First Published on
March 29, 1993 in ‘The Independent’, The Times of India
From Master to Maestro
T.N.Krishnan, the violin maestro with a phenomenally long career span has countless admirers all over the world.
Every evening, as dusk would fall and the cows would hoof homeward, a five year old boy and a tall gaunt man walked to the local municipal garden waiting for the clock hands to move to when the loudspeaker in the park would crackle and come alive with classical music.
The child would listen carefully as his father pointed out the swara passages, explained the development of the raga, the intricacies of the sangatis, and the nuances of each artiste’s style. In that remote village, that loudspeaker in the park was the child’s only opening to the magic world of music dominated at the time by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Tiger Varadachariar, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. At nine when the AIR broadcast would end, father and son would find their way home through the dark, unlit night.
Thiruppanithura A.Narayana Iyer discovered his son’s immense potential in the field of music when the boy was all of four. Behind Iyer stood five generations of musical tradition—a guarantee of a great career for his little boy. Narayana Iyer was a vocalist and played the veena as well. A guru with foresight ad futuristic ideas, he turned to the violin which had just then caught the fancy of Carnatic musicians.
His son, Krishnan took to the instrument too, and was soon hailed as a child prodigy. As a five year old, Krishnan had already mastered several varnams including major compositions in Bhairavi, Kalyani and Kambodhi. Hearing of the boy’s genius, prominent gurus of the region like Venkiti Bhagavatar began to take a keen interest in him and even vied with each other to teach him. Kittan Bhagavatar, a vocalist, taught Krishnan to play kritis in heavy classical ragas. An affectionate teacher, he ensured that classes were fun for the boy and took him along to nearby towns whenever he had concert engagements.
T.N.Krishnan played his first concert at the age of seven. It was only then, in 1938, that he had a chance to see in person the musicians he had heard on the radio. Soon afterwards, he came to be recognized as Master Krishnan in his own right.
In 1939, AIR (All India Radio) inaugurated its radio station at Trichy. Narayana Iyer and Krishnan were given individual contracts. T.Sankaran, brother of famous dancer Balasaraswati and Director of the Tiruchirapalli AIR station, gifted Krishnan a violin. The boy went back to the park to listen to his first concert over the radio. The world of music had come alive for the great little fiddler.
Krishnan was soon in demand among doyens of Carnatic music like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. During World War II, after the Japanese had bombed several cities in the south, his family left
to move to Cochin . It was in
this city that Krishnan’s future brightened. At a Navratri Utsavam, Krishnan was offered a chance to perform at a
concert. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar and Sri
C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer were in the audience. Impressed by the charming young boy’s
felicity and maturity, Ramaswamy Iyer gifted him with Rs.501/ and blessed him.
He told Narayana Iyer that the child now needed to learn from a vocalist. It
was after this that Krishnan joined Semmangudi’s gurukula. Trivandrum
Soon after, Flute
another child prodigy who was already a famous name in Carnatic concert
circles, told the organizers to engage “that violin boy” for his concert in
Chennai. During this visit Krishnan played for Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer as
well. Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, who had a concert in a fortnight’s time,
requested Krishnan not to return home but stay on in Chennai. Krishnan who was
not yet into his teens was unable to decide and his father was summoned. Mali
The same day Semmangudi had a concert where violinist Mysore Chowdiah was to be the accompanist. Chowdiah, who played truant, did not turn up and Krishnan was asked to fill in. In an unprecedented gesture, Semmangudi publicly appealed to Krishnan’s father during the concert to let the child remain in this city which was the centre of music. Narayana Iyer agreed and the family moved to Chennai.
Narayana Iyer developed for his son special fingering and long-bowing techniques which reproduced vocal music with great fidelity, making the violin sound richly melodious and tuneful as opposed to the harsh, staccato fiddling which was ten in vogue. Krishnan also mastered another art quite early—he would accompany artistes in their own style. It was his keen sense of observation, perfect timing and unobtrusive support that added wholesomeness to a concert. His playing soon acquired polish and sophistication, placing him above his contemporaries.By 1940, he had established himself as the Prince Charming of the Carnatic music world.
As his career graph rose phenomenally, the powers that be were quick to give him official recognition. Krishnan was conferred the Padmasri in 1973 when he was principal of the Government Music College in Chennai and an Asthana Vidwan of Tirupati Devasthanam. In 1981 he was chosen to preside over the annual conference of the
when the prestigious title of Sangeeta Kala Nidhi was conferred on him. He was
given the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1975 and later served as Vice-Chairman
of this body. Madras
Krishnan’s US-based daughter Viji and son Sriram—both violinists—accompany him during his concert tours in
and abroad. He still draws full houses during the music season in Chennai every
December. For his countless fans, every opportunity to hear him is a prized
occasion His violin, like pure gold, has been further enriched. By 55 years of
experience. His violin sings almost every word of the sahityam. When he elaborates and plays the neraval of a composition, the bhava
comes through soulfully. India
An uncompromising classicist, he never takes recourse to gimmicks or a display of physical prowess. He has created a bani all his own which has purity of tone and soul-stirring melody. The master had turned maestro.
Note : One of the most charming personalities in the world of music Our families have been associated for many years . My parents knew him as a handsome young boy, quiet and dignified. Later his sister Dr. N.Rajam married my brother T.S.Subramaniam and we have spent many glorious hours in his company. He was a generous teacher and gave so much to my son Ranjan and daughter Ruupa though for a very short time.