By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dispensing And Consuming Western Classical Music Like A Strong Medicine

As mentioned in the preceding blog, I had introduced the idea of Performance vs. Preferences (of visiting foreign musicians and local Western-music-lovers respectively) in the very first article in my Friday music column in THE HINDU's New Delhi edition in 1986.  I had the Editor's telepathic permission to write as I wished, without any likely limits to my freedom of expression and style -- and it wasn't long before I reviewed the prevailing scene from an intensely personal angle, as a life-long lover of Western classical music in these alien settings in India : 

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HMV  (His Master's Voice)  --  Pioneering British gramophone and records company, which used to have a huge and almost monopolistic presence in India for the best part of the 20th century.

Rs. 200 (Rupees 200)  --  At the rate of exchange in the 1960s (Rs. 3.50 per US Dollar), this would have been about US $ 60.

IIC  (India International Center)  --  Exclusive culture-oriented institution in New Delhi, with some of the most eminent Indians, and resident foreign diplomats, as Members.  But there is nothing exclusive about the cultural events organized by the Center, whether or not in association with other institutions  -- and anyone who cares to turn up is admitted free of charge, even if the small house is full or overflows (as often happens).     

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New Delhi

30 January 1987

Music, memories and medicine

In the early Fifties, when I was a very young student in Madras, long-playing records and tape-recorders were still expensive novelties, and most of us did not have ready access to them.  I recall an occasion when the British Council organized a short session of recorded music on their Mount Road premises, when the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings by Brahms was played.  It was a great thrill to attend this program, and the terrific impression the music made on me is still fresh in my memory.  

Around that time, most of the classical music I heard came on the short-wave radio.  I was fortunate enough to own a very powerful super-heterodyne receiver made in England, which my father had bought before the Second World War, and I used to capture broadcasts from most of the European capitals on my set.  Symphonies, concertos, sonatas, operas -- all these were generally heard through this medium.  The reception was usually crystal-clear (though sometimes mildly disturbed by static), and the experience was always stimulating.

In 1958-60 I was living in Calcutta, and although LP records had come to stay, record-players were still very expensive.  (This was before HMV introduced their cheap 'Sherpa' machine, which was sold for under Rs. 200).  The Philips showroom on Park Street used to organize an hour-long weekly session of recorded Western music in a cool air-conditioned hall, with a cup of steaming coffee served during the intermission.  Over a period of time, in this forum one obtained many worthwhile impressions of the great masters of Western classical music :  composers as well as conductors and performers.
For ages now, many of us have been privileged to possess excellent hi-fi audio equipment -- though we have not yet been initiated into the laser-disc culture in India -- and one no longer experiences thrills of that Park-Street kind of listening to recorded music.  But even now, one does feel a special thrill when attending the live chamber music performances of visiting Western virtuosi, organized by some dedicated institutions in the Capital and other major cities in India.

Sweet music . . .

I recaptured some of that old mood last Monday evening, when I attended a recital of violinist Maurizio Pepe and pianist Marco Cima from Italy, in the compact auditorium of the India International Center, featuring some short works by Schumann, Schubert and Brahms.  The concert was organized by the IIC, Delhi Music Society and the Cultural Center of the Italian Embassy.

Pepe is a popular radio artist in Italy, who has also been giving successful concerts in Europe, and he heads the violin department in the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro.  Cima, who is just 22 years old, has some concert experience as a pianist.

The concert got off to a good start with Schumann's Sonata in A Minor (opus 105).  Schumann's sonatas are known for their highly lyrical quality, and the duo successfully brought out the sonorous texture of the music.

This was followed by a short and simple Sonatina in D Major (opus 137, No. 1) by Schubert, whose works are also distinguished for their melodic excellence.  A sonatina, of course, is a fairly elementary composition, and the selection seemed to fit in well with the youthful image of the pianist.

After the intermission, two works of Brahms were presented. The progression from Schumann to Brahms made one recall the very special relationship which had existed between the two composers.  Schumann was also a constructive music critic and editor of a prestigious music journal in Leipzig.

. . . And bitter medicine

The Sonata No. 3 in D Minor (opus 108) by Brahms is not just an easy exercise like the preceding work, but a richly loaded composition, which was rendered with precision and clarity.  The audience was appreciative and eager to hear more of this music ;  but after following up this number with a very short piece -- Brahms' isolated Scherzo in C Minor -- which lasted all of four minutes, the Italians called it a day (or should I say evening?).  Not even a couple of earnest curtain calls could make them give us an encore.

Leaving the auditorium in a wistful mood, I could not help thinking what a pity it is that visiting European musicians invariably give such short recitals here.  Those of us who love Western classical music in India do wait so patiently for these occasional events, full of fond memories and expectations of the kind I have described ; and we invariably find that the music is measured out to us in an ounce glass, as if it is a bitter medicine! 

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