The tambura (tanpura)

Tambura_sculpture_Arun

Text: Ludwig Pesch | Nederlands | Deutsch | Art: Arun VC

The tambura – also known as tanpura – has long served as India’s most important accompaniment. It accompanies vocal and instrumental performers as well as dance musicians. It has embellished the salons of nobles, merchants and courtisans long before its arrival on the modern concert stage.

Its present form with four strings has been known since the 17th century. It combines the properties of two types of instruments, namely the ancient zither (veena or been) and the present long-necked lute (Sarasvati veena, sitar). Its function and manner of playing distinguishes the tambura from similar instruments used in neighbouring countries. This is because Indian musicians have used a fundamental note since about the 13th century.

Hundreds of melody types – known as raga (lit.’colours’) – have since been created, rediscovered and analysed. They all arise from a fundamental note, known as ‘sadja’, which is articulated as ‘Sa’ during a lesson or vocal performance.

The fundamental note is continuously sounded as the tambura’s ‘supporting’ or ‘base’ note (the bourdon or drone of western music). It is freely chosen in accordance with the vocal or instrumental range of the main performer.

With these basic elements composers, musicians and dancers are able to evoke any conceivable mood or aesthetic experience (rasa). This requires no more than a few additional notes, usually arranged in a particular sequence by which they are readily recognised by discerning listeners. The notes heard in any given raga are drawn from among the proverbial ‘seven notes’ (saptasvara). A competent musician also knows which notes need to be modified by means of embellishments (gamaka) and subtle shades achieved by intonation (sruti).

Listen to the tambura played by Ludwig Pesch

Photo of the instrument heard in the present music example

Tanjore-style Carnatic tambura.JPG
Photo (C) Martin Spaink Wikimedia

Die Tambura

Tambura_sculpture_Arun

Text: Ludwig Pesch | English | Nederlands
Zeichnung: Arun VC

Das wichtigste Begleitinstrument Indiens zierte die Salons von Fürsten, Kaufleuten und Kurtisanen. Seit dem frühen 20. Jahrhundert beflügelt der Klangreichtum gerade dieses Instruments die Fantasie eines neu entstehenden Konzertpublikums. Seither ist die aktive Teilnahme von Rasika genannten Musikliebhabern nicht mehr aus dem Musikleben Indiens wegzudenken.

Die Tambura (Tānpūra in Nordindien) hat meist vier Saiten. Ihre heutige Form ist seit dem 17. Jahrhundert bekannt und vereinigt Merkmale der indischen Zither (Vīnā oder Bīn) mit denen der Langhalslaute.

Von ähnlichen Instrumenten benachbarter Regionen (Tanbur) unterscheidet es sich sowohl durch seine Funktion als durch seine Spielweise. Spätestens seit dem 13. Jahrhundert bedienen indische Musiker sich nämlich eines Grundtons “Sa”, den sie – je nach Stimmlage oder Soloinstrument – frei wählen können.

Als Halteton (Bordun) bildet “Sa” den Ausgangspunkt für melodische Gestalten, die man mit “Färbung des Geistes” (Rāga), also Gefühlsausdruck, bezeichnet. Ein reicher Fundus recht unterschiedlicher Ragas ermöglicht es, jede nur denkbare Stimmung (Rasa) auszudrücken. 

Auf dieser scheinbar einfachen Grundlage entwickelten sich 72 Tonleitern als Orientierung für Komponisten, Musiker und Tänzer. Zudem schafft die Tambura ein geeignetes Umfeld, in dem der musikalische und poetische Ausdruck vieler Epochen und Kulturen zu einem Ganzen zusammenwachsen – und doch immer persönlich – bleiben konnte.

Hörbeispiel: Tambura gespielt von Ludwig Pesch

Foto des Instruments im Hörbeispiel

Tanjore-style Carnatic tambura.JPG
Photo (C) Martin Spaink Wikimedia

De tambura

Tambura_sculpture_Arun

Tekst: Ludwig Pesch | Vertaling: Mieke Beumer | Deutsch | English
Art: Arun VC

Het belangrijkste begeleidingsinstrument van India – ook bekend als tanpura – sierde de salons van vorsten, kooplieden en courtisanes lang voordat het ruim een eeuw geleden zijn intocht deed in het openbare concertleven. Zijn huidige vorm, meestal met vier snaren, is sinds de zeventiende eeuw bekend. Het verenigt in zich kenmerken van de Indiase citer (vina of bin) met die van de langhals-luit. Van gelijkvormige instrumenten uit aangrenzende regio’s onderscheidt het zich zowel door haar functie als door de wijze van bespelen: waarschijnlijk al vanaf de dertiende eeuw gebruiken Indiase musici namelijk de grondtoon ‘Sa’. Deze wordt vrij gekozen overeenkomstig de stem van de zanger of het stemregister van het solo-instrument. Als steuntoon (bourdon) vormt hij het uitgangspunt voor melodische vormen, die men als raga (kleurschakering) aanduidt. Een rijke schat van zeer uiteenlopende raga’s maakt het zowel componisten als musici mogelijk elke denkbare stemming (rasa) uit de drukken

