The first violins made their way from Europe to India over 200 years ago. Recently, two of India’s top violinists made the journey in the other direction. Lalgudi Krishnan and his sister Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi played at a two-day festival celebrating India’s performing arts in Cologne.
Indian violinist Lalgudi Krishnan likes Western audiences
The violin has often been described as a musical bridge between Europe and India, as it is the only European instrument that has been successfully integrated into Indian classical music.
Lalgudi Jayaraman is a famous Tamil musician, who made a tremendous contribution to the instrument’s development in the 20th century. Today, his children and disciples, Lalgudi Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, have also gained international fame and are among the top Carnatic violinists.
Professor Hans Neuhoff, an expert for Indian Music at the University for Music and Dance in Cologne who organised the siblings’ visit to Cologne, says:
"The Lalgudis are top players of the violin in India today. In fact, they are the only violinists who are invited every year to participate in the December festival of the Music Academy of Madras which is the leading institution of classical South Indian music."
A long tradition
Lalgudi Krishnan says that he and his sister are part of a long family tradition: "My father’s grandfather was the first violinist in the family. My father’s great-grandfather was a vocalist, and he learned from Saint Thyagaraja directly. What Beethoven is to western music, Saint Thyagaraja is for our Carnatic music."
The violin is thought to have been first brought to India in the early 19th century by the military bandsmen of the East India Company. The instrument was soon found to be ideal for playing classical Indian music because it lends itself well to its melodic subtleties. Today, it is rare to find a performance of Carnatic music without the violin.
Imitating the human voice
Breaking with European tradition, Indian violinists sit cross-legged and hold their instrument vertically. The sound of their violin also differs. Lalgudi Krishnan says the aim is to imitate the human voice: "In our family it is the tradition to take up vocal music first and then take up the violin because we should be able to sing what we play."
Although the sounds produced by his Indian violin are different, Lalgudi Krishnan feels that Western audiences are very appreciative of his music: "They are musically trained. They listen with rapt attention. They don’t talk; with full pin-drop silence, they are very attentive, and at the same time receptive. They are able to take real classical stuff devoid of any gimmicks. We can just concentrate only on our music."
The audience was silent as the Lalgudis performed in Cologne but the exultation afterwards had no bounds, once more strengthening the reputation of the violin as a bridge between India and Europe.
Author: Fritzi Titzmann
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein