Song of Surrender

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Farewell, MSG

By V Ramnarayan

The New Year has started on a sombre note, with the demise of one of our greatest artistes—Sangita Kalanidhi MS Gopalakrishnan, who enthralled rasikas for several decades with his masterly violin artistry, which could be majestic and delicate at once. He belonged to an extremely rare breed of musicians: a leader among Carnatic instrumentalists, he was also one of the great violinists in the Hindustani tradition—not surprising, as it was his father Parur Sundaram Iyer who made the violin a solo instrument in north Indian music and tutored its early exponents.

Those of us who have heard MSG in jugalbandis will know how pure his Hindustani sound is, how he repeatedly leaves his collaborators gasping to catch up with him. Noone listening to the recordings of such duets can guess that one of the performers is a Tamil speaking, Carnatic violinist. In fact, like his Carnatic contemporaries, Hindustani musicians hold MSG in the highest esteem for his prowess in their branch of music, his clean bowing and his amazing sruti suddham. And despite his authentic Hindustani style, with not a trace of the Carnatic influence, he resisted all opportunities to move northwards to pursue a parallel career in Hindustani music. In his magnificent Carnatic violin playing, there were occasions when you could detect a trace of Hindustani—deliberately introduced by him, where appropriate.

The curves and glides as well as the liquid straight notes of MSG’s Parur bani were his family heirlooms. Their unique bowing technique and their training exercises were carefully designed by Sundaram Iyer. The brothers Anantharaman and Gopalakrishnan went through a rigorous, strictly monitored apprenticeship under their father.

The offspring of Gopalakrishnan and Anantharaman and their children are a formidable army of violin talent, making the Parur bani a strong and vibrant force in Carnatic music. Though comparisons are never the right way to honour such great musicians, it can be confidently asserted that Sangita Kalanidhi MS Gopalakrishnan was the undoubted numero uno in this brilliant assembly of violin virtuosos. He was a great soloist and an outstanding accompanist. In the trinity of Lalgudi Jayaraman, TN Krishnan and MS Gopalakrishnan, he was every bit an equal of his illustrious colleagues. His violin may be stilled, but his music will live on as long as Carnatic music is performed and enjoyed.

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