Kolkata-based artist Kishore Chatterjee talks about how his quest for Western classical music led him to pen “Beethoven and Friends”.

He has so much to say that he goes on and on, and some more, almost with the rush of a running train. But every bit of what he says is so arresting that it leaves you rapt, except if you remember to exclaim occasionally, Oh, how amusing!

Kolkata-based Kishore Chatterjee is certainly an almanac on Western classical music. But what’s enthralling is his style of storytelling. The way he analyses the music and the manner of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi, Rossini and such greats of yore in his conversation — bit by every bit — you feel as if they are his best buddies living next door, close chums whose every furtive thought he is privy to.

So absorbing is his manner of extemporising the lives led by these celebrated musicians and composers that you almost start hallucinating that Beethoven, or let’s say Mozart, is yearning to break out of his grave to craft some more melody — just because Chatterjee is craving for more. Seriously, he seems the kind to demand an appointment from an earthquake, for he would not like to be harshly whisked out of his musical rhapsody.

Having recently come out with a book, “Beethoven and Friends” (Niyogi Books) culled out of his writings on Western classical music in a national daily, Chatterjee — also a well appreciated painter — is all charged up about his favourite subject. He saunters to the starting point of his decades-long journey.

“At the age of 13, when I entered Doon School, there were two senior Parsi boys, who were avid music collectors. They used to receive parcels of music records from home and would play them on the common room radiogram. I was too scared to talk to them, but every time I could get away, I would go to hear the music. To say I was bowled over would be putting it mildly.”

Till this experience, he says, “Though my father would sing Verdi’s ‘La donna’e’mo-bi-lie’ and talked about Caruso and Toscanini, all the music that I knew was the songs of Rabindranath Tagore”, his granduncle.

Chatterjee recollects that he didn’t know what exactly those boys played then. Years later, at a music shop he heard the familiar tunes and realised that the music they played most often was Rimsky Korzakov’s “Sceherazade” and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.

“The melody of my childhood returned to me, my search was over. But my quest for the secrets of classical music was just beginning. By 1960, I had a job (in advertising) and all my money used to go in collecting classical records.” He recollects, “For months I had to look for one record, many times I ordered music from abroad. I began to read about music. The more I read, the more curious I became. I began to subscribe to various music magazines.” Today, he has an impressive library of rare LPs and magazines on Western classical music at his Ballygunge Park house.

Though the Internet has made collecting music a breeze now, he holds his own. “There is no fun in it. The joy of listening to a particular piece after waiting for months was unspeakable.”

Listeners’ club

Chatterjee also runs a popular listeners’ club in Kolkata. And since 1970, when AIR, Kolkata, asked him to give a lecture on Beethoven and his deafness (that was Beethoven’s birth centenary year), Chatterjee has been a regular broadcaster on Western classical music. So in just following his heart he has quite successfully remained out of the conventional career chase.

In fact, the Kolkattan sets his own pace. It took him fours years to put together the book. “The loss of my brother and mother saddened me a lot. I was very attached to both. To divert attention, my wife suggested that I compile my writings and lectures into a book.” Being not at all computer savvy, (he has just made an e-mail ID and still fumbles in reaching his cell phone inbox) he had handwritten most of the notes for the book.

The result is a fabulous product. Each page of the hardbound is packed with fascinating personal and musical history of the greats, including some with lucid explanation of musical terms. The anecdotes too are appealing.

Be it Beethoven’s heart-wrenching letter to his brother after his hearing impairment, or the story of how Haydn, on hearing of Beethoven’s death in London, was inconsolable and composed a new symphony in his memory, or of Mozart’s abject sadness at Hayden’s departure to London, or Mendelssohn and his sister’s restoration of Bach’s works lying unsung in monasteries and libraries, even Wagner stealing Liszt’s daughter Cosima from her husband... “Beethoven and Friends” makes an interesting read.

Grey-haired Chatterjee is hopeful of youngsters keeping the interest in Western classical music going. “One generation of musicians in the olden times never listened to works of another. For instance, Mozart never listened to Beethoven. But we listen to them all along with contemporary music, so I am sure many youngsters will carry on this tradition.” For those seeking directions to appreciate the right symphonies, “Beethoven and Friends” has all the clues.