MS Gopalakrishnan: Revered Southern Indian violinist

 

MS Gopalakrishnan, or MSG as he was known, was one of the three most senior violinists of South India's classical tradition. Though that tradition is fond of its Trinities – its most illustrious is that of the Hindu poet-musician-composers Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri and Tyagaraja – it doles out the title sparingly. With T N Krishnan and Lalgudi G Jayaraman, however, M S Gopalakrishnan formed its Violin Trinity.

Waves of seafarers, traders and colonists took European violins to the subcontinent. Indigenous musicians found the instrument relatively easy to master, highly adaptable and capable of microtonal nuance. Being India, there are counter-claims that the violin is in fact Indian in origin, but the violin that musicians popularised from the 1800s onwards was European in origin and not like its putative Indian forebears.

Unlike native stringed instruments, the violin was highly portable, structurally robust, compact, and fitter when warding off attacks from the six seasons and wood-loving beetle larvae and termites. Pockets of violin playing developed around, for example, the East India Company's Calcutta base in Bengal and the Portuguese colony of Goa in the west. In the north, the instrument had to compete with the phenomenally versatile sarangi and fared less well. However, the place where it made the greatest cultural inroads was in Hinduism's South Indian heartland.

Before taking up the European violin, Baluswami Dikshitar (1786-1859), brother to the Holy Trinity's Muthuswami Dikshitar, had played the vina, which has its frets fixed in hard wax. Switching to the fretless violin, he supported his brother Chinnaswami singing devotional music, in so doing becoming India's first violin champion. Violin became, so to speak, not only religiously sanctioned and all the rage, but also a pioneering example for the "appropriate accompaniment" debate.

By the time that Gopalakrishnan was born near Madras – now Chennai – in 1931, the violin had risen to be recognised as one of the premier instruments for accompanist and for principal soloists. Born into a violin dynasty, he was the son of Parur Sundaram Iyer (or Ayyer), with whom he made his public debut at the age of eight, and younger brother to the violin-playing M S Anantharaman. Also applied as a prefix to MSG, Parur is a naming convention pinpointing the settlement near Kalady in modern-day Kerala where Sundaram Iyer was born. In time Parur was also added to the trademark style of playing which the family fostered and became famed for. Still later, it became known as the Parur-MSG style.

Several characteristics set what became known as the Parur style apart. Beginning with Sundaram Iyer, it was bilingual. This meant that the family played violin in both the northern Hindustani and the southern Carnatic art music styles. In performance they kept the two related, though separate styles apart, even if quotations from, or allusions to the other classical system might be deployed for effect. In this respect, the family's approach differed markedly from that of the family dynasty to which T N Krishnan belongs. His father, A Narayana Iyer, had his children and grandchildren choose one or the other path. Thus T N Krishnan took the southern and his sister, Dr N Rajam, the northern path, though each was adept in both.

N Rajapolan, in his encyclopaedic A Garland: A Biographical Dictionary of Carnatic Composers & Musicians (1990), described M S Gopalakrishnan as "one of the top violinists with international appeal" – and Yehudi Menuhin supposedly praised him fulsomely.

While MSG toured extensively – performing in North America, Western Europe (including Britain), Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and South Africa – his recorded legacy is meagre; indeed, MSG had only two LPs to illustrate his unmistakable, lyric-driven violin style with its innovative fingering and bowing techniques. Nevertheless, he will be remembered as one of the pivotal violinists of his era.

He is survived by his wife, his daughters, M Narmadha and Latha, and son, Suresh. Both Dr. Narmadha and Suresh maintain the family's violin tradition.

M S Gopalakrishnan, violinist and teacher: born Mylapore, Madras Presidency British India (now Tamil Nadu) 10 June 1931; married Meenakshi (two daughters, one son); died Chennai, Tamil Nadu 3 January 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence