Semmangudi R. Srinivasa Iyer
Iyer was the third son born to Radhakrishna Iyer and
Dharmasamvardhini Ammal. Born on 25th July 1908, he
grew up in the village of Semmangudi which is in the
cradle of Carnatic music, Tanjavur District, South India.
No doubt this little village is now world renowned due
to Srinivasa Iyer. From the age of 5, the young lad
showed an aptitude and interest in music. The success
in the field of music by Dharmasamvardhini’s brother,
Tirukodikaval Krishna Iyer (one of the first successful
Carnatic musicians who played violin), and her nephew
Narayanaswami Iyer, led Radhakrishna Iyer to decide
that music would be a good career for his son. Hence
from the age of nine, Semmangudi started receiving music
Semmangudi had the opportunity to learn music under
four distinguished musical stalwarts. He started his
musical training in 1917 (on the auspicious Vijayadasami
day) with his cousin-brother, Sri Semmangudi Narayanaswami
Iyer, who was a violinist. Later he had the opportunity
to study music with the eminent gottuvadhyam artiste,
Sakharama Rao, and also vocalist Sangeetha Kalanidhi
Sri Umayalpuram Swaminatha Iyer. The latter had learnt
music from direct disciples of Thyagaraja. Finally,
Semmangudi had training from the acclaimed vocalist,
Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer,
also a disciple of Swaminatha Iyer. Semmangudi had the
chance to provide vocal support to Viswanatha Iyer in
several concerts. The style of tuition, under each of
his four gurus, always in the gurukula tradition where
the student lived with the teacher, ensured the best
environment to learn music.
Semmangudi’s rise to fame was quite meteoric. In the
late 1930s he was considered as one of the front line
vocalists of the period and in 1947, the Music Academy
of Madras awarded him the title Sangeetha Kalanidhi.
Aged 39, he was the youngest artiste to receive the
award. Today he is the oldest surviving Sangeetha Kalanidhi.
During his illustrious career, Semmangudi held many
notable positions. In 1939 he was made Asthana Vidwan
(resident musician) of the Travancore Palace in Kerala
and joined the Swati Tirunal Music Academy in Trivandrum
in 1941. He soon became the Principal of this institution
and was there till 1963. From the period 1956-59, taking
a leave of absence from the Academy, he also served
as Chief Producer of Carnatic Music at All India Music,
Part of his role at the Swati Tirunal Academy was to
revive the compositions of Maharaja Swati Tirunal. For
many of the compositions, the text was available but
there was no indication about the tune. Semmangudi,
along with Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar and others
were given the task to set music to the Maharaja’s lyrics.
Semmangudi has brought out two publications which give
the notation to over 200 of Swati Tirunal’s compositions.
Furthermore, he tried to include at least two Swati
Tirunal compositions in each of his concerts. Deva Deva
(Mayamalavagowla), Pankajalochana (Kalyani) and Bhavayami
Raghuramam (Ragamalika) are just some of the compositions
that were both tuned and popularised by him. The latter,
a description of the epic Ramayana, was originally entirely
set in Saveri raga but Semmangudi transformed it into
a ragamalika (beginning with Saveri) and added a scintillating
set of chitta-swarams.
Semmangudi has large set of prominent disciples, some
of whom did gurukulavasam, others whom he taught while
at the Swati Tirunal Academy and others who took casual
lessons with him. His prominent disciples include two
Sangeetha Kalanidhi-s: Prof. T. N. Krishnan (who accompanied
him on violin in many concerts) and T. M. Thiagarajan.
Disciple P. S. Narayanaswamy is a well respected musician.
Kallidakurichi S. Harihara Iyer had a long association
with Semmangudi and also became the Principal of the
Swati Tirunal Academy. Another disciple, K. R. Kumaraswamy
Iyer also held the same position. Other notable disciples
include Palai C. K. Ramachandran and V. Subramaniam
(both of whom still provide vocal support to Semmangudi),
Neyatinkara Vasudevan, Vaigal Gnanaskandan, Parasala
Ponnammal and K. Omanakutty. M. S. Subbulakshmi and
K. J. Yesudas (a Music College disciple) have also learnt
many compositions from Semmangudi.
The music of Semmangudi has a certain magnetism about
it. In his concerts, he generally has concentrated on
krithis, neraval and swaram singing rather than elaborate
raga alapanas, which are generally neat and succinct.
His exuberant singing of adjacent swaras in rapid succession
is prominent element of his unique style. His brilliant
exposition of Kharaharapriya raga led people to refer
to him as ‘Kharaharapriya Srinivasa Iyer’.
Semmangudi’s repertoire consists of some 800 compositions.
He has sung varnams in his concerts on a few occasions
but generally chooses to commence with a krithi in Mayamalavagowla
or a Ganapathi krithi.