Thursday, February 18, 2010

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

Semmangudi Sri Srinivasa Iyer, usually called the Pitamaha was a giant of a musician.

Yet, he was simple.

I saw him sit in the front row of the Chennai music academy hall with his monkey cap on.
May it be a concert of a novice or a senior; he would sit and listen with interest.
People passing would greet him and he would nod.
I also did this and never took courage to talk to him.

That he was the teacher to MSS and TMK with the same intensity bears testimony to his dedication to music.
TMKrishna in one of those radio interviews narrated how Semmangudi calls on phone and asks for Krishnamachar!

How sweet of him!

I am told he learnt some Padams and Javalis from Brinda Amma, but never took courage to sing them when she was around.
That is the hallmark of a discerning artist!

A write up on Semmangudi culled from the net.

Semmangudi has large set of prominent disciples, some of whom did gurukulavāsam, others whom he taught while at the Swati Tirunal Academy and others who took casual lessons with him. His prominent disciples include two Sangeetha Kalānidhi-s: Prof. T. N. Krishnan (who accompanied him on violin in many concerts) and T. M. Thiagarajan. Disciple P. S. Narayanaswamy is a well respected musician and mentor to some of the stars of the current generation. Kallidakurichi S. Harihara Iyer had a long association with Semmangudi and also became the Principal of the Swati Tirunal Academy. K. R Kedaranathan is a senior disciple who later became a Professor at the Chembai Music College. Other notable disciples include Palai C. K. Ramachandran, V. Subrahmaniam, Neyatinkara Vasudevan, Trivandram R. S. Mani, Vaigal Gnanaskandan, Parasala Ponnammal and K. Omanakutty. M. S. Subbulakshmi and K. J. Yesudas (a Music College disciple) have also learnt many compositions from Semmangudi. T. M. Krishna had the fortune to receive advanced tuition under Semmangudi for over seven years.

It is interesting to note that later in his career, Semmangudi himself learnt certain compositions from notable musicians such as Ariyakudi, T. Brinda and G. N. Balasubramaniam. He has also learnt to play the veena, which has helped his knowledge of handling gamaka-s and rāga lakshana.

Facets of his music

The music of Semmangudi has a certain magnetism about it. Despite his nasal voice, it is inspiring music that gives the listeners an impression that they too are involved in it. It is imaginative, expressive and extroverted yet sublime. S. V. Seshadri writes ‘Semmangudi has no equal in bringing out the bhāva of a kriti. He communicates the feeling and emotion of the sāhitya with an intensity that has the imprimatur of a personal faith. That is why his music is not merely brilliant but devout and moving.’ In his concerts, he generally has concentrated on krithi-s, neraval and swaram singing rather than elaborate rāga ālāpana-s, which are generally neat and succinct. His exuberant singing of adjacent swara-s in rapid succession is prominent element of his unique style. His disciple, V. Subrahmaniam notes

His style is based on strict adherence to the sarvalaghu –basic rhythm. The swara-s that he renders in the slow tempo would abound in the bhāva of the rāga with all the nuances, gamaka-s and anuswaras. His fast tempo rendition of swaras would rush as the flow of the Ganga in Haridwar, the fastness in no way marring the melody of the bhava-laden rāga packing the fast tempo swara-s with speed, clarity, bhava and easy flow. Sri Semmangudi's kalpanaswara-s would never leave the listener weary. His lengthy fast tempo swara-s without even one elongated note (deergha swara) is unparalleled and it would be no exaggeration to state that Semmangudi is the only maestro to achieve this … Semmangudi always feels that swara singing should not be a mere rhythmic exercise which will tend to rob the music of bhāva. (V. Subrahmaniam, 2001b)

Semmangudi’s repertoire probably consisted of some 800 compositions. He has sung varnams in his concerts on a few occasions but generally chooses to commence with a krithi in Mayamālavagowla or a Ganapathi krithi. Some of his favourite rāga-s included Kalyāni, Kāpi, Sri Ranjani, Kāmbhoji and Kharaharapriya. His renditions of Amba Kamākshi (Bhairavi), Marubalka (Sri Ranjani), Kshinamai (Mukhāri), Chetasree (Dwijawanti), Biranabrova (Kālyāni), Chakkani Rāja and Rāma Nee Samānamevaru (both Kharaharapriya) are memorable. Towards the end of his concert one would eagerly await to hear his emotion-filled rāgamalika viruthams, the Kāpi jāvali, Parlannamāta and Sivan’s Sharavanabhava (Shanmukhapriya).

I have here a concert recording of Semmangudi for your enjoyment!

List of items:


Duration: 01:26:31

Size: 79.2 MB

Recording courtesy Sri S Srinivasan, CA, Mumbai

Let us enjoy good music!!

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