Earlier this morning, the violin maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman passed away. This has been a very tragic year so far for Carnatic Music – first the loss of M. S. Gopalakrishnan, then renowned guru Sripada Pinakapani, and now Lalgudi G. Jayaraman. Music worldwide (not just Carnatic or Indian classical music) has lost a great musician who was also a genius, innovator, composer, performer and trailblazer on so many levels.
Lalgudi Jayaraman burst onto the music scene at a young age when he established himself as a performer of repute even as a teenager. There are legendary stories associated with his early years, such as how Palani Subramania Pillai staked his career backing Lalgudi Jayaraman (Palani stated that he would give up playing mrudangam forever if people found Lalgudi’s playing was not satisfactory!). Of course, as a performer in those days, he quickly became one of the top violin accompanists, and played for all the well-known top vidwans in Carnatic Music, including Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, GNB, Semmangudi, Madurai Mani Iyer, the Alathur Brothers, Sathur Subramaniam, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, Voleti Venkateswarulu, among others. Special mention should be made of the GNB-LGJ-Palghat Raghu combination, which was one of the most enduring and successful combinations in music, lasting nearly 2 decades until GNB’s untimely demise in 1965.
(I couldn’t find a photo of GNB with Lalgudi and Palghat Raghu – this is with UKS sir).
Lalgudi Jayaraman’s accompaniment skills were legendary – he was blessed with a mind that could very quickly grasp and analyze what the main artist delivered and reproduce it or elaborate on it! Keep in mind that when doing kalpana swarams, often times you do not have time to think – this mental processing must be instantaneous. Thus, it is especially mindblowing when you listen to concerts with Lalgudi’s accompaniment and hear him not just reproduce swara patters exactly, but sometimes backwards too! Another thing to note is his posture, which is evident in the photo above. He sat with his back completely straight, and was utterly relaxed when playing the violin. This is in contrast to violin vidwans today, who hunch over their instrument, as if they are trying to make themselves as small as possible.
Lalgudi developed the gaayaki style of violin playing, which tried to emulate vocal music to the maximum degree possible. This is especially evident in his solo recordings, where he also uses the concept of vallinam-mellinam (loud and soft) to great effect in order to properly convey the rasa (mood) of the composition. Being from the town of Lalgudi, Jayaraman could trace his musical lineage back to Thyagaraja! In fact, there is a commercial solo concert recording of his from Krishna Gana Sabha in 1967 that features all of Thyagaraja’s “Lalgudi Pancharatnams”! These five krithis were composed by Thyagaraja in the village of Lalgudi in praise of the deities in the temple there; they remained in obscurity until they were bought to the musical limelight by Lalgudi Jayaraman. The krithis are:
1. Eesha Paahimam – Kalyani – Rupakam
2. Gathi Neevani – Thodi – Adi
3. Lalithe – Bhairavi – Adi
4. Mahita Pravruddha – Kambodhi – Triputa
5. Deva Shri – Madhyamavathi – Misra Chapu
(This is a picture of an old solo concert – Lalgudi Jayaraman and his sister Srimathi Brahmanandam, with double mrudangam. Palani Subramania Pillai on the right (left-handed) and Trichy Sankaran on the left (right-handed))
Lalgudi was also famous as a solo performer, and had given concerts all over the world with along with vidwans such as Vellore Ramabhadran, Trichy Sankaran, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Karaikudi Mani, and others. He had performed numerous concerts for All India Radio and Doordarshan, and some of these have been uploaded on Youtube.
This is a particularly famous recording that I remember vividly from my childhood days in Chennai, as it would come repeatedly in the morning on TV. For those who don’t know Tamil, the song is “Aadadu Asangadu Vaa Kanna” in Madhyamavathi, written by Oothakadu Venkatasubbuiyer. Karaikudi Mani sir is on mrudangam, and Srirangam Kannan is playing morsing. Vittal Ramamurthy is providing tambura in the back! Lalgudi Jayaraman’s son, GJR Krishnan, is playing along with his father.
Lalgudi Jayaraman was also a renowned teacher with many students to his credit. His son and daughter carry on the musical legacy of the family, and of course there are many other students in the younger and current generation of musicians, including Vittal Ramamurthy, Padma Shankar, Bombay Jayashri, S. P. Ramh, Sankari Krishnan, Saketharaman, and Vishaka Hari.
And of course, one cannot have a discussion on Lalgudi Jayaraman without mentioning his numerous compositions. Unlike most composers, he lived to see his compositions achieve mass popularity! Lalgudi composed all kinds of classical Carnatic compositions, but he is most famous for his varnams and thillanas. Initially he used to perform these in his concerts, but over time, his students also started performing them, and soon musicians from other banis were also presenting them in concerts! Recordings of these are available commercially. Supposedly, Lalgudi Jayaraman had composed the rageshri thillana at the request of Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, and had composed the Pahadi thillana specially for Voleti Venkateswarulu, as he would best be able to bring out the beauty of the ragam.
This is a recording of the Pahadi thillana that I just mentioned, rendered by Voleti. Lalgudi is playing violin, and you can hear his verbal appreciation of how beautifully Voleti renders his composition! According to my records, this is from a 1978 Music Academy concert, with Trichy Sankaran on mrudangam.
This is a rendition of Thyagaraja’s Darini Telusukonti from one of Lalgudi’s violin concerts with his sister Srimathi Brahmanandam. This is simply an outstanding rendition, and amply demonstrates Lalgudi Jayaraman’s mastery of the gaayaki style; it’s almost as if the krithi is being sung! The sangathis in the charanam for the line “Rajithamanigaana…” are simply breathtaking, building up slowly and logically to dizzying speeds. The mrudangam accompaniment by Umayalpuram Sivaraman sir is also noteworthy. It is very unobtrusive and supportive, and blends with the song beautifully. He used a kappi mrudangam back then, as opposed to the kutchi mrudangams he uses today, and has a very clean tone, almost exactly like that of Palghat Mani Iyer! His thoppi handling is also special, serving to help maintain the thalam.
EDIT: This is from a 1969 Music Academy Concert (the main piece is an RTP in Thodi in misra jathi triputa thalam)
Finally, this is a song from G. N. Balasubramaniam’s last Academy concert (1964). He had just finished a stint in Trivandrum, and so this particular concert featured a few Swathi Tirunal krithis. The one here is a krithi in Begada, Kalayami Raghuramam. The support by GNB’s “two eyes”, Lalgudi and Palghat Raghu, is something unique.