Three Book Reviews
By MOHAN NADKARNI writing as GURUDEV SHARAN
Times of India, September 5, 1976
A TOUCH OF CLASS
- Muttusvamy Dikshitar, Edited by V. Raghavan, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Bombay, Rs 15)
The advent of the celebrated trinity – Syama Sastri, Tyagaraja and Muttusvami Dikshitar – between 1763 and 1847 A.D. is rightly regarded as the golden age of Carnatic music. They were all excellent composer-musicians as well as great yogis and mystics.
Each of them influenced the course of Carnatic music by the power of his individual genius and talent and it is through the works of the trinity that the kriti, the soul of Carnatic music, revealed itself at its finest.
This superbly produced volume on Muttusvami Dikshitar, the youngest of the trinity, is edited by Dr. Raghavan. He is one of our greatest authorities on Dikshitar and his work and has written an extensive and highly illuminating article on the composer-musician.
Dr. Raghavan discusses Dikshitar’s family tradition and his shishya parampara. His book also includes the text of the Navagraha kritis with svaralipi (notation) by B Krishnamurthy. A Dikshitar bibliography, a selective discography and a comprehensive index to the musical composititions of the entire Dikshitar parampara are other sections which add immensely to the usefulness of the publication.
The painstaking labour of Dr.Raghavan has contributed greatly towards making the book indispensable for students of music.
MUSIC FOR MANY MOODS
- The Sound of Music in Rajasthan by U B Mathur, (The Music Lovers, Jaipur, Rs 95)
Rajasthan, probably one of the most tradition-bound regions of the world has a rich heritage of folk music. While it shares the genius of Indian tradition in general, the musical heritage of this desert province has some of its own distinctive features.
The people of Rajasthan belong to many ethnic groups and are all a colourful lot. Tone and rhythm course through their veins and there are songs for every occasion with an almost unending variety of tunes.
Dr. Mathur’s book comprising a selection of 60 popular Rajasthani songs in their English versions, has been published to coincide with the World Music Week. The author has kept the foreign readership in view while writing the book, as can be seen from its lavishly got-up format, as also its content and treatment.
The songs, grouped in four sections – devotional, amorous, festal and occasional are written in staff notations and the tempo for each tune is indicated in terms of metronome figures with a crochet denoting a unit of time. It also carries a brief foreword by Yehudi Menuhin, the world-famous violin maestro and President of the International Music Council.
Each page of the anthology is embellished with sketches of some of the little known musicians of Rajasthan with their musical instruments, with copious notes of introduction to each of the illustrations.
The author inter alia speaks of an “amazing similarity” between the folk music of Rajasthan and that of southern and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region and underscores “the need to bring the outsiders close to our music, the people in many lands who have interest and receptivity to music which is other than their own.”
The book can be said to fulfil the purpose set forth by the author only partly. For, what Dr. Mathur presents here is only a glimpse of the rich and varied folk music of Rajasthan. To understand and appreciate it in its totality – in its spontaneity, tonal beauty, lyrical charm and uncanny lilt and rhythm – one has to hear the songs right from those who sing or play them – a fact which the author himself happily concedes.
A FUTILE JOURNEY
- The Sound of Indian Music, by Raghava R Menon, Indian Book Company, New Delhi, Rs 35)
FOLLOWING his earlier publication Discovering Indian Music, this book by Mr. Menon purports to explain the nature and mystery of India’s musical tradition and its appreciation by readers. No doubt, the author attempts to explore the phenomenon from a new angle. But his approach – telling the readers, inter alia, how they should listen to Indian classical music and what its salient features are –is, to say the least, purely subjective.
Meanwhile, who is the reader (or the listener) for whom Mr. Menon is writing? For one thing, music in India, more specially traditional music, is as much a matter of participation as of performance and, what is more, listening to it presupposes a long, patient ‘conditioning’ of the ear and the soul.
Besides, evocation of mood and feeling happens to be a major component of the process of appreciating traditional music. And without all these, no listener, Indian or foreign, can understand and appreciate the deeper values of classical music unless of course he is exposed to its influence right from the formative years.
Mr. Menon, according to the blurb, is a man of many parts, with two post-graduate degrees in Mathematics and Political Science, a Sangeet Prabhakar from Allahabad University and presently a visiting professor of Colgate and Copenhagen Universities. But his “journey into raga” seems beset with obstacles and he is apparently aware of them. For he confesses to a feeling at the very outset, that the case for writing a book on music is a weak one and for writing on Indian music weaker still. Why then did he embark upon the “journey”?
The title itself is pretty deceptive, for the simple reason that the book lays the whole emphasis on Hindustani music. The author, if anything, tries to capitalize on verbal skills all through his writing. Mark, for instance, his attempt to distinguish between svara and note and his declamatory assertion that “a note has a front and a back to it”.
Equally abstruse are his facile observations such as: “The interplay of tala and musical phrases…..are sometimes ecstatic recognitions of the temporal freedom and creativity of music against the inevitability of time.”What is all this for?
The saving grace, one must concede, is provided by the chapters on guru-shishya parampara, the place of tanpura, the significance of tala and the role of musical instruments in what is essentially a voice-based tradition. These are interesting and enlightening too.