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What does the untrained ear hear when it listens to Indian music? Some would say that it sounds very basic: there are no complex harmonies and counterpoints to be heard. In general, I think most western ears would pass off Indian music as unrich and simplistic. However, this first impression is wrong, as most are. Beneath this “simplistic” melody are rich textures that revolve around such ideas as raga and tala. I would have to admit, that at first listen, the two pieces, Medium and fast gats in raga Yaman and Kriti by Tyagaraja, Bnturiti, did not catch my ear as quickly as a Beethoven symphony would. But upon deeper inspection and analysis, the structure and methods behind the music revealed how it worked, and why it worked. The basic idea is, instead of harmony, other elements are expounded upon, like ragas (modes), ornamentation, alapana, and numerous others “creative tools.” These tools range from extremely complex systems of beats to the subtle alap that delineates and brings forth the raga. In this paper I will be examining two pieces, one a gat and alap in the raga Yaman, and another a Kriti called Banturiti. A gat is usually a composed piece that is for melodic instruments. It can either be masitkhani (slow gat) or razakhani (fast gat), but I could not tell which kind the piece I examined was, since there were both fast and slow passages. The gat, like many musical structures, is bounded by the raga, and its goal is to bring forth the characteristics of the raga through a detailed exposition (in this case, the raga of Yaman). A concept in parallel to this is the alap, which is, "The idealistic note combinations which express the form
(shape or body) of a rag may be called the alap of that rag. The word alap means the vistar of a rag" (Jitendra Mohan Sengupta). However, even though both the alap and gat have similar goals, only the well trained can play an alap since it is improvised and requires very in depth knowledge of the raga. Since this piece is a gat, we know that it was composed before playing, except for the introduction part, which is the alap. The piece immediately starts with a low drone that will continue to “ground” the rest of the piece to that tone. Also, a descending scale-like structure is also heard after that. The sitar plays the melody in this piece, and starts off slow, carefully showing us the shape and tones of the raga. This is the alap portion of the piece, where the player improvises on the raga through exposition. Characteristic ornamentations are heard throughout, like the sliding of tones and certain articulations of the sounds. The first minute consists mostly of development in the lower registers. The second minute, we hear the same scalar descending structure we heard in the beginning. Then the tabla enters the piece, playing a regular rhythm in the beginning: this begins the gat (or composed) portion of the piece. The momentum of the piece really changes when the tabla enters and drives the piece forward. The next minute and a half contains a higher octave development by the sitar, still showing the characteristics of the raga. At about the three minute mark, the sitar starts to become more virtuosic, and ascends to the highest level yet heard. It also plays more fast ascending and descending scales. Nearing four minutes, the tempo of the tabla speeds up, and in turn so does the sitar. The next minute, we hear many scalar movements by the sitar, and more complex rhythms from the tabla. Difficult brikkas, or fast tones, are heard from the sitar, breaking
up the rhythm to smaller beats. At the five minute mark, the characteristic drone becomes obviously louder, and has almost an ostinato feel. The register continues to ascend at this point, and reaches a final peak at the climax, and does many fast repetitions of scales. Finally, after these scales, the piece abruptly ends when the tabla stops playing, and the sitar gently settles down to a middle register. Basically, the structure of this piece starts with the alap developing in the lower registers, then the tabla enters and the sitar starts to ascend during the gat. The ascent is characterized by faster tempo, brikkas, and more virtuosic ornamentation. At last a climactic end is reached through the use of tumbling scales, and the piece quickly descends as the table stops playing, drawing the piece to a gentle close. In contrast to the gat and alap, the kriti is a piece that involves vocals and violin. Kriti’s have a definite structure behind them, that is Alapana, Pallavi, Anupallavi, Pallavi, Charanam, and the return to the Pallavi. Even though the structure of the piece is fixed, the vocalist is granted improvisational powers (unlike the gat) through the use of the niraval and the svara kalpana. The niraval is the improvisation and exposition on one phrase that is repeated. However, every time it is repeated it is given a new shape, and thus seems to make the meaning change as well. Svara kalpana is the enunciation of the
sargam (sa, ri, ga, ma...) instead of the text in accordance to the raga. This is usually done after the 4 lines of the charanam have been introduced and played out fully. Banturiti starts with the violin and the singer in the alapana, an introduction and characterization of the raga. There are no words at this point: the singer merely intonates the melody. After that, the pallavi starts, which consists of the repetition of two lines by the singer. The percussion also comes in at this point. Next comes the anupallavi, which is in a higher octave than the pallavi. It also consists of the repetition of two lines of text. The anupallavi soon ends and the pallavi is repeated very shortly. Next comes the charanam, which consists of about four lines of text that are repeated. It is in this part of the piece where the vocalist can develop the song more by using niraval and svara kalpana. Halfway into the charanam (about 3:00), the singer starts to just repeat one line over and over: this is the niraval. She changes it each time and improvises on the tone, sometimes seemingly losing control and spinning the phrase with much tonal momentum. Nearing the end of the charanam, the singer uses svara kalpana (at about 4:20). This singing of the sargum is characterized by virtuosic speed and rhythm. It seemed almost without warning when she started singing the sargum: at first still mixing in lyrics with the sargum. But after a while, the svara kalpana was pure sargum for about 30 seconds. Also, there emerges an interplay between the
singer and the violin where the singer sings a fast passage, and the violin mirrors her afterwards. This was characteristic of a question-answer or challenge-answer musical device. It seemed as though the singer was taunting the violin to be as virtuousic as herself. Through this, the violin gets a quasi-solo part in the song at the end. The two pieces have many contrasting and similar points. Obviously, a contrasting one is that the kriti is a vocal song and the alap and gat is just instrumental. A similarity is how both pieces are introduced: through the use of alap. Both pieces start with an improvisation upon the raga; however, after that the first piece is mostly precomposed, while the kriti still has elements of improvisation through Svala Kalpana and Niraval. Also, I found the kriti more structured: having specific sections that are named and defined. The alap and gat, on the other hand, has a general structure of ascending and descending, but, as said, it is a very general structure. Also, more evidence of the higher structure of the kriti is the fact that certain distinct sections are obviously repeated, and also that the sections are very well defined. The gat seems to be freer, and, even though most of it is composed beforehand, the player seems to wander about while doing an exposition on the raga. It seems more to be an impressionistic picture of the raga, an abstraction, if you may. This also brings up the point that the gat is totally abstract, while the kriti is program music: having words and referencing to objects and ideas outside of the music. Whereas, the gat is something to be enjoyed in itself: a perfectly abstract object that anyone can view and admire. Interpreting what rasas, or emotions that the pieces convey was hard for me, since, I cannot understand the language, nor are my ears yet accustomed to the different
modes. But from the way the music was played, I could feel the passion behind both the musicians and composer. All the analysis has revealed the complicated beauty behind each of these pieces, but the analysis is only one clue to what rasa is being conveyed.
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