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Amelia Cuni

Sings Dhrupad HSL 014

Morning Raga-s recorded live in Bombay
01 Alap Raga Shuddha Todi
02 Chautal Raga Shuddha Todi
03 Dhamar Raga Shuddha Todi
04 Alap Raga Nat-Bhairav
05 Chautal Raga Nat-Bhairav
Amelia Cuni : Vocals, Tampura
Ravishankar Upadhyay : Pakhawaj
Marianne Svasek : Tampura

Recorded Live at the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre in Bombay 
on the 26th of January, 1995 by Rajiv Deshpande.
Mixed by Amelia Cuni and Stefano Musso on Pro-tools, December 1998.
The CD was reprint on the Navras Record, London in November 2000.

Sings Dhrupad

Masterof dhrupad traditional indian chant,present an exceptional performance live inBombay


Onthis recording, Amelia Cuni presents two ragas, both of which, according to thetime-theory of Indian music, are prescribed for early morning performance, andare associated with a devotional mood. They form a part of Amelia's single mostbrilliant concert appearance in India, which catapulted her into celebritystatus.

Theperformance was recorded live at the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre in Bombay (January26,1995). This institution invites performances with utmost discernment, makesthe most stringent demands on their musicianship, evaluates concerts astutely,and rewards the worthy with recognition like none other.

Ms.Cuni is recognised today as the finest non-Indian exponent of vocal music in themideaval Dhrupad style, and probably the only significant Dhrupad vocalistamongst women anywhere. Ms. Cuni's achievement is exceptional because of her command over all thedepartments of the art form -- the grammar of the Raga melodic structures, therhythmic disciplines, sensitivity to the literary content of the poetic form,and the distinctive technique of voice production with its demands onbreath-control, lung-power, and tonal precision. This recording also establishes Ms. Cuni as a highly original musician. She hasintegrated her training with maestros from three different stylistic traditionsof Dhrupad music into a refreshing and distinctive esthetic experience. Itsoriginality lies in its spacious melodic vision, the absence of obviousmasculinity which characterises traditional Dhrupad, and its subtle, thoughastute, handling of rhythmic intricacies. Ms. Cuni's music is intellectually subtle, grammatically sound, andstructurally orthodox. But, a great deal of her music's appeal rests on theresplendent luminosity of her voice, and the emotional intensity with which shecharges her renditions. For, in the ultimate analysis, all art must liberategrammar in order to become emotionally irresistible.


Theterm Dhrupad (Dhruva = immutable/ fixed + Pada = Hymn/ verse) refers to a styleof presenting Raga based music which dominated Hindustani (North Indian)classical music between the 15th and the 18th centuries. Dhrupad has its originsin an unbroken musical tradition going back to the pre-Christian era. Thetradition has, over the millenia, shaped two distinct streams: the originaldevotional form, "Haveli Sangeet" (the Dhrupad of the temples) and itslater manifestation, Darbari Dhrupad (The Dhrupad of RoyalCourts) which is the performing art. In its present form, Darbari Dhrupad, theperforming art, is an offshoot of "Prababdha Gana" (Prabandha =organisation/structure, "Gana" = song/singing), which enjoyed great popularity between the 11th and 13thcenturies. The Golden Age of Dhrupad commenced when the Mughal Emperor Akbar (Reign:1542-1605),invited the legendary musician, Mian Tansen, to to be one of the "Navratnas"(Nav= Nine, Ratna=gem) at the Imperial Court.