Luister naar de klank van de tambura; hier bespeeld door Ludwig Pesch

Foto van het instrument waarmee dit geluidsfragment is opgenomen

Tanjore-style Carnatic tambura.JPG
Photo © Martin Spaink Wikimedia

Audio | Homage to Max Mueller: cultural programmes & seminar

A radio programme by Christoph Hahn with German introductions and explanations © 2000 Bayerischer Rundfunk

Excerpts from live programmes and report (click Download >View to listen/read)

Sruti Magazine (India’s premier music and dance magazine, PDF 560 KB):

Excerpt

1974 stamp of India © Wikipedia

Max Mueller Bhavan (German Cultural Institute) in Chennai organised a clutch of cultural programmes and a seminar during 28-30 November 2000 to mark the death centenary of Max Mueller, a great Indologist. Born in 1823, Mueller died when he was 77.

Mueller is remembered for stimulating widespread interest in Indology, mythology, philosophy, comparative religion, linguistics and social criticism. The special cultural relations between India and Germany are largely attributed to his works.

Mueller never visited India. But, had he come to India, he would likely have sought the company of musicians and scholars in the field of the performing arts, considering that he wanted to become a musician and belonged to a family that considered music and poetry a way of life. His first love was indeed music which he would have taken up as a profession but for the unfavourable climate for such a pursuit in his days.

The famous Indologist is best known all over the world for the publication of the Sacred Books of the East (51 volumes), amongst several other works. He was an ardent promoter of Indian independence and cultural self-assertion.

Max Mueller Bhavan, Chennai, entrusted Ludwig Pesch, a German who has spent years learning and studying Carnatic music, with the task of planning a befitting programme of tribute in Chennai in the wider context of a major German festival under way in India. Hundreds of German artists and scholars are presently touring India but Pesch was to help mount a celebration of a different kind- primarily with and for South Indian participants.

Dr. Eleonore Rahimi (Institutsleiterin, Max Mueller Bhavan Chennai) & Ludwig Pesch

Ludwig Pesch felt that this presented him with an opportunity to highlight the manner in which Max Mueller would have wanted the manifestations and contributions of other civilizations to be recognised, and to explore cultural achievements connecting people from different periods and places. In the event, he sought and secured the cooperation of several renowned performers and scholars, and the students of Brhaddhvani, to be Max Mueller’s guides on ‘a cultural tour’ of South India.

The celebrations began with an invocation and ended with a Musical Journey, both presented by Brhaddhvani’s students.

The morning and afternoon sessions organised at the Max Mueller Bhavan consisted of lecture demonstrations by the artists of four public programmes held at the MMB and at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium.

There were also lectures and lecdems by several eminent scholars in accordance with their chosen fields of specialisation: Dr. K.V. Ramesh (Patronage in South Indian Performing Arts: Evidence from Epigraphical Records); Dr. Premeela Gurumurthy (Harikatha Kalakshepam: A popular multicultural art in the 19th and early 20th centuries); Nirmala Paniker with her daughter and disciple, Kapila (Mohini Attam: About the research conducted at Natanakairali); P. Nanda Kumar (Dance music in Kerala: edakka with mizhavu players of the Natanakairali ensemble); Dr. Prema Nandakumar (References to South Indian Performing arts in early literature); Dr. V.V. Srivatsa (Language in Indian Art); Vidya Shankar (Sanskrit and Music); Rajkumar Bharathi (Bharatiyar’s contribution to the South Indian music repertoire); T.R. Sundaresan with Pakala Ramdas (The beauty of Yati patterns); S. Rajam with disciples and T.R. Sundaresan (Max Mueller’s great musical contemporaries in different parts of South India: Parameswara Bhagavatar, Patnam Subramania Iyer, Ponniah Pillai, Vedanayakam Pillai, and Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar).

Considering that theatre was the original performing art which also comprised dance and music to varying degrees, the first day was entirely devoted to theatre and Harikatha. The second was devoted to dance, and the third to music to reflect the evolution of these arts in their own right.

G. Venu, Founder-Director, Natanakairali (Irinjalakuda) gave the opening lecture-demonstration titled ‘Koodiyattam, the Sanskrit theatre of Kerala: Research, training and presentation in the tradition of Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar’. The story of this small, but famous cultural centre is fascinating and unique in having quietly worked with minimum resources, but successfully so, for the revival of Kerala’s traditional performance traditions over a period of 25 years, this being the silver jubilee.

