In filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film, Chhaya (1961), a delicate Salil Chaudhury ditty represents the Bengali composer’s style, different from those in Bollywood at the time. The phrasing is breezy with rhythm variation in place alongside experimentations with major and minor scales and a sense of earthy, somewhat indigenous impression to the melody. The warm woodwinds and swelling strings lead us into this piece – Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badhaa, ke main ik baadal awaara – with actors Asha Parekh and Sunil Dutt in the frame. As admired as the song is, it has also sounded extremely familiar for the Indian audience. And the reason is that Chaudhury, in this song, was flirting with parts of the first movement of The Great G Minor Symphony, better known as Symphony No. 40 and popular world over. Created by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart during the Viennese Classical Period – roughly about 100 years between the mid-18th and the mid-19th century – Chaudhury’s song is how a lot of people in India have had this significant symphony’s underlying notes ingrained in their heads and hearts. While the first four lines follow the symphony directly, the rest of the song takes off into a different direction, not that the composer ever withheld the idea of finding inspiration in the western classical greats.
Namaskar. Mujhe ye video kisine bheja, is ladki ne mahan Austrian sangeetkar Mozart ki 40th Symphony G Minor ko Bhartiya Sargam mein bahut sudar tarah se gaaya hai. Main isko aashirwad deti hun ki ye ek acchi gaayika bane. pic.twitter.com/J6u2GyWbCD
— Lata Mangeshkar (@mangeshkarlata) July 6, 2020
The connection of the song to the famed symphony always fascinated Kolkata-based vocalist Samadipta Mukherjee, 22. Since any music created anywhere works on the permutations and combinations of the same seven notes and their variations, she decided to notate the symphony in the Indian sargam format. With much precision in a home video, Mukherjee is seen singing the notes alongside one of the symphony’s many versions available online. It was interesting because in Indian classical music, an oral legacy, one does not read or write music, which is generally devoid of staff notation – an intrinsic characteristic of western classical music. Also, most of the times, if the notations exist, then they are for the Indian bandishes, mostly for students to understand the science of the raga they are learning. They are eventually to play in one’s head while the words that are sung need to represent them. In the past sitar maestro, Pt Ravi Shankar and sarod legend Ut Amjad Ali Khan among others have collaborated with western classical musicians and created Indian staff notations for western pieces for the purposes of collaborations.
The video found much attention as many people took notice, including Mangeshkar, who, incidentally, was also the female voice for the Chaudhury song. She complimented the singer on Twitter, by giving her “aashirwaad” and said that she hoped for her to be a brilliant singer one day. “The symphony’s special connection with the lovely Salil Chaudhury song is why I decided to do this. I uploaded the video on my Facebook page first and never thought that it will get such surprising responses. Getting blessings from Lata ji was beyond my imagination. I worship her. It has been my dream to meet her. When I saw her post, I was almost shivering,” says Mukherjee, who is not a full-time musician but does stage performances. “In my family, I am the first person to have taken music seriously,” adds Mukherjee. Her mother is a teacher while her father works in the private sector.
Growing up in a Bengali family, music happened for Mukherjee by default. Her music aficionado father exposed her to Hindustani classical music, ghazals, Najrulgeeti, and old Bengali and Hindi film songs at home. “Like it is for most Bengali children, sur and taal have been a part of life since childhood,” says Mukherjee, who is pursuing a masters in music from the University of Calcutta. She started learning music at the age of four from her uncle Swarajit Guha Roy. She then learned the ropes of Indian classical music under the aegis of Pt Kalyan Chattopadhyay and is now under the tutelage of Subhamita Bandopadhyay. Her interest in western classical music happened a few years ago after she attended a workshop by popular Bengali composer, Debojyoti Mishra. “He is the master who sowed the seed within me. He would tell me to listen to the works of Mozart and Beethoven, which I did,” says Mukherjee, who is now working on an original song composed by her uncle. She has received a lot of requests on social media to put up something new.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most influential and imperative residents of Vienna, wrote the famed The Great G Minor Symphony, better known as Symphony No. 40 in 1782. But in only a handful of times that it was performed, Mozart wasn’t satisfied. On July 10, 1802, musician Johann Wenzel wrote to publisher Ambrosius Kuhnel, and mentioned one of the performances of the symphony at Baron Gottfried van Swieten’s home. “But the execution was so poor that the composer had to leave the room,” wrote Wenzel in the letter. Never would have Mozart thought that one of his most significant works would be sung in India, much less in the Indian notation format. Mukherjee is attempting to climb the bridge that some very senior musicians have in the past. We are listening.
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