NOTE: There are two versions of this quartet — this one has Hindustani vocals and the other does not. They are the same piece, but this version is about 5-6 minutes longer, with accompanied interludes in each movement for improvisation by a Hindustani vocalist.
During the year I spent in India, I began to notice a beautiful thing that would happen at concerts. When the artist would announce the raag to be sung or played that evening, immediately, and almost subconsciously, many of the cognoscenti in the audience would begin humming the characteristic phrases or ‘pakads’ of that raag quietly to themselves, intoning with the drone that was already sounding on stage. It had a magical feeling – as if that raag was present in the air, and tiny wisps of it were already starting to precipitate into the audible world in anticipation of the performance. It felt like a connection between the audience and the performer, as they prepared themselves to enjoy what was to come. Each movement of this quartet opens in exactly the same way, and it is inspired by those quiet intonations.
After the opening phrases, each movement diverges into its own distinct character. The first movement is a Fantasie inspired by the beautiful raag Bihag which layers phrases over one another to create large shapes separateed by the silence of pure drones. The second movement is a vivacious and rhythmic setting of a Malkauns taan, which to the western ear, always seems to be pulling to a dominant rather than a tonic. The third movement is in the contemplative Basant – a raag that signifies the season of spring in Hindustani music. And the fourth movement is in the complex and multi-faceted Jog, a simgle raag which seems to contain western notions of both ‘major’ and ‘minor’ within it.
In Hindustani music, the elaboration of a single raag can often take an hour. I didn’t mean for this piece to exhaust these raags, but rather provide little snapshots of particular features and characters of each raag that I find beautiful and special about each one.
This beautiful recording was made by Salastina Music Society with Matt Snyder at Allegro Recordings in Burbank, CA. It was intended to be part of a longer album, but was never released. We still love the way it turned out, so I wanted to share it here.
I am singing the Hindustani vocal part in each movement. I am not a professional Hindustani singer, even though I have trained in the artform. This is simply me, singing in the best way I knew how at the time — it shouldn’t be considered a mastery of, but rather an homage to this amazing vocal tradition.
Audio guides are available for mmts 2, 3 and 4 on the catalog page for Teen Murti.
Special Performance Rquirements
This piece includes a Hindustani voice, so when it is performed live, the singer will need amplification. Even in a small recital space, where a western singer would be heard, this amplification is necessary as the vocal technique has been developed around performing amplified.
For Hindustani singers performing this piece, there is no knowledge of Western music required. You will simply need to improvise for about thirty seconds to a minute in four raags: Bihag, Malkauns, Basant and Jog. If you listen to the recordings above, they should guide you as an example. In performance, practice having a member of the string quartet cue you where to enter, and then practice cueing them when you are done. This piece is an excellent entry point for a Hindustani musician who has never performed with a Western classical ensemble before.
The original version of this piece was commissioned by Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. It was premiered on July 27, 2013 in Santa Fe, NM by the FLUX Quartet.
The version with vocals was first performed on September 13, 2015 by Salastina Music Society and Reena Esmail, at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica CA.
“Each of the traditional ragas – or scales – were sung prior to each movement and the string quartet followed with a sort of prelude based on the tones. As the sections progressed, more complex interpretations evolved and the sound at times was reminiscent of early 20th century music. The use of the western string quartet was a brilliant stroke – traditional Indian instruments can make this music sound so exotic that it can be hard for the uninitiated to absorb. Coming through the familiar lens of violins, viola and cello however, it is clearer to westerners how subtle and sophisticated this music can be.” – Sequenza 21