The idea of ‘parallels’ formed the background for exploring the music and trajectories of two great musician-composers, Aaron Copland from America and our very own Shri. Lalgudi G. Jayaraman. Anil Srinivasan, the classical pianist and GJR Krishnan, the renowned violinist brought together this unique presentation at ‘Spaces’ in Beasant Nagar, on a fine Saturday morning.

Anil rendered excerpts from some of the well-known compositions of Aaron Copland, and this was juxtaposed with Lalgudi’s compositions, particularly his Thillanas played soulfully by GJR. The emphasis was distinctly on the composer in the two stalwarts. It was interesting to discover that the two composers were possibly inspired by the very same stimuli, coming as they do from entirely divergent historical and cultural contexts. Anil and GJR emphasized the fact that nature as a motif was central to the musical compositions of Copland and Shri Lalgudi. While this insight did not come as a surprise with nature inevitably the motif around which most artists are inspired to create, the demonstration of it was delightful. Anil played from Copland’s famous – the “Appalachian Spring” followed by “Autumn Sunrise” and the “three seasons”. The sequencing of these was well-conceived, and graphically revealed the changing patterns reflecting the varying moods of the different seasons. Anil’s skills on the piano are well-known, and perhaps the early hours of the morning (with the precious Madras winter on our minds) enabled us to enjoy the music even better. On the theme of nature as a source of inspiration, GJR played a short excerpt from the Madhuvanti thillana of Shri Lalgudi. The piece was magical and evoked many different sensations. The explanation GJR gave on the background of the composition took our breath away. Apparently, when Shri Lalgudi was asked about what the rhythmic pattern in the composition represented, he answered with his characteristic simplicity that this was the pattern followed by the leaves as they dropped to the ground during the ‘fall’ season. It showed us the genius of the man, who could get to the heart of the music breaking down the several complex layers, to connect it with a simple facet of nature.  GJR has always been a personal favourite for me and his rendition was as always, deeply evocative.

While the idea of studying and comparing the two masters was worth appreciating, some of the comparisons drawn seemed over-simplistic. For instance, Anil pointed out that the compositions of Copland and Shri. Lalgudi emphasized emotional content. I wondered if there was any composer whose compositions were primarily an outcome of musical technique, without emphasis on emotional content.

The contrast between the western and Indian traditions came through when the concept of the composer’s ‘signature’ was discussed. GJR in his self-effacing style observed that the signature of Shri. Lalgudi was in his compositions itself, and that no further attributes of copyright or ownership were considered necessary! This summed up the quintessential Indian worldview, to which notions of property in culture are somewhat alien, and the right held most precious by the author/artist is that to have his works disseminated, free from distortions.

Preeti Mohan


About the Author of this article: Preeti is a lawyer based in Chennai, with a keen interest in the performing arts and literature.