Nedunuri Garu, a superb teacher too
Carnatic music is continuously losing some of the greatest musicians each year, and with a saddened heart, I come to know that Sangeetha Kalanidhi Nedunuri Krishnamurthy passed away in Vishakapatnam after a serious cancer attack.
Dr. Sripada Pinakapani was one of the legendary musician-musicologist. Apparently, like Sri Rangaramanuja Iyengar of Kriti Mani Malai, Dr Pinakapani was keen on listening to the music of Veenai Danammal and her rich repertoire of padam music of bygone days. He was keen on nurturing an
authentic and musically orthodox school around him, and he was lucky to spot Nedunuri Krishnamurthy as a superb classical and truly orthodox master student. When Nedunuri came to Madras music season to perform, the first one to notice his classicism was our legendary violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman. He found that Sri Nedunuri Krishnamurthy was not just an orthodox musician, but in fact a very orthodox person in every sense. And, the two found in each other the right chemistry for an excellent concert team.
Sri Nedunuri and Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman have some similarities in their styles. Their creative aspects are strictly within the grammar of the just past generation of legendary musicians such as Ariyakkudi and so on. In addition to this, Nedunuri was one of the first musicians from Andhra who was willing to accept the greatness of Tamil composer Sri Papanasam Sivan, which, in all honesty, was quite unusual for Andhra musicians. His expansive alapana in Shanmughapriya followed by Papanasam Sivan’s immortal composition Saravana Bhava Enum was a major part of many of his concerts all over India with Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman. While Voleti Venkateswarulu from Andhra tried to integrate his creative talents in both Carnatic and Hindustani music, Sri Nedunuri found great value in team efforts and a willingness to accept Tamil compositions that he felt as deep and effective for audiences across India.
Simultaneously, he was trying to carve out new path for his creative urge. While Annamacharya’s music was floating in Andhra area in sporadic forms with folk tunes, and devotees of Lord Venkateswara treated them with religious respect, he found that it was a fertile poetic format of a more authentic Telugu poetic form that could be molded to higher level forms of Carnatic kritis.
Just like Ariyakkudi composed the musical format for Thiruppavai, he was keen on giving such an authentic Carnatic classical structure to Annamacharya’s poetic outpourings in the unique tradition of Saint Tyagaraja. Having mastered the sangathi format of several compositions of Saint Tyagaraja , and knowing the inner meaning of Annamacharya’s bhakti-laden poems, he chose more than 100 among the large number of poems of Annamacharya and set them to Kriti format in many pracheena ragas such as Mukhari, Bhowli , Shankharabharanam , Madhyamavati etc. in lilting music set to krit format.
While Ariyakkudi’s Thiruppavai set to music as compositions were later popularized by Smt. M.L. Vasantha Kumari , and many temples reverberate with that music all over Tamil Nadu during the month of Margazhi, the poems of Annamacharya set to music by Shri Nedunuri was later popularized by Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi, and needless to say, it has become an eternal part of morning music all over many temples in Andhra Pradesh and notably at Thirupathi. At a popular level, Shri Nedunuri’s version is also sung by Shri Balakrishna Prasad as part of Annamacharya Foundation in Thirupathi area. This fundamental contribution will stay eternal in Carnatic music, and even in light music circles.
No Carnatic concert is complete without one or two pieces from the lilting Annamacharya compositions. Often ignorant music lovers get confused between the poet’s contribution and the music set to the poem. We will not know in what tunes the original poet composed the poem.
In this connection, I would like to make some personal remarks:
When Shri Nedunuri Garu visited the U.S. during 1976-78 period, I attended the concert at Oak Park, IL, near my apartment. After the concert, I asked him, “How come you chose to sing many of the Annamacharya Kritis as sung in the LP record by M.S. Subbulakshmi”? He politely answered: “Raghavan Garu … don’t you think that the person who set those poems to music has the right to sing them?” I was shocked and apologized profusely to this great musician for my query. In more recent times, Dr. Sonty Sriram, who runs the Annamacharya Foundation, brought Nedunuri Garu and honored him, and released some CDs on Annamacharya. In the private party at Dr. Sonty’s house when I talked to Nedunuri Garu, I came to know that the original poems were set to music by the poet himself in approximately 60 tunes and we still do not know the original tunes. I again queried him, “how come you did not bring out the Kritis with music notations?” He said he had them in Telugu script. “I only made one comment. It would spread much faster among music loving people across the four language-speaking South Indian states if only the book is produced in either Devanagari or in Roman script.’’
Nedunuri Garu is not just a performing musician but also a superb teacher for talented musicians. Like Ariyakkudi’s bani was carried on for another generation by Shri K.V .Narayanswamy, the bani of Nedunuri is currently being carried on for the next generation by his disciples Shri Malladi Brothers. CTU is proud to say that his contribution to music is spread through the many concerts we arranged here in Chicago of Malladi Brothers, and one feels Shri Nedunuri and his music are very much alive when we listen to his prime disciples.
(This is note circulated by Dr. Dr. T.E.S. Raghavan. We are happy to reproduce it here as a tribute to Nedunuri Garu)
ALSO READ: Nedunuri Krishnamoorthy