Source: HOMAGE TO MAX MUELLER IN CHENNAI: PRESENTATIONS OF MUSIC, DANCE & DRAMA
Sruti, India’s premier music and dance magazine – Issue 197, February 2001
https://www.sruti.com/febmar01/febn&n2.html17.10.2001

Learn more: Max Mueller (Wikipedia) >>

Rhythmic patterns and sound that came before sense

The mockingbird’s elusive complexity still sounds like a code waiting to be cracked. It may be harder to answer the question of what birds sing than why! Think of the power of mantras, Hindu incantations that on the surface are composed of nonsense syllables but when internalized lead the soul to higher spiritual states. So are the sounds still nonsense? The mantra’s power lies in the telling and repeating, not in any specific message conveyed by the arrangement of sounds.

Berkely philosopher Frits Staal realized that this kind of communication has something in common with the way we have come to understand bird song. It is not quite music, not quite language, but rather a structured string of sounds with a clear ritual purpose. Mantras are meant to be repeated by the chanter over and over, approaching endless repetition as the sound swirls inside the brain. You hypnotize yourself with the endless possibility in each abstract sound and the crystallization of the pattern.

Sanskrit is among the oldest languages, of all our Indo-European tongues. Now [Frits] Staal* says mantras, rhythms of sound that do not quite make sense, may lie at the roots of Sanskrit. Here’s an ancient song from the Vedas to be sung in the forest: Ayamayamayamayamayamayamauhova. Literally all it means is “thisonethisonethisonethisonethisonnnnnne …” You are supposed to sing it when you consecrate an altar out of doors. Staal believes such resonating, repeating measures of sound may be older than human language itself. It may have worked like this: Our ancestors chanted rhythmic patterns of sound long before we ever thought that sounds should signify specific things. Sound came before sense, before we had history, back in the time of birds. Language came out of ritual rather than the other way around.

Why birds sing : a journey through the mystery of bird song by David Rothenberg. New York: Basic Books ©2005, pp. 184-5.

https://www.worldcat.org/oclc/896845100

* Frits Staal. Ritual and mantras: rules without meaning. New York: Peter Lang, 1990, p. 305

https://www.worldcat.org/oclc/954122166

Other editions: Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996, 1993.

Video | Chor@Berlin 2017: Ode an die Nacht (Ausschnitt)

Chor@Berlin 2017: Ode an die Nacht (Ausschnitt) from Deutscher Chorverband on Vimeo.

Mit „Ode an die Nacht“ gelangte im Rahmen von Chor@Berlin am 24. Februar 2017 im Radialsystem V das letzte Werk von Harald Weiss’ „Darkness Project“ zur Uraufführung.

Kammerchor Berlin (Einstudierung: Stefan Rauh)
Concentus Neukölln – Ensemble der Musikschule Paul-Hindemith, Neukölln (Einstudierung: Thomas Hennig)
Berliner Mädchenchor (Einstudierung: Sabine Wüsthoff)

Indischer Gesang und Tambura: Manickam Yogeswaran
Blues-Gesang: Hanno Bruhn
Bajan: Mateja Zenzerovic
Klavier und Synthesizer: Peter Müller
Violine: Kinneret Sieradzki
Kontrabass: Guy Tuneh
Schlagzeug: Viorel Chiriacescu, Daniel Eichholz und Alexandros Giovanos
Elektro-akustische Vorproduktion: Harald Weiss
Stimme: Andrea Gubisch
Gesamtleitung: Thomas Hennig

Disputationes Salzburg

Indische Spiritualität in Kunst und Kultur

Herbert-Batliner-Europainstitut in Kooperation mit den Salzburger Festspielen im Rahmen der Ouverture spirituelle

Impulsreferate Montag, 20. Juli 2015, 15.00 – 18.00 Uhr
Gesprächsrunde 17:00 – 18:00 im Haus für Mozart

  • Heidrun Brückner: Mythologische Stoffe und hinduistische Epen auf der Bühne
  • Ludwig Pesch: Raum für Ideen? Zeit zum Spiel! Zum Sinn eines unbefangeneren Umgangs mit der „klassischen“ Musik Indien – Zusammenfassung >>
  • Michael von Brück: Sparsha – Indische Kunst und Kultur als religiöser Raum

Video | Vocalist Manickam Yogeswaran at the Global Music Academy in Berlin

Manickam Yogeswaram is teaching South Indian Carnatic singing at the Global Music Academy in Berlin.  Stop by or sign up here >>

Address Bergmannstr. 29 |  10961 Berlin | Germany | www.global-music-academy.net

More about Manickam Yogeswaram >>

Yogeswaran’s music is steeped in the Temple traditions of South India.

He is a disciple of Padmabushan Sangitha Kalanidhi Sri T V Gopalakrishnan.

Yogeswaran performs worldwide: from traditional “Carnatic” formats (accompanied by violin, mirdangam, kanjira and tambura) to orchestras just as in musicals and in the context of Western contemporary music.

As noted by Indian and Western reviewers, his concerts are marked by a rear blend of creativity, virtuosity and high emotive quality.

He was the first ever Tamil voice in Hollywood.

More on https://www.facebook.com/manickam.yogeswaran >>