Musical Universals

Suresh Kolichala (
Fri, 1 Aug 1997 17:23:58 -0500 (CDT)

Greetings everyone!

		mAvi komma chivara madhumAsa vELa
		pallavamekki kOyila pADuTEla?
		parula tanayinchuTakO; tana baagu korakO
		gaanamonarimpaka bratuku gaDapa bOkO? -- kR.Saa.

nEnu vEdaalu chadavalEdu. raajamanDrini, akkaDa gOdaavarini chooDalEdu.
ainaa "vEdamlaa ghOshinchE gOdaavari" anna paaTa naa kaalEgi rOjulanunDi
entO ishTamgaa vinEvaaDini. Similarly, I have always been enchanted by the
profundity and beauty in the poems of Devulapalli and KarunaSrI, but I was
never able to write a wholehearted expression in poetic form. Should that
make me any less connoisseur of poetry? May be it is my left-brainy thing,
but whenever I am out to express, my emotions of "feeling" are overshadowed
by my analysis of "thinking". Does that mean that I have any less
understanding of feelings? Was it Jung who spoke about "internal feeling"
and "extraverted thinking"?

Speaking about poetry, music and emotion, they say there is no quantitative
measurement to the sense-experience. Could I ever say that I have greater
pleasure when I listen to the Indian music as compared to the pleasure of
my American colleague listening to his favorite music? Could I ever say
that the pain of a school-boy losing all his pencils on his way to an
important exam is any less poignant than mine when my brother meets with,
say, an unfortunate accident (no, no, my brother never met with an accident,
at least literally speaking). In this regard, accepting the freewilly thing,
there are certain philosophical issues about unwitting harm and deliberately
engineered harm and where to place to response in the continuum of furious
resentment to indifference to overlooking. Well, there goes my armchair
philosophizing again ...

I do not know much about Indian Music system and I do not know anything
about the Western Music, but I immensely enjoyed everytime I read the
following conversation between Einstein and Tagore on the topics of
composition, imposition and improvisation in Indian and Western music

The following article is taken from a book titled "Einstein Lived Here."
Hope everyone, music afficianados and others, can equally enjoy reading
this conversation.

Not yet ready to participate actively in these forums!


Tagore: The musical system in India... is not so rigidly fixed as
is the Western music.  Our  composers  give  a  certain  definite
outline,  a system of melody and rhythmic arrangement, and within
a certain limit the player can improvise upon it. He must be  the
one  with the law of that particular melody, and then he can give
spontaneous  expression  to  his  musical  feeling   within   the
prescribed  regulation.  We praise the composer for his genius in
creating a foundation along with a  superstructure  of  melodies,
but  we  expect  from the player his own skill in the creation of
variations of melodic flourish and ornamentation. In creation, we
follow  the  central  law  of  existence,  but  if  we do not cut
ourselves adrift from it, we can have sufficient freedom  within
the limits of our personality for the fullest expression.

Einstein: That's only possible  where  there  is  a  very  strong
artistic  tradition  in  music  to  guide  the  people's mind. In
Europe, music has come too far away from popular art and  popular
feeling  and  has  become  a  secret  art  with  conventions  and
traditions of its own.

T: So you have to absolutely obedient  to  this  too  complicated
music.  In India, the measure of a singer's freedom is in his own
creative personality. He can sing the composer's song as his own,
if  he  has  the  power  creatively  to  assert  himself  in  his
interpretation of the general law of melody which he is given  to

E: It requires a very high standard of art to fully  realize  the
great idea in the original music, so that one can make variations
upon it.  In our country the variations are often prescribed.

T: If in our conduct we can follow the law of  goodness,  we  can
have  the liberty of self-expression. The principle of conduct is
there, but the character which makes it true  and  individual  is
our  own creation. In our music there is a duality of freedom and
prescribed order.

E: Are the words of a song also free?  I  mean  to  say,  is  the
singer  at  liberty  to add his own words to the song which he is

T: In Bengal, we have a kind of song - keertan,  we  call  it  --
which  gives  freedom  to  the  singer to introduce parenthetical
comments, phrases not in the original song. This occasions  great
enthusiasm,  since  the  audience  is constantly thrilled by some
beautiful, spontaneous sentiment freshly added by the singer.

E: Is the metrical form severe ?

T: Yes, quite. You cannot exceed the limits of versification; the
singer  in  all his variations must keep the rhythm and the tune,
which is fixed.  In European music you have  comparitive  liberty
about  time,  but not about melody. But in India, we have freedom
of melody with no freedom of time.

E: Can  the  Indian  music  be  sung  without  words  ?  Can  one
understand a song without words ?

T: Yes, we have songs with unmeaning  words,  sounds  which  just
help  to  act  as  carriers of notes. In north India, music is an
Independent art, not the interpretation of words and thoughts, as
in  Bengal.  The  music  is  very  intricate  and subtle and is a
complete world of melody by itself.

E: Is it polyphonic ?

T: Instruments are used, not for harmony, but  for  keeping  time
and  for  adding  to the volume and depth. Has melody suffered in
music by the imposition of harmony ?

E: Sometimes, it does suffer very  much.  Sometimes  the  harmony
swallows up the melody altogether.

T: Melody and harmony are like lines and colors  in  pictures.  A
simple   linear   picture  may  be  complete  and  beautiful;  the
introduction of color may make it vague  and  insignificant.  Yet
color  may,  by combination with lines, create great pictures, so
long as it does not smother and destroy their value.

E: It is a beautiful comparison; line is  also  much  older  than
color. It seems that your melody is much richer in structure than
ours. Japanese music seems to be so.

T: It is difficult to analyze the effect of eastern  and  western
music  on  our  minds. I'm deeply moved by the western music -- I
feel that it is great, that it is vast in its structure and grand
in  its composition.  Our own music touches me more deeply by its
fundamental lyrical appeal.  European music is epic in character;
it has a broad background and is Gothic in its structure.

E: Yes, yes, that is very true. When did you first hear  European

T: At seventeen, when I first came to Europe. I came to  know  it
intimately, but even before that time, I had heard European music
in our own household. I had heard the music of Chopin and  others
at an early age.

E: There is question we Europeans cannot properly answer, we  are
so  used  to our own music. We want to know whether our own music
is a conventional or a fundamental human feeling, whether to feel
consonance  or  dissonance  is  natural  or a convention which we

T: Somehow, the piano confounds me. The violin  pleases  me  much

E: It would be interesting to study the effects of European music
or an Indian who had never heard it when he was young.

T: Once I asked an  English  musician  to  analyze  for  me  some
classical  music  and  explain  to me what are the elements, that
make for the beauty of the piece.

E: The difficulty is that the really good music, whether  of  the
East or of the West, cannot be analyzed.

T: Yes, and what deeply affects the hearer is beyond himself.

E: The same uncertainty will always be  there  about  everything
fundamental in our experience, in our reaction to act, whether in
Europe or Asia. Even the red flower, I  see  before  me  on  your
table may not be the same to you and me.

T: And yet there is always going  on  process  of  reconciliation
between  them,  the  individual taste conforming to the universal