Sunday, October 13, 2013

Musiri Subramania Iyer

Musiri Subramania Iyer

Musiri Subramania Iyer (April 9, 1899 - March 25, 1975) was a Carnatic vocalist who's stage performing career spanned the 1920s to the 1940s. After retirement from the stage, he remained an iconic figure in Carnatic music as a dedicated teacher and leader in the Carnatic community. His bhava-laden renditions of Carnatic songs have become the measuring stick for generations of Carnatic vocalists. Musiri Subramania Iyer is one of the giants of Carnatic music in this century.

Biographical sketch

Musiri, as he was universally known, was born in Bommalapalayam in the Trichy district of Tamil Nadu. His father, Sankara Sastry was a Sanskrit pandit. One of three siblings, he lost his mother, Seethalakshmi, as a boy and his sister Rajathi passed when she was but a child. His family was poor—in later life Musiri seldom spoke about those early years. He married Nagalakshmi when he was 14 years old. Musiri learned to fluently speak, read and write in English when he was 17. Inspired by the singing of a popular acting star of those days, S. G. Kittappa, he decided to become a musician. Like Kittappa, Musiri had a strong vocal range in the higher octaves, and could imitate the former's hit songs with ease.

Musiri's initial training in music was under S. Narayanaswamy Iyer for two years, before moving to Chennai for more serious studies with violinist Karur Chinnaswami Iyer. Due to a lack of time to devote to teaching, Chinnaswami sent him to become the disciple of renowned vocal teacher T.S. Sabhesa Iyer who lived in Purasawalkam. Musiri trained with him for 9 years in the guru shishya parampara, learning his guru's particular way of performing neraval that Musiri would later become famous for. He made his debut in Chennai in 1920. His name was announced as "Subramania Iyer of Musiri" and the name stuck. (As per tradition in India, the town the artist hails from is sometimes added as a prefix to ones name, honoring the town while simultaneously giving a distinction of a specific geographical nature to the artist, such as Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, etc.) Given that Musiri was not born in Musiri, accounts differ as to why the name Musiri was added to his name. Musiri once stated that it was simply because Musiri was a more well known location than Musiri's home town of Bommalapalayam, and easier to say as a prefix. Whatever the case, Musiri was a prolific and expert performer, and within 10 years his reputation as a master musician across India was sealed. More.....

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