Startingfrom the 18th century, Dhrupad receded from the mainstream, attractingprogressively fewer listeners, and even fewer talented musicians. Since themid-1960's Dhrupad is going through some kind of revival. Spearheading therevival are two distinguished families of hereditary Dhrupad musicians -- theDagars from Rajasthan (North-western India), and the Maliks from Darbhanga (EasternIndia) -- both of whom have preserved the art-form for almost 400 years, andtrained a sizeable number of Indian, European and American students and scholars.Because of its devotional character, Dhrupad is predominantly a vocal tradition.However, instrumental music, mainly the Rudra Veena, dance (Brihaspati,1989),and even theatrical performances, including Rasalila (ballet with religiousthemes) have been associated with the Dhrupad tradition. In comparison with themodern Khayal style of vocal music, Dhrupad is austere, sparing in its use ofmelodic embellishments, subtle in the demonstration of virtuosity, meticulous inits respect for its literary content, and firmly anchored in the orthodoxprinciples of melodic organisation. What Dhrupad denies to its audiences interms of sensuous and cerebral excitement, it more than compensates by impartinga distinctively elevating experience. The estheticassumptions of Dhrupad are dominated by an austere philosophy of architectonics.Le Corbusier (Towards a New Architecture), describes a building is a machine tolive in. Nothing more; nothing less. Extending this metaphor, Dhrupad is amusical machine for the expression of a Raga's emotional content. Nothing more;nothing less. To Le Corbusier, asit is to Dhrupad, the plan i.e., the functional organisation of spaces (aconcept compatible with the meaning of "Prabandha" in Sanskrit) iseverything; any element which does not derive inevitably from the plan, iseither sculpture or ornamentation, and therefore not architecture, and thereforeredundant. If Dhrupad representsthe architecture-dominant facet of Hindustani music, the latter-day Khayal stylequalifies as strong on sculpture, and the light/ semi-classical Thumree genres,as strong on ornamentation. By discouraging sculpture and ornamentation, anddisciplining the organisation of melodic material, Dhrupad frees the musician tofocus all his artistic energies into what is critical to the emotional charge ofthe music -- (a) absolute tonal fidelity achieved through arduous practice ofbreath-control and voice training, (b) meticulous adherance to the grammar ofthe Raga. The appeal of Dhrupadto the western mind is a part of the attraction of the Indian Raga system as aframework for individual creativity. But, what has made Dhrupad more popular, inthe West, than the modern Khayal style is its easier accessibility. And, what makes itmore accessible is (i) the emphasis on tonal fidelity and emotional richnessarising from this, (ii) an adherance to a systematic structure of melodicdevelopment, (iii) and a presentation format that separates the melodicallycomplex from the rhythmically complex, thus obviating the need to absorb thesimultaneous manipulation of melodic and rhythmic elements.


UnlikeWestern classical music, Indian art music combines the role of the composer andperformer in the person of the performer. However, since every performer cannotpossibly have the makings of a great composer, the musical system provides himwith esthetically coherent melodic frame-works within which to exercise hisimprovisational creativity. These melodic frame-works, called ragas, haveevolved over the millennia as virtual archetypes with clearly defined, andwidely shared, emotional, visual, and sometimes, even seasonal, mythological andhistorical associations. The task before the composer-performer is to utilisethe "grammar" of these archetypal structures, and to create "literature"which unlock their subterranian meaning. The "grammar" of each raga isspecific enough to establish its unique identity amongst ragas, while being openenough to trigger an infinite variety of aural experiences, from musician tomusician, and even for the same musician, from concert to concert. The Ragasystem thus provides the basis, simultaneously, for continuity and familiarityon the one hand, and change anddiversity on the other.


Boththe Ragas on this recording are presented in the two-part orthodox Dhrupadformat. The first part, called the "alap" (Sanskrit for: Informalconversation or Introduction), follows a traditional melodic progression, but istotally improvised and rendered without percussion accompaniment. The secondpart, rendered to percussion accompaniment, is called the "pada" (Sanskritfor: Hymn or devotional verse). The poetic frame of the "pada"presentation is totally pre-composed; but the musician is permitted a limitedvariety of melodic-rhythmic improvisations around the frame. The estheticfunction of the Alap is to interpret the "grammar" of a Ragacomprehensively, freely, and originally, with the purpose of expressing its"Rasa" (essential emotional content). Being the most abstract andunfettered form of melodic expression in Indian music, the Alap is the ultimatetest of musicianship, but more specifically, of the musician as composer (Sharma,1977).

Thefull-fledged Dhrupad Alap is rendered in three paces/tempi: Vilambit (slow paced),Madhya Laya (medium-paced) and Drut (fast-paced).

VilambitAlap : The slow-paced Alap is recognisable by its free-flowing melodicstructuring, devoid of any perceptible rhythm. But, there is, indeed, a subtlerhythm in it. A majority of phrases have an ascent and descent, not necessarilyin that order and, one of the two will be ever so slightly quicker than theother. In its contemporary form, the slow-tempo alap follows a step-by-stepmelodic development through two phases: (a) Sthayi (b) Antara. The Sthayidevelopes the raga form in the lower octave and lower tetrachord, while theAntara develops the raga form in the upper tetrachord and the higher octave.

MadhyaLaya Alap: The medium-tempo alap is the first Alap movement explicitlystructured to a rhythm. It is a simple two-beat rhythm, paced at about two beatsper second. Like the slow-tempo alap, the medium-tempo alap also follows astep-by-step melodic progression. However, the melodic span of each phrasestends to be wider, and the phrases are often interconnected, and normally inprogression.

