Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Counterpoint with violins

Here is the masterpiece. Listen to And we had a talk in Raja’s famous album How to Name it (1986). Bourre is a dance form of the seventeenth century and JS Bach did a lot of music for court dances. Raja has taken ‘Bourre in E-minor’ of Bach and played Hamsadhwani raga as a counterpoint to it. If you start comparing the scale matching in this piece and his harmonization of the CCM with WCM, you will understand the genius that Raja is. Nobody, anywhere in the world, has done anything like this before. The HTNI album is full of such gems. I would like to mention one more track on this album Study for violin the Mayamalava gowlai based Tulasi Dhala (you can hear Yesudas sing this piece in Rudra Veena) mixed with a WCM composition that matches the same violin (appears like two) in the lower and higher octaves.

Let’s take some simple examples from film music. Back to Poomalaye ThoL Serava from Pagal Nilavu (1986). Listen to the 1st interlude and see the play of violins and the melodies they play. Specifically, pay attention to the following counter melodies involving violins: a) 0:01 to 0:12 secs and again 1:28 to 1:39 - these sections have violin and violin playing counter melodies b) 0:12 to 0:19 secs - violins playing counter to synthesizer c) 0:30 to 0:33 - violins and violins in counter melody d) 0:58 to 1:15 secs - violins in counter melody with synthesizer again.  Hear the track...

Ennulle Ennulle from Valli (1992). Listen to the 1st and 2nd interludes and the violins transport you to a different world. This song also qualifies for the first category on voices as the chorus does a counterpoint on the violins which also is playing against another melody on guitar. If you observe closely, there are three melodies going on simultaneously- violins, guitar and voices and you feel that everything has its place.

Another great example is Maalaiyil Yaaro from Chatriyan (1992). The first and second interlude are not just examples of violin based counter point, but also another great WCM technique called chromaticism, ( something no other Indian composer has touched till date! Specifically, this track uses a technique called 'tremolo' where several violins play micro notes that have a very minor degree of separation. Coming back to the topic of counterpoints with violins, pay particular attention to: a) 0:05 to 0:16 secs - synthesizer in counterpoint to violins in the background b) 0:17 to 0:24 - violins and flute in counterpoint c) 0:49 to 1:03 secs - violins and guitar in counterpoint. Hear the track...

The second interlude of Sangeetha Megam in Udhaya Geetham (1985) is almost like a simple demo of counterpoint on violins. Some more interlude examples: Metti Oli from Metti (1982), violins against a gush of background violins in Madai Thiranthu in Nizhalgal (1980). Pay attention to the following sections: a) 0:25 to 0:37 secs - violins and flute in counterpoint b) 1:22 to 1:35 secs - violins and violins in counterpoint. Hear the track...

Rasathi from Poovarasan (1996). The lyrics are folk, but focus on the orchestration. This is like hearing any Western Classical music bit! The track uses synthesized violins and real violins. Specifically, pay attention to: a) 0:03 
to 0:09 secs - Synth violins and real violins in counterpoint  b) 0:10 to 0:25 secs - synthesizer in counterpoint with violins and c) 0:57 to 1:01 secs - Violins in counterpoint with background violins in tremolo.  Hear the track...

Mazhai Varuthu Mazhai Varuthu Kudai Konduvaa from Raja Kaiya Vachha (1991). The violin counterpoints with the background violins in this track are mind boggling. Specifically, a) 0:01 to 0:11 secs and 1:38 to 1:49 secs - brilliant counterpoint between violins and violins b) 0:49 to 1:05 - counterpoint between violins and violins. Hear the track...

Kanna Unai Thedugiren from Manadhil Urudhi Vendum (includes a guitar counterpoint with violins as well) (1988), Neela Kuyile Unnoduthan from Magudi (1984), Pothi Vacha Malliga Mottu from Man Vasanai (1983), Oru Naal Unnodu Oru Naal from Uravadum Nenjam (1977).

The great second interlude of Nilavu Thoongum Neram from Kunkuma Chimizh (1985 - it is hard to believe that this is film music!). Specifically, a) 0:01 to 0:14 secs  - violin and synthesizer in counterpoint b) 0:23 to 0:30 secs - violins and violins in counterpoint and c) 1:09 to 1:16 secs - violins and violins in counterpoint.  Hear the track..

