Music, Songs and Stories: Archival Selections from India

    • CD9
    • Kartatak Classical Instrumental Music – Nagaswaram performance by Kottur Rajrathnam Pillai
    • Kottur N. Rajarathnam is a master of the south Indian conical-shaped reedpipe with a double reed known as the n ā gasvaram (Sanskrit; Tamil spelling: n ā kacuram ) or n ā dasvaram . He leads an ensemble of musicians known as periya m ēḷ am (Tamil, “the big ensemble”), which for centuries has been producing auspicious music ideal for offering to the gods and for enabling a joyous ambiance at weddings and other important life-cycle events. Indeed, at weddings and the events surrounding the actual wedding ceremony, the periya mēḷam is expected to accompany women who sing traditional songs for the each stage of the wedding. The ensemble is at its best when performing at night on the streets surrounding the major temples, as the instruments are ideal for an outdoor setting. Temple musicians and a visiting ensemble often perform as part of temple activities and
  • india_rcd09
all-night street processions, and indoors for concerts and at weddings and other life-cycle events. Players carefully modulate their tone to suit the acoustics of indoor spaces. Accompanying Kottur Rajarathnam is a second nāgasvaram player, shadowing his playing and helping to maintain the continuity of the performance. He is a skilled master drummer, who plays the tavil (sometimes known as tavul ). He plays this double-skin barrel drum with a beater in the left hand and the four fingertips of the right hand covered by thimbles, producing a characteristically bright, sharply percussive range of sounds. The tavil matches the nāgasvaram in brightness of sound, volume, and penetrating tone. The t āḻ am (small hand cymbals made of bell metal) marks the rhythmic cycle being performed and a free-reed bellowspumped drone box, the curutipe ṭṭ i (Tamil, “drone box”), produces the necessary tonal reference for the nāgasvaram. Since the mid-twentieth century, the instrumentation of the periya mēḷam has undergone changes. Perhaps most significantly, the pitch of the nāgasvaram and of the tavil has been lowered. The nāgasvaram and tavil became larger to produce a deeper sound. In this recording, Kottur Rajarathnam and his ensemble play four rāgas, including four kirtanas (a devotional song genre) and three kinds of improvisation characteristic of Karṇāṭak music. Improvisation in Karṇāṭak music can be understood as unmetered melodic improvisation and as metered improvisation following the performance of the compositions. The unmetered improvisation heard here is known as ā l ā pana (Sanskrit, “conversation”) and is unmetered melodic exploration of a rāga. The two kinds of metered improvisation heard here are svara kalpana (“note imagination”) and tavil solo improvisation. Svara kalpana is played after the composition has been concluded. It consists of sequential passages of svara (“note”) playing that develop from short, relatively slow passages to longer passages at faster speeds. Though they might not all start from the same position relative to the tāḷa cycle, each of the each svara kalpana passages concludes with a return to a selected phrase of the composition. For his performance, Kottur Rajarathnam selected three songs by Tyagarāja. This comes as no surprise, as this outstanding composer left a plethora of compositions ranging from short pieces for religious congregational singing to the most sophisticated and erudite compositions. He is also well known for having produced standalone compositions in rare rāgas, such as the composition in rāga vāgadīśvarī in this album. Tyagarāja (b. Tiruvaiyyār, 1767-1847) was a saintly brāhmaṇ composer. His family was from Andhra Pradesh but settled in Tañjāvūr. His grandfather Girirāja was a poet and musician at the court of the maharāja of Tañjāvūr. Tyagarāja composed kirtanas in his mother tongue, Telugu, as well as in Sanskrit. He is revered by musicians and music-lovers as one of three great contemporary composers, whose brilliance and popularity have almost obscured the music and achievements of their predecessors. In the popular mind, Tyagarāja is the most prominent of all Karṇāṭak musicians and his annual memorial celebrations ( ā r ā dhana) attract hundreds of musicians, thousands of audience members, and even more listeners through the broadcast media. His life story was made into a film and numerous bhāgavatars continue to re-tell versions of his life replete with his compositions. His charisma and his exceptional musical repertoire was passed down with succeeding generations of singers and instrumentalists who have polished his works. His pieces have even penetrated the repertoire of dancers attracted by the music, even though his compositions were not originally intended for dance, though he did write several music dramas. Tyagarāja unequivocally rejected the offers of position as a court musician as he was completely averse to singing the praises of mere mortals—something court musicians were obliged to do. Instead he lived an austere life, composing as an expression of religious devotion ( bhakti ), especially to his beloved Rāma. The kirtana form that Tyagarāja favored had two or three sections. All the kirtanas in this album have three sections: pallavi, anupallavi, and caraṇam. In the pallavi the semantic theme of the composition is stated, though this is not apparent when an instrumentalist performs. The anupallavi develops the raga and moves the melodic range higher up the scale to the higher octave. After the anupallavi, the pallavi is repeated as a refrain. The caraṇam usually moves into the middle range and often explores the lower octave. The pallavi refrain is repeated to conclude the performance. A common feature in many of Tyagaraja’s kirtanas is the repetition of the anupallavi melody as the second half of the usually longer caraṇam. These audio recordings are extracted from the collection of video recordings made by Yoshitaka Terada, a wellknown scholar of the Nagaswaram who has written extensively on the topic.
1 Nagaswaram Rāga māyamālavagauḷa: ālāpana; kirtana by Tyāgarāja
Performer: Kottur Rajrathnam Pillai Date of Recording: 23rd November 1986 Place of Recording: Chennai, Tamil Nadu
21'40" PLAY
2 Rāga vāgadīśvarī: ālāpana and a kirtana in ādi tāḷa, “paramātmudu veligē”
Performer: Kottur Rajrathnam Pillai Date of Recording: 23rd November 1986 Place of Recording: Chennai, Tamil Nadu
31'47" PLAY