Monday, May 9, 2011

Fine fugue fete

A fugue is a contrapuntal composition in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition. This was a great musical idea introduced by Bach and Raja being a sincere follower of Bach has used fugue in several of his compositions.  Key to the understanding of fugue is two terms – theme and imitation. Consider theme as a short melody that is played at a certain pitch by an instrument. The imitation of the melody could be played by the same instrument at a different pitch or by another instrument at a different pitch to constitute a fugue arrangement. What’s important is that while this happens, there must be multiple simultaneous voices.

For some strange unknown reason, Raja and fugue has not been discussed at length, though most sites that speak about Raja's work, do mention about his compositions using this technique. 

Fugue is not favored much other than in classical circles as it is considered too complex for ordinary composers. Fortunately, we are not discussing any ordinary composer. Let’s look at some of Raja’s work over the past 4 decades. Time for some Raja examples.

Manjal Veyyil from Nandu (1980 Tamil) – this is pure baroque pleasure. There are few film tracks that can match the quality of fugue that Raja has demonstrated in this track. A total contrapuntal gem! Raja has used his entire arsenal in this track to show fugue in film music – solo violin, violins and double bass, veena, guitar and also the flute. Let’s analyze this 1:55 minutes of grand orchestration. 
  1. 00:18 to 00:21 seconds, you will hear rapid violin strokes (10) played at a particular pitch. Observe that between 00:28 and 00:32 seconds, the exact same melody is imitated with the same violins at a different pitch.  
  2. From 00:33 to 00:37 seconds, the solo violin plays a new melody (the violins also play in counter melody in the background, but let’s ignore that for the moment), the groups of violins imitate the melody between 00:38 and 00:41 seconds at a different pitch.
  3. From 00:41 to 00:45 seconds, the solo violin plays the third melody and the group violins imitate this new melody between 00:45 and 00:49 seconds at a different pitch. It’s a back to back fugue arrangement. Show me one composition in Indian film music that can match this.
  4. Between 00:53 to 00:57 seconds, the flute plays a new melody. Between 00:57 and 1:01, the guitar imitates the same melody at a different pitch.
  5. Between 1:01:30 and 1:06, the flute plays another melody and between 1:06 and 1:10, the melody is imitated by a combination of guitar and veena at a different pitch!
  6. Between 1:15 and 1:22, the veena plays a slightly lengthy melody. Observe the imitation of the same melody between 1:23 and 1:30 played by the solo violin at a different pitch.
  7. Between 1:31 and 1:39, the guitar now plays the new melody. The groups of violins imitate the guitar melody between 1:39 and 1:47 at a different pitch. Between 1:47 and 1:55, the guitar plays the same melody with a third pitch; the background violins join the fray along with the guitar.

7 fugue arrangements constitute the interlude of this masterpiece. There is no other composer before and after Raja, who can do this in Indian film music! This work is no less than a grand concerto of Bach, should he have the 4 minute limitation of film music.

Let's hear Manjal Veyyil from Nandu...

Oru Kili Uruguthu from Ananda Kummi (1982 Tamil) takes the fugue idea to two types of voices – instrumental and human voice. (This has a Telugu equivalent Jili Bili (Sitara) but the interlude orchestration is different). 
  1. Between 00:01 to 00:09, there is a flute melody that is played. Observe closely, what happens after that. 
  2. Between 00:16 and 00:20 the 8 second original melody is imitated at a lower pitch but a faster pace using flute again. 
  3. Between 00:26 and 00:42, Raja uses two child voices singing ‘ku koo’. 
  4. Observe the melody every consecutive time. A short melody in one voice, an imitation in another voice at a different pitch, a third melody at another pitch, a fourth imitation melody at a different pitch and so on. This is the voice (human) equivalent of what Raja does with instruments in other fugue experiments. 

Let's hear Oru Kili Uruguthu ....

Devan Koil dheepam Ondru from Naan Paadum Padal (1983 Tamil). Listen to the clip between 44 seconds and 58 seconds. Focus only on the guitar and the flute that plays a melody – first a few bars for the guitar followed by the flute (44 to 47 seconds). Listen to exactly the same melody being played by the same instrument at a slightly higher pitch between 48 and 52 second and even higher pitch between 53 and 57 seconds. Another neat fugue work.

Let's hear Devan Koil ...

