I came across an interesting article by Subha J. Rao in The Hindu about one of the first and most popular recorded female carnatic singers: Coimbatore Thayi (1872-1917). In the article, author-biographer Vikram Sampath tells about his work on reviving Coimbatore Thayi’s legacy as part of a book on female singers.
The British Gramophone Company set foot in South India in 1904 and started recording many artists, among them Coimbatore Thayi, who was one of the most popular singers in Madras. Thayi became a bestselling artist, but she died young – in her mid-forties – in 1917. On approximately 300 discs, “she recorded” – writes Rao – “a rich repertoire of songs, including the compositions of Tyagaraja, Shyama Sastri and Dikshithar, padams, javalis, the Thirupugazh… Sadly, most of them are lost to time. However, some of them can be heard on YouTube and Vikram’s Archive of Indian Music.”
The article in The Hindu takes an interesting turn when the story of Thayi moves to Europe: “She was popular abroad too. In 1911, a French musician Maurice Delage heard her soft, bhakti-filled voice in Paris and was smitten. He wrote to his teacher, Maurice Ravel, about her microtonal effects and variations (gamakas) and voice. “It sent chills up and down my spine”, he wrote. He met Thayi in Madras and even composed two sets of Western music pieces— Quatre Poèmes Hindous, one each dedicated to the cities of Madras, Banaras, Lahore and Jaipur; and a Ragamalika said to be inspired by Thayi’s rendering of an arutpa.”
Martha Angelici sings Maurice Delage’s Quatre Poèmes Hindous
Janet Baker sings Maurice Delage’s Quatre Poèmes Hindous
Today there are some recordings and photos left of Coimbatore Thayi, though very little is known of what her life was like and how she spend her childhood.
Biographer Vikram Sampath summarizes: “Thanks to some existing recordings, we know that she sang her heart out into the horn. And that she had a voice which touched a chord even in faraway Paris.”
World famous French organist Marie-Claire Alain died on February 26, 2013, at the age of 86. Long ago I’ve heard her live several times and in particular immensely enjoyed her Bach-playing. Here the brilliant organist from Paris plays one of (imo) Bach’s most beautiful organ pieces.
22 August 2012 marks the 150th birthday of composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and on this day I’m going to listen – as I did so many times in my distant past – from start to finish to his opera Pelléas et Mélisande. Among the many great works of the french composer, Pelléas et Mélisande ranks as his greatest achievement. Whereas for many classical music lovers the summit of western classical music is represented by either Bach’s Matthew Passion or Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, for me (and for many others) it’s Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Debussy started working on Pelléas et Melisande, his only completed opera, in September 1893 and almost ten years later, on 30 April 1902, this milestone in the history of western classical music premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris.
Soprano Mary Garden, who sang in 1902 the first Mélisande at the world premiere in Paris
Pelléas et Mélisande is commonly regarded as the work that marks the onset of twentieth century modern music. The opera is based on a play by famous Belgian symbolist writer Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949). Maeterlinck turned out to be the ideal librettist for the opera Debussy had in mind to write. When once asked (before he started working on ‘Pelléas’) what poet would suit his needs, Debussy replied: “One who only hints at what is to be said. That ideal would be two associated dreams. No place, nor time. No big scene. (..) No discussion or arguments between the characters whom I see at the mercy of life or destiny.” *
Some of my stuff
The symbolist and dreamy character of Maeterlinck’s ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’ also proved to be the ideal vehicle for Debussy to juxtapose with the ideals of naturalism, for which he felt little sympathy. Debussy: “The drama of Pelléas – which, despite its atmosphere of dreams, contains much more humanity than so-called real-life documents – seemed to suit my intention admirably. It has an evocative language whose sensitivity could find its extension in music and in orchestral setting.” *
I borrow from Wikipedia to share in a nutshell a few other important notions about Debussy’s operatic masterpiece:
“Pelléas reveals Debussy’s deeply ambivalent attitude to the works of the German composer Richard Wagner” and according to musicologist Donald Grout “it is customary, and in the main correct, to regard Pelléas et Mélisande as a monument to French operatic reaction to Wagner.”
