S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Thursday, 22 March 2018

M.S. Anantharaman a violinist of rare skill

Violinist M.S. Anantharaman, a Carnatic music icon who straddled the 20th and 21st centuries as a performing violinist and guru, passed away in February, bringing to an end a rare period in contemporary history of at least three generations of the Parur Sundaram Iyer lineage, performing contemporaneously on stage, solo, accompanying vocalists and sometimes together on stage.

For, in recent years,Anantharaman, elder brother of the late MS Gopalakrishnan, gave solo concerts as well as performances along with his sons Sundareswaran and Krishnaswami and his grandsons, not to mention the occasional stage appearance with a granddaughter.
In his prime, he accompanied almost every stalwart among the great vocalists of his generation.

Born on 26 August 1924 in Madras, Anantharaman was a son and disciple of Parur A. Sundaram Iyer, the eminent violinist and pioneering guru responsible for the spread of the violin beyond Carnatic music into Hindustani music as well. Anantharaman received training in playing the veena as well as the violin, and in Hindustani music. 

A demanding teacher with a fine reputation, he served the Tamil Nadu Government Music College in Chennai as professor of violin from 1962 to 1983. Later, he taught in Pittsburgh, U.S.A., for some time.

Anantharaman was a recipient of the Kalaimamani award of the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, the T.T.K award of the Music Academy (1996) and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1998). He was the Asthana Vidwan of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

Some years ago, Anantharaman, his two sons and their children gave an entertaining lecdem on rare Tyagaraja and Dikshitar kritis.  During the lec-dem, they described their style, the Parur style, which is almost 125 years old, founded by Parur Sundaram Iyer, a disciple of Veena Dhanammal.

Anantharaman sang in perfect sruti songs that he played on the violin as well. 

In his profile of MS Gopalakrishnan in March 2013, Prof. N Ramanathan wrote: "The early years of rigorous training in violin that Anantharaman and Gopalakrishnan underwent became a legend as early as the end of the 1950s. Stories used to circulate about the sadhakam or practicenthat started in the early hours of the morning in a room which would be locked from outside. After a break for bath and pazhaiyadu (curd mixed with rice cooked for the previous evening) and the sadhakam resumed to proceed till noon. Sundaram Iyer monitored the session, and teaching commenced in the afternoon. It used to be said that the father never allowed a mirror to be hung on the wall, nor provided the boys with a comb, so that time was not wasted in such 'extraneous activities.'

In the same article, Ramanathan describes the viraladi or single-finger slide technique to achieve "a continuous, undying tone," probably invented  by Sundaram Iyer to replicate the meend of Hindustani vocalist Omkarnath Thakur--whom he and his sons accompanied in concerts--and cultivated by Anantharaman and Gopalakrishnan. He also mentions the practice of one brother playing a raga in thye hindustani mode and the other in the orthodox Carnatic mode. In fact, it is well known that the Parur bani does reveal the Hindustani influence.

One long time observer of the bani claims that Anantharaman's admiration for the violin-playing of Lalgudi G Jayaramana professional rival of the familyis occasionally reflected in his own music. Anantharaman spoke glowingly of Jayaraman at a condolence meeting soon after his death. while the Lalgudi family acknowledged Anantharaman's lifetime achievement with an award during a Lalgudi memorial event at the Madras Music Academy.
Anantharaman was a simple man, a careless dresser, of stern countenance during concerts, was a man of few words, but "called a spade a spade",  not above publicly criticising even celebrities for what he believed were improprieties they committed. In a lighter vein, his humorous quips could provide light relief when musicians strayed from their music on stage to engage in speech. At a concert in which he was accompanying vidwan S.R. Janakiraman, SRJ launched into a description of the musical phrase he was essaying, when Anantharaman brought him back to earth by reminding him, "Janakiraman! your engagement here is for a concert. Please resume it and reserve the discourse for some other occasion."

Anantharaman was a caring elder who not only encouraged his own offspring in their musical careers, he also attended concerts of other young artists from a quiet corner in the auditorium. A number of music students from Sri Lanka received more than a helping hand from him in the late 20th century, while trying to establish themselves in the concert scene here. "He was a godfather to many of them, taking care of their welfare and their music."

He was also a respected violin teacher at the Central Music College at Chennai, where students looked up to him.

Parur M.S. Anantharaman's death has marked the end of a lifetime of devotion to his artquietly, unobtrusively, but with immense pride in the perfection of his art and his legacy.

By V Ramnarayan

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