China Chinna from Mouna Ragam (1987 Tamil). Listen to the first 11 seconds of the clip. The theme is introduced by the flute in the first two seconds. The flute again imitates the melody at a different pitch. This is followed by the violins at the third and fourth pitch. A neat fugue package.

Let's hear Chinna Chinna...

Paadoo Sakhi Paadoo from Chaitram (1989 Malayalam) is a song sang by Yesudas. Raja sourced it from  – Poove Pani Poove from Nilavu Suduvathillai (1984). This track has some interesting fugue arrangements. 
  1. The first 4 seconds has the same short melody played in four different pitches to start off the fugue arrangement. 
  2. Between 00:29 and 00:30:30 seconds, there is a melody a synthesizer plays which is imitated between 00:30:30 to 00:33:00 seconds by the synthesizer at a lower pitch constituting the second fugue arrangement in the track. 
  3. Between 1:03 and 1:13 there is another beautiful fugue dialog. The melody is started off by the synthesizer, the imitation is by a solo violin at a different pitch; the synth plays the melody at another pitch and the solo violin takes it to another pitch in its imitation. What follows that is a C&R arrangement between the synthesizer and flute. 

Let's hear Paadoo Sakhi...

From here on, I am leaving it to the readers to identify the fugue parts in the interludes of some Raja tracks that prominently use this technique. Please comment back with the exact timing on the track where the fugue parts occur.

Thamaraikodi from Ananda Kummi (1982 Tamil) is another fugue treat served with guitar, flute and violins.

Here are the interludes are Thamaraikodi...

Yeh Thendrale from Nenjathai Killathe (1982 Tamil) – there are several fugue parts with voices, flutes and violins.

Here are the interludes of Yey thendrale...

Aala Asathum from Aala Piranthavan (1987 Tamil) has a fugue arrangement with trumpet and guitar.

Here are the interludes of Aala Asathum...

Appadi Paakarathunna from Ivann (2004 Tamil) has a fugue based prelude.

Here are the interludes of Appadi...

Here is some good examples on fugue from Vijay...

I will also not cover the "Mad Mod Fugue'" track of 'How to Name it".

Fugue has not been very popular among Indian film music composers, nor did/do most of them had/have the training and courage to handle such a musical ideas. To Raja, this is one more music idea. In my view, he does not even care if he was the greatest exponent of this technique in Indian film music!

Hope you had a fine fugue fete...


Jose said...

Thanks for this post. Lots of amazing pieces here.

ஜெய்சக்திராமன் said...

Really amazing sir.... Great...

Aakarsh said...

Mind boggling examples.

Thanks for treating us with a crash course on Fugue! My favourite among all the songs here is undoubtedly the awesome song from Nandu. Manjal Veyyil! Now we should call it a Fugue in Kalyani.

paadoo Sakhi is a revelation for me. Amazing pieces. And Thamarai Kodi is a classic anyway.

Fantastic Post Ravi. Thanks for sharing the abundance of Raaja-isms with us!

Unknown said...

Excellent Ravi.Replace with Yahoo"s new media player with time counter.The one you are having is difficult to playback the desired one at our wish.We will have to run full and come again.

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Suresh S said...


Lovely post. I had no clue on fugue though I have heard that word. Nice to see such detailed examples. As usual you have put in a lot of effort. I can understand how much time it takes to note down everything, then upload it on the web and then explain in detail!!

Any idea if Raja continued using this technique in his synth era as well? Or the synth doesn't give him much scope for this?

As you rightly pointed out, not only the fugue technique but many more techniques which Raja is probably the one who had used it in Indian film music. It is not for nothing that we revere him!!!

Rajiv said...

Wonderful Post Ravi Sir,
Your posts truly reflect Raja as a genius and you are doing great work by showcasing examples traversing across different years of Raja's and not just limiting to a specific period.
Your analysis also gives a different perspective to a Raja song.
And thanks for introducing me to this wonderful Malayalam number Paadoo Sakhi - that bit is sheer bliss..

Keep writing and analysing more and more.

Rajiv said...

Can we classify Devan Thiruchabai Malargala as a fugue ?
The last bit where the melody starts in Pa,traverses to Ni and then Ri and back to Pa Pa Pa Ma Ga Ma Ga Sa Sa.

