Track 8: Raga Vasantmukhari (India)
Raga Vasantmukhari is played as a sarangi improvisation. The sarangi is the principal bowed instrument of North Indian classical music. About two feet in length, it is carved from a single block of wood to form a souond-box with incurved sides, a broad neck and a peg-box. A parchment table covering the sound-box gives a characteristic mellowness to the sound. The three gut melody strings are stopped with the cuticles of the left-hand fingers, which slide along the string to imitate the smooth glissandi of Indian vocal music. A bank of steel sympathetic strings, tuned to the notes of the chosen mode (raga), add a resonant lustre to the sound.
During its history of at least four centuries in northern India, the sarangi has been variously associated with devotional temple music and with the more secular music of dancing and singing girls. Today its principal role is to accompany classical vocalists, since in timbre and musical style it comes closer to the voice than any other instrument. Even when the sarangi is played solo, it is essentially vocal music that we hear.
This performance is based on the mode or raga Vasantmukhari ("Resounding with Spring"), the scale of which (taking C as tonic) is: C Db E F G Ab Bb C'.the metrical style is Ektal, theoretically of 12 beats, but played here at a slow tempo typical of the khyal style of vocal music. The metrical structure is underlined by the tabla, a pair of small hand-beaten drums, one of which is tuned to the tonic. This note is also sustained, together with the fifth degree, by the drone-lute tambura, the open strings of which are gently plucked throughout the performance; in consequence, each note of the melody is heard as a more or less consonant or dissonant interval against the drone background.
After a short free-tempo prelude, a vocal composition is introduced, at which point the tabla begins to mark the metrical cycle. The first phrase of the composition provides a short refrain, to which the performer must return periodically. Between repetitions of this refrain, he is free to improvise on the melodic materials of the raga; this improvisation also follows vocal models, including vistar (gradual expansion of melodic range from the low to the high registers) and tans (arabesques that observe the melodic patterns of the raga, no matter how rapid or convoluted they become).
Nicolas Magriel originally studied Indian music in Banaras and Delhi in the 1970s, with sarangi maestros Ustad Sabri Khan, the late Pt. Gopal Mishra, and Pt. Hanuman Mishra, and with vocalists Pt. Dilip Chandra Vedi and Ustad Fayazuddin Dagar. He performs regularly in London and Europe both as a soloist and together with well-known vocalists and instrumantalists. He has appeared on television and films, including the television series "The Jewel in the Crown". He took a MMus at SOAS in 1992, and is currently studying for a PhD. Sanjay Jhalla, one of the most distinguished players of tabla in the UK, and Lalita du Perron, a research student of the Department of South Asian Studies, SOAS, accompany Nicolas.