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A Technical Celebration of Music - Part 1

Song: Tarali Radha Thanae Vasantham…
Film: Rudra Veena
Scale : Hamsadwani

Friday, November 29, 2002

This is the first in the series of articles celebrating the music of Maestro Ilayaraja, from a technical standpoint. The article treats the Maestro's music as a textbook on music composition and presents certain technical and non-technical nuances in his music that may be of interest to students of music composition and orchestration as well as to listeners with a technical background in carnatic and western classical music.

The content presented in this article is just an observation made by the author. Please feel free to indicate any analytical errors that you may find.

This song is based on the symmetric pentatonic scale Hamsadwani (sa ri ga pa ni / C D E G B). In the film, the song plays the role of an entertainer for laborers who are cutting down the woods. Hence the song maintains a lively mood, in general. Note the composer's choice of the scale to evoke this mood. This scale does not have any note pairs with semitonal intervals between them.

The song presents a perfect usage of the Hamsadhwani raga in film music. The pallavi features certain important slides (gamakas) in this raga. The oscillation of the lower ni at the end of the first melody and the slides between ri and ga (in the words gaganaala dhaka….) reflect the image of the raga.

In the charanam of this song, the composer shows the scope of a simple scale like Hamsadhwani. He explores a variety of interesting phrase combinations in this scale. The phrases in general, alternate between ascent and descent i.e. a phrase in the descent is followed by an ascent and vice versa. The first portion of the charanam features a straightforward flow of notes in sequence. This followed by the line "prati madhini…." which connects two different phrases in a interesting manner. The first one (Ri Ri Sa ni Sa Ri Ri) lands on the higher Ri and the second one (ri ri ga pa ga ri) takes off on the middle ri. The sudden shift in the octave is unexpected.

The next line that follows (aedhi sontham kosam ….) sounds a surprisingly long interval between notes: lower ni to the higher Ri. The last portion of the charanam (idhi theliyani…). features the dhatu prayogam (phrase with alternate notes in a sequence) thus bringing out the true image of Hamsadhwani. (Once again note the unusual interval between the previous melody and this one!)

A possibility for using these interesting phrases which sway over three different octaves, could be linked to the underlying situation of the song in the film which demands a active mood.

The interludes in this song follow a certain pattern (vaguely analogous to the concept of forms in western classical music). They comprise of a long flute piece followed by a short counterpoint. The percussions do not sound in the first and last few bars of both the interludes. The guitar and bass lines back up the rhythm pattern throughout the interlude (a typical Ilayaraja!). The three-voice counterpoint at the end of the second interlude is lead by a melody on the flute (from a keyboard). The first part of this melody contains a phrase and its variation (towards the end). It goes as follows: B C B- G B- C B B C B- G E -B C D B. Notice that the first four notes are similar in both the phrases. This pattern is typically found in many of Ilayaraja's melodies. The first two tunes in the charanam also follow a more or less similar pattern.

Thanks to Maestro Ilayaraja, for this wonderful musical lesson!.

- RS Balaji

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