From the archives: Should creative effort cease with the Trinity?

Opinion is divided on contemporary musicians composing kirtanas, varnams and tilianas and themselves singing them in concerts. Some eminent artistes in the field to-day express their view in an interview.

The traditionalist with reverence for the past tends to frown upon modern trends in classical music and is particularly severe on efforts at compositions by contemporary artistes and looks with disdain on musicians who dare to sing their own compositions. The view that the creative output of the masters of the past cannot be bettered is reasonable, but should all creative effort cease on this account, or will it? The fact is that it has not.

There have been composers before the musical Trinity Tyagaraja,Syama Sastrl and Muthuswamy Dikshithar-7-and after and there is much of excellence in their works. If the conservative tends to be suspicious of what the present has to offer, it is understandable in the light of the confusion in standards that has set in in recent times with all types of lyric-writers, versifiers and word- Joiners, who enlist the services of talented tune-setters to convert their works into songs, being accepted as composers.

An authentic music composer Is one who creates both the music and the sahitya. This is a basic definition of a Vaggeyakara, but unless the work has quality it cannot stand the test of time. This quality depends very much on firm links with tradition and unless they are present, these works will vanish soon as all rootless  things inevitably do But tradition cannot survive If It remains static and if it has survived in classical music, according to the late G. N. Balasubramaniam, it Is because each generation takes up the heritage of its distant and immediate past and perforce moulds it to the needs, temperaments and capacities of its own time.

Therefore, tradition cannot be a dead fossil of the past, but interpretation of the composition of the masters, a style with modernity which sought fulfilment In the last years of his life, in his own creations Though it is known that he rendered them in private for the benefit of his disciples and the enjoyment of his friends, he chose not to sing his own compositions on the public platform, an act of desistance which some would like to be taken as a precedent But Balamuralikrishna, the popular and prolific composer-musician of our times, felt differently on the subject and said that Balasubramaniam should have sung his songs in  public to acquaint his audience with their authentic shape. The sastra’s had defined the ideal musician as one who combined in himself the gifts of the Vaggeyakara(composer) also. It had been found that only the musicians with original, new and creative styles to offer had been enthusiastically welcomed by the public and when this was so, one could not understand why there should be any objection to musical  widening of the frontier! of musical thought and experience. If it were so, carnatic classical music would be doomed to stagnation.

The ragas could not be restricted to a limited repertoire of just a few known melodies. All the ragas had to be sung and made as familiar to listeners as the popular ones. That called for vidwat and musicians had to take pains to achieve it

Elders' warning

Semmangudi Srinivasa Aiyar seemed to feel that nothing need prevent an artiste with the needed inspiration and skill from creating his own songs and singing them. The uninspired and purely commercial product was bound to die soon. As for himself, he had never thought of composing at all for a number of reasons. Foremost of them, he had  been warned by elder musicians when he was quite young never to go anywhere' near this "awesome" field of musical activity- Any type of "dosha" creeping into the composition either in respect of the music or sahitya was bound to rebound on the creator of the defective work, he had been told. For another reason, there was the significant reticence of many eminent musicians of the past like Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Aiyar, Pushpavanam, Tirukkodikaval Krishna Aiyar, Malaikottai Govindaswami Pillai and the example of more recent musicians like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Aiyar and Cherabai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, all of whom had never ventured to compose their own songs. Moreover, is responsibilities in his assignment at Trivandrum relating to the works of Swati Tirunal had engaged him in musically constructive activity for a number of years and kept him very busy. As a performer, he felt there was a limitless store of the songs of the great masters still to learn and he was, at the moment, deeply engrossed in a study of of the compositions of Dikshithar.

Lalgudi Jayaraman did not favour any type of bar against self expression of the musician seeking the form of compositions provided it stemmed from scholarship and profound knowledge and awareness of both the poetic and grammatical aspects of music- He pointed out that numerous vocalists of great eminence had been Vasggeyakaras and cited an impressive list of names like Patnam Subramanya Aiyar, "Poochi” Srinivasa Iyengar, Manambuchavadi venkatasubbaiah, Subbarama Dikshithar, Maha Vaidyanatha Aiyar, "Tiger" Varadhacharlar, Mysore Vasudevachar and Papanasam Sivan in support of his stand. His father Lalgudi Gopala Aiyar had also composed songs for which he found use and he had himself created quite a number of varnams and tilianas. If he had concentrated more on these musical forma than on kirtana creations, it was because there was such a boundless treasure of the songs of the great masters still to be learnt Jayaraman felt that the well equipped vidwan need neither fight shy of composing nor of singing his own compositions in public.

In fact, the author of the song had to familiarise the public with the authentic version of it- In this connection, Jayaraman drew the analogy of the accepted practice of the painter holding exhibitions to display his works. The good musical work would stand the test of time. However, he felt that the projection of one's own creations should not be overdone in the concert hall. They could be offered in reasonable proportion along with the songs of the great gaint composers.

Trusted and tried

 Palghat Mani Aiyar preferred to remain silent on the issue of contemporary compositions and felt it could be left for posterity to judge. He said he drew inspiration from constant thought of the past in which there was so much magic and enchantment. From the point of view of successful concert performance, one need not look beyond the compositions of T y a g a - brahmam and a few others like Dikshithar. Syama Sastri and Purandaradasar  For one thing, they were works of divine inspiration. For another, they had acquired a sacred quality (san nithyam) by virtue of their having been sung countless times by a succession of great musicians who had reverentially cherished and nurtured them and passed them on to the present as a priceless heritage. The deeper one delved into them, the greater was the joy of discovery of their multi-faceted excellence Sravana and sadhana of these compositions ripened the voice and conferred commanding capacity on the singer. There was scope for achieving unlimited excellence in a limited repertoire and that was the reason why the songs of the old masters were heard with rapture again and again. Their freshness was perennial and as a mridangam accompanist, he enjoyed playing for these trusted and tried vintage pieces. 

Apart from the impromptu pallavi lines that occurred to her in the concert hall, M. L. Vasanthakumari said she has not tried to compose her own songs. Classical music composition was a very serious matter unlike light music. Both sangeetha gnana and sahitya gnana had to meet in happy wedlock. The composition would suffer if a sound musical structure was not presented clothed in a dignified lyric or if a cheap song setting was allowed to spoil a sophisticated text. Both the music and sahitya had to stem from the same person and for this, a musician had to be a highly endowed person. She did not feel she was gifted with the necessary bhasha gnana for musical creation. She, however, felt that those who had the capacity for composing weighty classical songs could compose as well as sing them.


"Not important"

A very different response came from Bharatanatya exponent Kaniala who has also composed some tilianas but does not announce their authorship whenever they are presented either by her or by her disciples. Asked why she refrained from taking credit for her work and preferred to let the works remain anonymous, she said that in the course of her profession, occasional stints at composition became necessary and if she did not announce who composed the melody, it was because she thought "it was not important.”



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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 5:05:34 AM |

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