My piano score of the opera
Wikipedia continues: “Debussy strove to avoid excessive Wagnerian influence on Pelléas from the start, nevertheless he took several features from Wagner, including the use of leitmotifs and the continuous use of the orchestra. But Debussy’s musical writing is completely different from Wagner. In Grout’s words, “In most places the music is no more than an iridescent veil covering the text.”
One of my favourite recordings: Ansermet-L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande-Spoorenberg-London-Maurane
“The emphasis is on quietness, subtlety and allowing the words of the libretto to be heard; there are only four fortissimos in the entire score. Debussy’s use of declamation is un-Wagnerian as he felt Wagnerian melody was unsuited to the French language. Instead, he stays close to the rhythms of natural speech. Like Tristan the subject of Pelléas is a love triangle set in a vaguely Medieval world. Unlike the protagonists of Tristan, the characters rarely seem to understand or be able to articulate their own feelings. The deliberate vagueness of the story is paralleled by the elusiveness of Debussy’s music.” So far Wikipedia.
Pelléas et Mélisande is Debussy’s unparalleled masterpiece and it’s really a great joy for me to listen on the composer’s special anniversary to my most favourite ‘Pelléas’-recording, from which I embedded a segment right above here and of which I share here right below a picture. My way of celebrating the 150th birthday of the french master couldn’t be more rewarding! 🙂
The recording that’s most dear to me… a stunning achievement
Nichols, Roger & Richard Langham Smith (1989) Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sébastien Giniaux is a marvellous french virtuoso guitarist. Absolutely brilliant. He plays all ‘the right notes’, does all the right timing, improvises with great imagination, knows exactly how to give the right feel to a piece and he incorporates in his compositions an interesting range of influences, varying from Balkan to Mali and from Classical to Gypsy Jazz/Jazz Manouche. This introduction to his latest album – ‘Mélodie des Choses’ – features some of his inspired playing with fellow musicians.
Earlier on I highlighted Christian Vander’s Magma here on my website. I thought it would be nice to share another fine example of the band’s exceptional energy. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and highly admired the music of Magma since my high school days. Christian Vander’s music, mostly created in the 1970’s, sounds unique and timeless. For those unfamiliar with the band, watch this powerful performance of ‘Zombies’ – recorded in 2005 – and you’ll probably grasp what’s so special about Magma.
Here’s a beautiful piano-transcription of one of the most beautiful orchestral works in western classical music. The piece’s glimmer of colours and light is beautifully retained in this transcription and performance. For good pianists this arrangement must be (or perhaps has been already) a delightful challenge.
This is such an amazing clip, great display of a superb group sound and fabulous musicianship, imo the best clip of Magma on YouTube. Leading roles here for the guitarist and of course group leader and phenomenal drummer Christian Vander. An electrifying performance!
Recently published on YouTube in two videos: selected segments of unique footage from 1972 of the legendary Balinese composer, musician, dancer I Wayan Lotring (approx.1898-1983).
Lotring is arguably Bali’s most influential gamelan composer/musician of the twentieth century. And of course a great dancer as well. We see Lotring at old age dancing and playing his own compositions with fellow musicians. When playing, we see Lotring mostly as the leader of the ensemble, playing the kendang (drum). Segments are shown of the famous 1972 performances that have been published on Ocora in 1974 (rereleased in 1989). Below you’ll find part two. At 2’40” in this video the famous piece ‘Gambangan’ is played and from 6’16” there’s my very favourite piece ‘Liar Samas’ 🙂
Great as this footage of Lotring might be, there are also two regrettable minuses regarding this material:
1. It’s in black and white (filmed from a black and white tv screen?). I can’t imagine (ethno)musicologist Jacques Brunet shot this material in black and white. Moreover, his recordings of these sessions are presented on Ocora along with colour photos in the cd booklet.
2. Sound and image are not sync. It would be very easy to correct this. I’m always surprised to see this. Why do uploaders not correct this before they publish? As a consequence we don’t get to see the real artistic beauty of Lotring’s dancing along with the music and of his (drum)playing with the orchestra. Ooooww!!! 🙁