Orchestration in Indian Music

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Orchestration in Indian Music 

(​Translated by Gautam Choudhury from a Bengali presentation given by Salil Chowdhury in early 1995 at the Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, Unfortunately, the live demonstration parts can not be correctly translated in text. These are written in italics.​) 

Although orchestration is primarily a western concept we need to remember one thing and that is prior to the 16th and 17th century there wasn’t any concept of orchestration in Europe. When we talk about the concept “harmony”­ even that harmony was born in the 16th century. Before that there wasn’t any harmony. So, those who believe that harmony is present in every kind of western music is not completely true. For thousands of years there was no harmony.What we call “modal music” comes from the Greek concept of “modes”.­ viz: Dorian, Lydian, Phrygian and Mixolydian modes. These modes are just like our “raags”. Their ascending and descending notes are fixed, which notes are included and which notes are excluded are also fixed. The excluded notes were not played in this kind of music based on a particular mode. So, there are some similarities with our raag based classical music. Music played based on these modes were called “modal music”. This trend continued for 600 years. So, basically the modal music continued for 1000 years. There is a close relationship between music and science. Musical instruments evolved and changed due to the advancement and impact of science and technology. From Harp came the Harpsichord which evolved into Piano. There would be no Beethoven without the Piano. So,when we arrived in the 16th to 17th century we experienced a dramatic change in musical instruments due to the impact of technology. Violin was designed and created in Italy. Without its scope and standard tuning Paganini would not have been there and violins current dominant role in orchestras would not be possible. Actually, violin came at the end of the 18th century. Before that there was another instrument called Viool which looked like a Violin, something between a Violin and a Cello It looked like a Violin and sounded like something between a Cello and a Violin and it was slightly larger than the Violin. Viool was mainly used for orchestration although it was a bit clumsy. This Viool was around till the middle of the 19th century before it was discontinued. Currently we have four members of the “Violin” family in an orchestra : 1st Violin, 2nd Violin, Viola and Cello. There is even a larger one which is called the “Contrabass” or the “Double Bass”. So, this is the Violin family. Besides this we also have the Woodwind family. This family has the English Flute or the Key Flute (played with a key), Oboe, Cor Anglais (English Horn ­ played often by the Oboist), Clarinet etc. After this we have the Brass family ­ which consists of Trumpet, Trombone, Tuba and French Horn. Then we have the percussion family and surprisingly the Piano is included in this family. We also have Timpany and various types of Drums in this percussion family. We also have a family of Flutes. One of the members is the little Piccolo and the other member is the Flute. We also have a Bass Clarinet.
So, all these families are used to create the orchestra.

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