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Contrasting Techniques

Lakshmi Subramanian

By M. Lalitha
Sundeep Prakashan, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 292, Rs. 1200.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

In this study of violin playing techniques in western classical and south Indian classical music Dr.Lalitha elaborates her understanding of contrasting techniques used in playing the violin in two distinct musical traditions. The violin was a late and foreign entrant in Indian classical music. The book in its framework and methodology adopts what one may identify as an ethnomusicological perspective. A catalogue of terms, of notations and scores and a wholly unimaginative analysis of the various schools of music identified with certain techniques of playing makes this book a strange mélange of musical description, which is devoid of any social or historical context. In a sense the arrangement of the book is somewhat typical of old fashioned scholarship on Indian music, that speaks inevitably of the intrinsically spiritual dimensions of music, and which makes no attempt whatsoever to incorporate more recent perspectives or to address some of the larger issues in the making of aesthetics and techniques in modern times.   The first chapter talks rather cursorily of what technique is meant in terms of the nature of artistic execution and what it is intended to produce, of the importance of bowing and left and right hand techniques in playing the violin, and is followed up in the subsequent chapters, by the various modes used in western classical and South Indian classical music. These techniques are elaborately described, some substantiated with notation and others without and are probably extremely useful for the player and the performer. In the section on South Indian music, the discussion of techniques of bowing and playing is reconstructed, not so much on the basis of musical score and notation that is understandably sparsely available, but on the basis of interviews with performers and the lineages they represented. What is missing is the history of these techniques and the rationale that informed them in the context of the nineteenth and early twentieth century experiment of embracing the violin and incorporating it within the classical music ensemble.   What was it about the violin that captured the imagination of early musicians and music lovers, urging an entire generation of amateurs in the early decades of the twentieth century to take up the instrument and offer teach yourself primers and graded exercises, and adapt it as an accompanying instrument in the newly designed concert or kaccheri. What was it about the violin’s voice that made it so ...

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