I mean the part from 3:55 onwards

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Thanks for this enlightening post.

I guess, Ilaiayaraaja has used fugue in one of the background
score cues in Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai

Listen to Theme 12 from the below link (fugue begin from 1:10)

Anonymous said... about the fugue usage in the beginning of the song"ennadhan sugamo nenjile" from the movoe mappillai starring rajnikanth and amala

ravinat said...

This is a very important post as it taught me a few things. Firstly, had I been a teacher, I would have been fired from the job in the first week! I provide a decent amount of homework and nobody bothers to do any part of it :-)

@Jose, Jay, Aakarsh, Rajiv

Thanks for your kind encouragement


I have had very few free cycles due to my work. I have been responding to comments pretty late. Thanks for your yahoo player recommendation. However, I need to find some time to play with it and change a million places where I have referenced the old player. Not going to happen in the next few months.


You will notice that Suresh Kumar has answered your question (clip 12). Nothing can get more latest that ASK (2011).

Please go back to my post on 'Techno Baroque- a melody perspective' ( and you will notice what I have said in italics under the track 'Kai Veesi' from Nandhalala. It is an ultra-modern interpretation of fugue with synthesizers. Also, the other song, 'Mella Oornthu' from the same film has some fantastic fugue parts too! These are just few examples. Baroque techniques are part of the fundamental wiring of the man.


'Devan Thiruchabai Malargale' - You almost got it, but this is not fugue in my view. It depends on how you see a melody. Yes, the melody does get repeated and at a different pitch. However, the basic thing that is missing here is that the part is not contrapuntal. If you hear the track 'Kai Veesi' in Nandhalala, Raja uses a melody that is played by two synthesizers, one that has ascending notes and another that has descending notes and he uses the left-right channel - please hear the clip that I posted with a good pair of headphones. Very clever interpretation of fugue!

@Suresh Kumar
You are spot on about Theme 12 of ASK posted on your blog. Between 1:00 and 1:55, there are three fugue parts arranged back to back. Nice use of the synthesized flute and violins. Signature Raja!

Please leave your name behind as I can never tell which Anonymous guy/gal I am addressing. I can understand why you may think of the prelude of 'Ennathaan Sugamo' as a fugue. The way I view this is the entire violin part of the prelude is one melody and not different melodies in a fugue arrangement.


Ravi Natarajan

Anonymous said...

but ravi,if you hear fugue in D minor by j.s it not the same melody repeating with diffferent time stamps...fugue in d minor featured as a re recording in the movie idya thamarai or you can c it in you tube..

ravinat said...

Hello Mr. Anonymous

Sorry to call you that way, as you refuse to identify yourself!

My understanding of fugue does not involve any change to time signatures but contrapunctal use of a theme and an imitation at different pitches.

Here is a good youtube example that shows this clearly on a keyboard:

Hope that helps.


Ravi Natarajan

Anonymous said...

Dear Ravi,

Fugue Fete

Modalanae Baari - Nannavanu

indha paatil iruka........

Olaraga irundhal mannikavum...

With Love,
Usha Sankar.

Anonymous said...

Prem Kahani

Rangu rangu

With Love,
Usha Sankar.

jayakumar said...

first of all i must thank you ravi sir, because of your hard work...our maestro is apart from all critical analysis... his thoughts and ideas cant be measured by anybody else..i hope you too agree with this..isnt it mr.ravi sir...thank you very much pls visit my blog also...
kindly post more...we expect much from you...

Anonymous said...

Ravi sir

The first interlude of the song Ek do Teen from Telugu movie Rudra Netra has female chorus singing along with flute, to my untrained ear the notes sound similar. Will that make a fugue??



ravinat said...


I heard this song after your comment. It is definitely not a fugue arrangement in my view.

Firstly, just because there is a choir and a synthesizer singing the same tune, it does not become fugue. Secondly, there is no contrapunctal arrangement in the repetition.

Hope this helps. Please hear my clips on Manjal Veyyil and also Suresh Kumar's BGM clip on ASK, and you can easily figure how these are perfect fugues.

Anonymous said...

Thank you sir :)

Isac said...

Just fantastic, all your posts. I keep coming back to understand Raja sir's composition techniques and marvel at his genius. Thank you so much

karmukhil said...

I have been waiting long for this post/ topic. Thanks Sir.