Playing notes steeped in dignity and simplicity, TN Krishnan (1928-2020) was an exemplar of the Carnatic violin, remembers S Saketharaman
A unique blend of quite a few elements made TN Krishnan’s music distinct from his equally illustrious contemporaries, but I will tell you more about that soon. First, about the looks of the maestro. How good-looking! He carried a noble air, which in Tamil we say raajakalai (royal looks). With his well-combed hair, clean-shaven face and ironed clothes, TNK appeared perpetually fresh. It’s rarely people grow in handsomeness as they advance in age. TNK, doubtlessly, was one.
For all the apparent aristocracy, TNK was very simple at heart. Sadly, I haven’t had an opportunity to interact with him personally. But from stories around, he was definitely down to earth.
It can’t be otherwise, going by his artistry. An elegant austerity was the hallmark of his conduct on the dais. Each note was dignified, pure.
Dignity and purity. I highlight this because I find these two most striking about TNK’s musicianship. In Carnatic, there was a period (till seven years ago) when TNK formed a trio with stalwarts Lalgudi Jayaraman and M S Gopalakrishnan of his generation.
Lalgudi (1930-2013), my own guru, was more known for his brilliance and aesthetics. MSG (1931-2013) was a manifestation of mastery and virtuosity. When it comes to TNK, let me repeat, dignity and purity of the notes were the most striking.
What I meant is there won’t be a moment you wait to clap when it’s TNK playing. It is so full of gravitas all the time. He made no effort to show off anywhere. He was least keen to be playful. No trace a gimmick either.
In short, you just listen to a TNK concert in complete silence. You forget to applaud in between. For, there is no chosen time for it. It is simply sweetness in tranquillity. This is rare in south Indian classical. Very few masters own this feature. Say, a KV Narayanaswamy, an MD Ramanathan.
Coming to another yesteryear titan, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar (1896-1974) used to evaluate three violin-mridangam combinations, which he thought was the best in his times. With a tinge of self-styled humour, Bhagavathar, I’ve read somewhere, would say: Jayaram-Sivaram, Gopala-Gopala and Krishnan-Raman. That is Lalgudi with Umayalpuram Sivaraman, MSG with TV Gopalakrishnan and TNK with Vellore Ramabhadran.
Bang on! Again, the mridangam of Vellore sir (1929-2012) bore a mix of sweetness and simplicity, which only TNK’s violin can match. Both gave us an experience where we can only be happy. So peaceful, we fail to dissect how or from where it comes. You simply can’t measure TNK’s musicianship with your intelligence. There can be no manmade yardsticks for it.
TNK was a natural musician. By that, I no way imply that his formative years were devoid of hard work. Most of us do slog, but it sometimes shows on stage. TNK never sweated while playing the violin. The alapanam, kriti, neraval, swaraprastaram…everything will just flow on their own.
Brevity. Another quality! I infer that came from the iconic Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar (1890-1967). TNK, as a youngster, had accompanied Ariyakudi in several kacheris. There’s an Ariyakudi piece in Varali I keep listening to a lot. A Thiruppavai. Aazhimazhai Kanna. It spans a mere 10 minutes, but the rendition encompasses everything about the raga.
I enjoy the pleasure of getting accompaniment on the violin by a TNK disciple. Charumathi Raghuraman. When she plays, I am often reminded of TNK. And also his sister N Rajam, who specialises in Hindustani violin.
TNK never went for long-winding ideas. His bowing was crisp, to the point. I think it is a valuable tip for any of us into Carnatic music.