit Raghunath Seth, who passed away recently in Mumbai, will be remembered as much for his prolific contribution as his human qualities.
Flute maestro Raghunath Seth, who passed away at the age of 83 on February 15 in Mumbai, will be remembered as much for his haunting flute melodies as for his endearing nature, for his erudite classicism as much as for his versatility. Not merely a performer and composer, he was also a teacher, and his disciples include Steve Gorn, Rao Kyao, Chris Hinze, Clive Bell, Sunil Gupta, Krishna Bhandari, Joshua Geisler, Chetan Joshi, Atul Sharma, Datta Chaughule, his son Apurva Shrivastava and his grandson Aditya among others. Here some personalities associated with the maestro pay their tributes.
Pandit Debu Chaudhuri
He was a friend of mine and I felt very sad to hear that he had died. His death has caused a void not just in the world of flute but the music of India as a whole, because he worked in many areas — the Films Division, in film music, in classical music. What was very special to me was his immense musicality and sweetness as a player of the flute. After Pannalal Ghosh passed away, we thought what will happen to the art now. He (Raghunath Seth) was the only one with a sureeli bansuri to match Ghosh’s.
He was a great innovator and creator, and his swar lagav — application of the notes — and way of applying breathing to sound, his breath control and the continuity of sound and swara were remarkable.
He had a great knowledge of ragas, and a different way of delineating a raga. In his flute music we have heard ragas take on a new romantic appeal. Listening to his recitals we would be taken to sublime heights.
He was not only great performer but also a great teacher with innovative ideas. He created many compositions also. And as a human being he was the sweetest person. I had occasion to share the platform with him at music festivals and also at meetings (of music bodies) of the Government of India. He was always unbiased. And he never criticised anybody. It is rare phenomenon today to come across someone who doesn’t pass comment on others. He was amiable, so sweet natured — that was his great quality.
I always say it is not enough to be a great performer: one has to be a good human being. I will miss him. The last time he came (to Delhi) we planned to have a programme together. That could not be and the regret will always be there.
Delhi-based photographer Sanjay Kumar, his nephew, adds, “He always carried his flute with him, no matter where he went, even if he were not travelling for a concert tour. And he never missed his 4 a.m. riyaaz. This I observed even last year, when I last met him, and this practice he passed on to his son too.”
“My father, Pandit Raghunath Seth, used to wake me up at 4 a.m. every day, to practice flute. He would ask me to accompany him on the tabla during song rehearsals. Later on he asked me to learn to play the guitar so that I could learn chords, progression, harmonisation, western notation and be a holistic musician.”
With his accomplishments across the fields of classical, film and light music, Pandit Raghunath had a wide range of admirers. Apurva shares some of the messages he received from renowned performers:
“Raghunathji was such a gentle soul. We performed at many concerts at the same time. He also produced a TV serial ‘Thumri’ with me in it.
Vidushi Parveen Sultana
“Raghunathji was a kind and gentle soul. He taught us so much music. I want the recording of the TV programme ‘Aarohi’ in which I had sung two songs. No one makes such beautiful geets any more.”
“Raghunathji was very dear to me. He was a kind and gentle soul and was an extremely beautiful music composer.”
"Raghunathji was much senior to me in age but was a very affectionate senior friend to me. He was such a shy and unassuming person but understood the real depths of music. I did have occasion to accompany him on tabla too, and I always much appreciated his aesthetic and subtle insight.”
Raghunath Seth: notes from a life
- Born 1931 in Gwalior
- Early training in music under his elder brother Kashi Prasad, from the age of 12. Later trained under eminent musicologist Dr. S.N. Ratanjankar in Lucknow, then under legendary flute maestro Pannalal Ghosh
- Performed at his first public music conference in Behraich (U.P.) with an audience of over 7,000
- Received the Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1983. Conferred the (central) Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1994
- Scored music for approximately 2500 documentary films and several television serials. Many, including “Ocean to Sky”, “The Last Tiger”, “Mughal Gardens”, “Cross Current”, “Expedition”, “Indian Women” and “Death Sentence” were widely recognised for their music and won national awards.
- Scored music for feature films including national award winning “Phir Bhi”, “Damul”, etc. Filmology includes “Mrityudand” (background score), “Kissa Kursi Ka” (original film), “Yeh Nazdeekiyan”, “Aranyakam” (Malayalam) and several others.
- His composition “Music to help you sleep” from the album “Nidra” estimated to have over 5.5 million YouTube views
- Composed music for albums sung by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kavita Krishnamurty, Talat Mehmood, Vani Jairam, Arti Mukherjee, Talat Aziz, Peenaz Masani, Sudha Malhotra, Hari Om Sharan, Sharma Bandhu.
- Made his own bamboo flutes, introducing innovations like adding a bamboo key that makes previously impossible phrases, such as the meend (glissando) between Ma and Pa, easily playable. Also added an eighth hole which allows the player to extend the range of the bansuri further into the lower octave.