Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Chowdiah, bowing to genius

Dr. K. Rohiniprasad

Born in Tirumakoodalu, Chowdiah (1895-1967) the great violinist was the son of Agastya Gowda. His mother Sundaramma who was herself a musician initiated him into the art. Believing in the prediction by a seer that he would become a famous musician, young Chowdiah abandoned regular school. This enabled him to concentrate on music lessons. After early training from his uncle, Chowdiah became the disciple of Bidaram Krishnappa, the legendary vocalist at the Mysore Court. He undertook rigorous and painstaking practice at the gurukul for fourteen to sixteen hours a day. Under Krishnappa’s tutelage from 1910 to 1926, Chowdiah became competent enough to accompany his guru. He finally made his debut with a solo concert in 1926. He continued to imbibe music by regularly attending concerts by veterans like Govindaswamy Pillai.

Chowdiah's violin accompaniment for Ariyakudi’s concert in Madras brought him into limelight. True to the words of Yehudi Menuhin, Chowdiah the violinist “burst abruptly into view”. Chowdiah's association with Ariyakudi continued for several decades. Chowdiah soon started accompanying other reputed vocalists including Palghat Rama Bhagavatar, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Alathur Brothers, G.N. Balasubramanyam, Madurai Mani Iyer, M.S Subbulakshmi and others. Percussionists like Dakshinamoorthy, Palghat Mani Iyer, Palani Subramanya Pillai enjoyed playing with this highly rated violinist. Chembai, Chowdiah, Palghat Mani Iyer reportedly performed over 2000 concerts together.

An eminent solo violinist and a brilliant accompanist, Chowdiah’s fascinating finger-play and bowing techniques, clarity of expression and creative approach made him phenomenally popular. He became well-known for his rich imagination and skill and provided inspiration to many young violinists during his lifetime. In his concerts as an accompanist, Chowdiah was much respected and admired as he would always encourage and support the main performer. In 1939 he became the court musician at Mysore. An eloquent speaker, he could engage the attention of audiences very well. As a performer he was so popular that he could hardly bathe in the river during one of the Tyagaraja aradhana celebrations as he was mobbed by fans.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, vocalists started adopting a lower pitch. With no amplifiers or loudspeakers, accompanying a powerful vocalist and a percussion instrument on the violin in a large auditorium required real effort in those days. Violins were not originally designed to meet this requirement. To match the change in the volume of music, Chowdiah tried to improve the volume of the sound from his violin. As an innovator and man of ideas, he developed with the aid of a craftsman, seven-stringed and nineteen-stringed violins. The additional strings resonated to the sound of the bowed string and produced greater volume. The agreeable and voluminous sound that resulted impressed everyone, including veterans like Veena Seshanna. However, with the advent of electronic amplification, these innovations gradually lost their relevance. It was no longer considered necessary to own such an expensive high-quality instrument.

Chowdiah established the Ayyanar College of Music in Mysore and Bangalore. In honour of his guru, Chowdiah built the Bidaram Krishnappa Rama Mandira in Mysore. He produced eminent disciples like V. Sethuramiah, R. K. Venkatarama Sastry, Mysore V. Ramarathnam, Kandadevi Alagiri Swamy and C. R. Mani.

He received several awards including Sangeeta Rathna (Mysore Court) and Sangeetha Kalanidhi (Madras Music Academy), Ganakala sindhu (Mysore Sangeeta Parishat) apart from felicitations by Kanchi Paramacharya, Satya Sai Baba and others. He composed kritis and tillanas with the pen name Trimakuta. He served as a member of the legislative council for the Government of Mysore. Chowdiah also acted in a film during his life. His death in 1967 was widely mourned by music lovers.


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