Here's the second and concluding part of my 1987 essay about the Benedictine monk Abbot Angelo Grillo's thrilling experience of seeing some of his sacred lyrics set to glorious music by leading Italian composers of the Renaissance era, and hearing them performed by distinguished singers of devotional music. (I postd the first part a few days ago).
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Glossary/Annotations (in same order as in text)
Pallavi -- In Carnatic music (classical music of South India), 'Pallavi' means either the first brief stanza of a song, visualized as a prelude, or a self-contained couplet which tightly packs a whole idea or theme in a tiny capsule.
Tamil -- One of the four major languages of South India, with very ancient roots and culture, but -- unlike Sanskrit or Latin -- well adapted to suit the modern world.
Raga -- Pronomced 'Raaga', it means a structured and codified melody in Indian classical music, both in the Southern (Carnatic) and Northern (Hindustani) systems and traditions.
Poorvikalyani -- A major and frequently rendered melody.
Ramayana -- Predominant epic of India, depicting the life and mission of Lord Rama (or Raam), a divine incarnation in human form as a noble prince for conquering a near-immortal demon king. Exiled frivolously by his royal father for 14 years, Raam spent 14 years wandering in the forest with his faithful wife and younger brother, eventually accomplishing his mission and returning home triumphantly to be crowned.
Padinaangu (14) - Varuda (year/s) - Vana (forest) - Vaasam (life, living) - Pirahu (then) - Pattaabhishekam (Coronation).
Neraval -- Repetitive recitation of a selected phrase in a song, building up an intensely devotional mood.
Himalayan -- like the Himalayas, the vast and formidable mountain range bordering North India, where Mount Everest, the highest spot in the world, is situated.
MDR -- Popular initials of M. D. Ramanathan (1923-1984), legendary vocal maestro in Carnatic music.
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THE HINDU, New Delhi
17 July 1987
Poems and unsung pallavi (continued)
I claim no proficiency in Carnatic music, and I have no credentials whatsoever as a poet. Yet on a memorable day a few years ago, I was suddenly caught in a whirlpool of inspiration, and I composed two simple lines in Tamil, which acquired the shape and substance of a Pallavi when rendered in the raga Poorvikalyani. The text, miraculously, summarized a whole section of the Ramayana:
Padinaangu varuda vanavaasam,
(Fourteen years in the forest,
Surely this was the result of some unusual spark, and not of any poetic skills of mine! Surely it had to be sung by a master musician, and subjected to a 'neraval' (melodic elaboration) of Himalayan proportions! Whose vocal splendor could give it grander shape than that of MDR? Which passionate devotee of Lord Rama was more competent to sing this piece than MDR?
It took me, however, all of two years to muster enough confidence to submit my song to him. The maestro was favourably impressed. He said it had tremendous possibilities, and he would consider singing it some time or other. I was greatly thrilled by his response, but unfortunately that rewarding occasion was never to come.
How could we have imagined ever that M.D. Ramanathan would cast his mortal frame away and leave this world so prematurely? My unsung Pallavi was nothing but a drop of water in the ocean which was drained at a single stroke. How many wonderful concerts, how many marvellous songs, how many spellbinding sessions of music have his countless admirers missed since, and continue to miss! Can this loss ever be made good?
Such were the thoughts which flooded my mind as I read the good Abbot Angelo Grillo's adoring letters to the great musicians of his times. I could well visualize the supreme excitement he must have felt every time he heard one of his sacred poems transformed into a glorious piece of music!
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PostScript, 2013MDR and I : marvellous memories
It's now exactly 50 years after I heard MDR's massive voice for the first time in 1963, and discovered the meditative and sculptureque quality of his music. I have many wonderful memories of his concerts, and many close insights into his musical vision.
As a music critic of leading newspapers in Bombay, Madras and New Delhi, I had many opportunities to record my impressions in rave reviews from time to time. You can be sure I shall share some of those memorable experiences with you in due course!
MDR's repertoire was heavily weighted in favour of songs in praise of Lord Rama, of whom he was a passionate devotee. To get a glimpse of his majestic style, please see (from beginning to end) on YouTube : MDR-Purvikalyani-Meenakshi-Dikshitar.