DrutAlap: The fast-tempo alap does away with the step-by-step melodic progressionsof earlier sections and moves in broad melodic sweeps across the three ocvtaves.This movement generally conforms to a 4-beat pattern, and the performerfrequently plays with odd-numbered (3/5/7) beat patterns within the four-beatframework. The tempo of rendition in the drut alap can go upto about four beatsper second.

The"Pada": The rendition begins with the recitation of thepoetic-melodic-rhythmic form, as composed, followed by improvisations around it.The "Pada" (composition) itself normally has two rhyming stanzas,which together constitute an accurate delineation of the complete melodicstructure of the Raga.

Dhrupadcompositions are set to Chautal, a 12-beat rhythmic cycle, with mostcompositions beginning on the first accentuated beat of the cycle. The basicform of improvisation consists of the rendition of the Pada itself atone-and-quarter times, one-and-half times, twice, thrice, four times, andoccasionally, six times the pace of the rhythmic cycle. Such stepped-uprenditions are followed by Tihais (a melodic phrase or set of phrases renderedthrice ending, in most cases, at the Sam, the accentuated first beat of therhythmic cycle), and Chakradhars (a Tihai rendered thrice). Other improvisationconsists of Layakari (rhythmic variations) within the metric cycle based oneither the division of the tempo (Laya-banta) or division of the words of thepoetic form (Bol-banta). No other type of improvisation is allowed in theorthodox Dhrupad style.



RagaShuddha Todi is also known as Miyan-Ki-Todi, in memory of the legendary musicianMiya Tansen, who adorned the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, and is believedto have composed the Raga.


Onthe Western scale of C, this corresponds approximately to: C, D flat, E flat, Fsharp,G, A flat B

Thenormal melodic development of the Raga form is straight-forward and hexatonic,omitting the fifth (Pa tone or G on the western scale). The fifth is used veryselectively, more often in the descent than the ascent, in order to provide aresting point of peace and tranquility in an otherwise anxiety-laden melodicform. This Raga is prescribed for performance in the first two hours after sunriseand, like most early morning Ragas, is associated with a deeply devotionalsentiment. But, its religious fervour is dominated by pathos and anxiety.


NatBhairav, a popular raga, comes into being by blending raga Nat of the Bilavalparent scale with raga Bhairav representing the Bhairav parent scale. Although raga Nat is an independent raga in its own right, it is rarelyperformed in its pure form. In contemporary classical music, Nat is encounteredmostly as an embellishment of the more popular ragas, as in Nat Bhairav, orBhoop Nat, Nat Kedar, Nat Malhar, Nat Kamod, Nat Bihag etc. The raga has the character of Nat in the lower tetrachord, and of Bhairav inthe upper tetrachord. In terms of tone material, Nat Bhairav simply replaces thekomal (flat) Re tone of Bhairav with a shuddha (natural) Re tone. But, in termsof phraseology, the Nat effect imparts a moderately playful character to theprofound base-raga, Bhairav.


Onthe Western scale of C, this corresponds approximately to: C, D, E, F, G, A flat,B


SR R G G M From Nat

RG M d d P Bhairav + Re tone of Nat

MP d N S' From Bhairav

NS' N d P From Bhairav

MP d N d P From Bhairav

dP d M P G M R Bhairav + Re tone of Nat

RG M G M R S From Nat.

Thedominant tones, or melodic centres, in this raga are Ma, and base-Sa. In itsrendition, Re and Pa are used as additional resting points. The Re and Pa tonesare treated firm as in raga Nat, while the Dh tone is oscillated to communicatethe Bhairav facet of this raga. According to the time-theory of Hindustanimusic, the Raga is prescribed for performance in the early morning, between 8.00am and 10.00 am. It predominant emotionalcontent is devotional.

Commentary:Deepak Raja. WORDAGE 2213 (written May,1998)

DeepakRaja is an established Sitar and Surbahar player, belonging to the Vilayat Khanstylistic tradition, and a financial consultant by profession. He is acontributing musicologist to India Archive Music Ltd., New York, and a member ofthe Editorial Board of the Journal of the Indian Musicological Society.

Other CDs available from this artist:
Amelia Cuni - Sings Dhrupad (CD, Album)
Amelia Cuni* - Solo For Voice 58 : SONG BOOKS – 18 microtonal ragas (1970) (CD, Album)

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