Lalgudi G. Jayaraman gave new meaning to the role of the accompanist: he let the notes of the violin blend in with the singer’s, says B. Kolappan
Thiruthuvathurai is a holy town for Saivites. Devotional poets Appar and Gnanasambandar, two of the four Saivite minstrels, have sung the town’s praise.
During the Mughal period, it became known as Lalgudi; and the one whose name became synonymous with this small town in Tiruchi district is violinist Jayaraman.
He belonged to the sishya parampara of Saint Thyagaraja, one of the Carnatic trinity. Thyagaraja also composed a pancharatna, simply referred to as the Lalgudi pancharatnam, in praise of the town’s presiding deity, Saptharisheeswarar. Jayaraman learnt both vocal and violin from his father Lalgudi V.R. Gopala Iyer and in fact his first concert was a vocal. He had listened to all the great masters of his time, whom he later accompanied, before evolving his own style.
He meticulously prepared for every concert. His ‘Kalyanavasantham’ and the Thyagaraja song ‘Nadaloludai’ set the standards for playing both the raga and the kirtana. The ragas Neelambari, Mohanam and Nattakurinji all had the unique Lalgudi touch.
Jayaraman was also a great raconteur and kept a diary with details of his every concert. The details included the place, the main artiste, the accompanying artistes and the year. He scored music for the film Shringaram and composed a special mallari for it. He always acknowledged the role played by musicians and others in giving a boost to his career.
When the birth centenary of mridangist Pazhani Subramania Pillai was celebrated, Jayaraman said his first concert in the nootrukaal mandapam at Malaikottai was arranged by the late maestro.
A philanthropist, Jayaraman also raised funds singlehandedly to improve the government school in his village.
Musicologist N. Ramanathan said the phrase ‘Greatest of all times,’ which legendary cricket umpire Dickie Bird used a few days ago to describe Sir Garfield Sobers, could easily be extended to Lalgudi Jayaraman.
“He was more a musician than a violinist, since he never allowed the violin to dominate the principal part of his concert performance, either as a soloist or as an accompanist,” he said.
Mr. Ramanathan also said that at a time when violin accompaniment was intended mostly as “drinks interval” for the main singer, Lalgudi Jayaraman gave meaning to the role of the accompanist by shaping his alapana, tanam, neraval and svaram responses in such a way that the combined presentation became one homogeneous aesthetic whole.
His own solo and duet performances with his sister/son/daughter/disciple were real models for greatness in the form of alapana structures and kalpana-svaram rounds.
“We are fortunately in an age when we can continue to relive his music. We will continue to enjoy the suddhasaveri raga alapana response in a Madurai Mani AIR concert, svaram response in kambhoji raga in an AIR Raga-Tanam-Pallavi presentation by G.N. Balasubramanian and his immortal ‘Naa jivaadhaara’ in bilahari raga,(to mention just a few drops), but now with tears in our eyes. He showed us that serious Karnataka performance can be musical too,” Ramanathan said.
Great loss to music world’
N. Ramani, flautist: His was pure music. We had a long association and I have learnt immensely from him. He was instrumental in my progress and we performed together in several jugalbandhis in the U.S., Dubai and Singapore. Several of his disciples are taking forward the Lalgudi baani. His death is a great loss to everybody.
Umayalpuram Sivaraman, mridangist: My association with him dates back to more than half a century. The greatness of Lalgudi is that he beautifully translated the emotion, feelings and manodharma of the main artist and painted a picture of aural beauty in the minds of rasikas. I vividly remember both of us accompanied the legend Mudikondan Venkatrama Iyer at The Music Academy several years ago and it remains one of our most memorable concerts.
T.N. Krishnan, violinist: I have known him for the last 60 years and he is more like a younger brother to me. We always respected each other’s music. His contribution to music cannot be measured and his death is a great loss to the music fraternity.
Karaikudi Mani, mridangist: He was born to play the violin. Playing alongside him in a concert was very challenging but it gave utmost satisfaction. He could engage an audience for four hours at a stretch with his violin compositions, and not one person would step out. Everybody would wait to hear him perform the thillana.
Padma Subrahmanyam, danseuse: He represented the great tradition of Thyagaraja Swamigal sishya parampara. Most of the dance performances have a thillana or padha varnam of Lalgudi’s. His contribution to dance and music is immense. I can never forget the thillana he composed for me in Raga Mandu. Our trip to the then USSR in 1987 was a memorable one.
P. Unnikrishnan, Carnatic vocalist: We grew up listening tothe maestroand his concerts where he accompanied great musicians such as G. N. Balasubramaniam and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. He was a great composer as well and all his thillanas were absolutely brilliant. He will continue to live through his music for many generations to come. It is a sad day for Carnatic music.
S.P. Ramh, Lalgudi’s disciple: I owe my life and musical career to my guru who was my father figure in life. He has been my inspiration. He attended many of my concerts and encouraged me a lot. At the end of each concert, he would point out both, the highlights of my performance and areas that needed improvement. He took me into his family. I learnt under him for 25 years.
(Compiled by Asha Sridhar, Sunitha Sekar and Deepa H. Ramakrishnan)
This article was corrected for a spelling error.