Ananda Ragam Ketkum from Paneer Pushpangal (1981). This track is loaded with counter melodies all over the place. Some sections of interest: a) 0:10 to 0:20 secs and again 1:09 to 1:20 secs - violin and flute counterpoint b) 0:22 to 0:24 secs - violin and violin in counterpoint c) 0:57 to 1:00 secs - 
violin and violin in counterpoint d) 1:28 to 1:34 secs - violin and violin in counterpoint e) 1:53 to 1:56 secs - violin and violin in counterpoint. Hear the track..

Some others that I will feel bad if I do not mention specially Agaya Vennilavae from Arangetra Velai (1990) the interlude has mind blowing counterpoints on violin and flute. Specifically, a) 0:01 to 0:17 secs - violin and violin in counterpoint b) 1:05 to 1:10 secs - violin and violin in counterpoint. Hear the track.. 

Another very worthy mention is the prelude of Nilavondru Kandaen from Kai Rasikaren (1984) and its interludes a masterpiece of sorts by Raja. In particular, a) 0:04 to 0:33 secs has several counterpoint combinations - violin-violin, violin-flute, violin-synthesizer b) 0:47 to 1:00 secs - violin and synthesizer in counterpoint  c) 1:00 to 1:07 secs - violin and violin in counterpoint and d) 1:31 to 1:41 - violin and  synthesizer in counterpoint. Hear the track..

There are at least 500 tracks of Raja where you can see the use of this technique (counterpoint with violins) and none of them are the same! I just highlighted only some examples here.


ravinat said...


You have got a nice blog on Raja. I have recently subscribed to your blog. Keep writing on your blog.

In your latest post on Counterpoints, there is a wrong reference to Bach's track.

The Hamsadhwani in How to Name It (I met Bach) and the counterpoints that you are talking about is actually an extension of Bach's Prelude to his violin Partitia III in E major.
The Bourree in Eminor is actually used in "...And we had a talk"

I think the confusion comes from the fact that the CD of How to Name It has the song names printed in wrong order. The cassette version has the correct naming.


--Posted by Ravi on behalf of Ramesh--

Anonymous said...

God!!! Great Information This Was the Post Am Waiting am almost understood Counterpoints..

a Small doubt i've been breaking my head

the Prelude Music Of Antha Nilavaa thenaa (Muthal Mariyadhai) Flute and Background Violins is an eg.Of COunterpoint Can u plz Explain?

ravinat said...

Hi Mahesh

Good to know that you like the blog. The prelude (which is a very short one) is indeed a counterpoint. You can notice that the flute and the violins do play different melodies.

This also proves one more key point that I have made with Raja's folk tunes - they are Westernized and not just pure Indian folk. It comes so natural for him that he once said that Bach does not sound foreign to him!



Anonymous said...

Thanks a Lot Sir for ur Clarification.Can u Plz Write Some More Western Classical Techniques Which Raja has used in his songs..

TN Arunagiri said...

Little nit to pick...I think the CD version has the names all messed up (no one proof read it I guess at the Oriental Records))...Tulasi Dalamula is based not on Raga Shanmugapriya but Raga Maya Maalava Gowlai.

ravinat said...

Ramesh and Arun

Finally, I got around to fixing the errors you pointed.

Thanks for your observations.



Veng@ said...

Was listening to Andhi Mazhai Pozhigirathu (to note the scale variations as mentioned in WCM post), and happened to notice a nice melodious counterpoint with violins and piano (i guess) in the second interlude. An excel sheet of Counterpoints of Raja with instrument names would be something that you could think of publishing Ravi sir !

ravinat said...


If this blog was discussing any other composer, this request would have been a reasonable one. This definitely is not. It is not the question of identifying the instrument. It is the sheer volume. If you want to test the limits of Excel, that will be a good case!


Ravi Natarajan

Unknown said...

I am sridhar,recently start searching about our maestro.Raja not only focused preludes in songs,For example the song nee ellatha pothu yengum nenjam, just hear from youtube,before the actual song musical prelude starts first 40 seconds as bgm for the scene,then actual song prelude starts.