Orchestration in Indian Music

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(​ Translated by Gautam Choudhury from a Bengali presentation given by Salil Chowdhury in early 1995 at  the Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata).

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 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 Timpani 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. If we move a bit forward in time we come to the Baroque period or the period of Bach and Handel. During this period the use of  Keyboard reached new heights. This was the time we had Clavichord or Well­ Tempered  Clavichord and Bach created some unforgettable music with the Clavichord. It was  unbelievable how Bach mastered the Keyboard at that time. Even after 300 years nobody has  been able to exceed Bach’s mastery in Keyboard or its successor the Piano. However, most of the music in the Baroque period was “horizontal” music. Polyphonic music  with multiple counter melodies running in parallel with the melody line. These were divided  often into different rhythm groups. Although Bach started as an organist he later moved to  Harpsichord and he took this concept of orchestration to a new heights. Although composers  like Arcangelo Corelli and Valerie led the path to orchestration, it was Bach who fully  developed orchestration.  We can compare Bach’s horizontal Baroque style with our “Dhrupad” style. With similar  seriousness and solid foundation.   After this came the classical age and Beethoven led and dominated this classical age with  Mozart. They tried to give a “vertical” feel to the horizontal polyphonic music with multiple parallel streams. A bit like our melodies which have vertical movement. You will notice that in  Bach’s compositions besides the melody line has various chord progression. I have an  example of that and I will demonstrate that later.  Although Mozart music is dominated with melody, Beethoven took the melody to esoteric  heights  by bringing in philosophy into it. Bringing in one hand the mankind's fight for freedom,  his courage and his unstoppability and in the other hand his softness and his kindness.  Shakespeare is considered as the greatest writer.Similarly Beethoven is considered the  greatest in the world of music. This lasted quite a few years.  Nothing lasts forever ­ so changes came. Just like in our country. From “Dhrupad” came  “Khyal” and then came “Thumri”. Similarly, in the west changes came.

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