View Full Version : Non Western Classical Music

December 6th, 2011, 09:26 PM
I love many non Western classical music. Especially Indian (both Hindustani and Carnatic), but also some others.

We can use this thread to post and discuss about those wonderful musical traditions.

Perhaps the Indian musician best known in the West is Ravi Shankar. Also his older brother Uday was celebrated as a choreographer. Another brother, Rajendra, is not as famous, but he married the dancer and singer Lakshmi, a spectacular vocalist and also the occasional composer.

We can listen to some samples of Lakshmi Shankar's art:

Lakshmi Shankar and Nirmala Devi-Thumri (http://www.goear.com/listen.php?v=7f4947b)

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December 7th, 2011, 09:09 PM
Oh, well, well, well.

One of my projects for my scientific initiation is exactly about Indian classical music — more precisely, how it influenced and guided Indian cinema to be what it is today, both filmmakers and audience.
I'm just getting started to it, though. It's not that easy to find good records out there, if you have especial recommendations, please don't heasitate! I'll be very greatful. (:

December 7th, 2011, 10:34 PM
This is a quite interesting subject.

For starters, I guess you will be familiar with the work of Satyajit Ray. He was a big fan of Indian Classical music, and he used it a lot in his first movies. There is one in special, Jalsaghar, that is using on screen great musicians like Ustad Wahid Khan and the Begum Akhtar. Perhaps it will be a good starting point for you.

Later, Ray considered that the priority of those performers was, of course, music rather than cinema, and he then took the decision to wrote his own soundtracks. A couple of scenes:

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December 7th, 2011, 11:30 PM
Oh, yes, I know Satyajit Ray's filmography very well (that's what I study after all, film). Love the guy. It was one of the reasons that made me choose this subject. :)

I'm currently finishing The Vedas, where Indian classical music theoretically came from. It's a wonderful reading, not only for this matter, but for life.
I got some bibliographic recommendations from a professor in the music department, a big pile of books I'm reading this holiday season.
Records, though, are less abundant in the library. I got some anthologies to listen, but I don't like anthologies much. I never really get the criteria, if there is one at all, so I'd be happy if you have some specific record recommendations.
You're totally going to be in the thanks section of the final thesis. :)

December 8th, 2011, 12:30 PM
The Vedas are the source for many things in India, but what we understand now by Indian Classical Music origins are rather in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries AD.

It's very difficult to recommend a handful of records, but I will try to give you a few outstanding examples, centered in Hindustani, rather than Carnatic, music:




The right thing here is to look for the performers, rather than the specific cds. They are representative of the more popular genres of Hindustani Classical Music (the vocal kind, I'm not really a big fan of instrumental Hindustani music).

December 8th, 2011, 04:38 PM
Thank you! :D

December 8th, 2011, 07:05 PM
One of the genres mentioned above is the ghazal, that sometimes is considered 'semiclassical' rather than 'classical'.

The origins of the ghazal are Arabic love poems, that through Persia reached India, where they acquired a big importance, were a vehicle for the Urdu language, and also a musical genre.

One of the legendary masters of ghazal was the Begum Akhtar.


She died in 1974, after a career of almost fifty years. She has a very personal voice, an identifiable style and she was really a big star. I know one guy thas is a very dedicated fan, that even visit every yearher native city to pay his respects. In her youth, she was named Akhtaribai Faizabadi, and was not as respected as in later life, after her marriage.

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December 9th, 2011, 07:05 PM
Thanks, Schigolch! Glady could find most of them at the university library. :)

December 11th, 2011, 01:08 PM
India is more a continent, than a country. There are many Indias but, basically, the major divide is between the North, of Indo-European origin, with massive influence from Persia, and the South, of Dravidian origin.

In the South, music is quite different and the classical practice is known as Carnatic. Most (though by no means all) of the Carnatic vocal music, performed in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala or Tamil Nadu, is sung in some of the Dravidian languages, especially in the two main ones, Tamil and Telugu.

Carnatic music allows for less room to improvise than Hindustani, though much more in any case than western Classical Music. Also, vocal music is more important than in the North. The rythms are more complex, and they have incorporated western instruments, like the violin (though played upside down, and tuned to Indian Just Intonation scales).

The Tamil singer M. S. Subbulakshmi is a veritable legend. We can hear her in a varnam, with a complex interaction between voice and rythm:


December 20th, 2011, 09:50 PM
The Iranian singer Marzieh died last year in Paris.

For many years, she was the most popular face of Persian classical music, in her own country, and in the rest of the world. After the Islamic revolution of 1979, women were forbidden for singing before an audience, so Marzieh was confined to her home for fifteen years, until she was able to exile herself in France.

Listen to this beautiful song:

Marzieh - Raftam Ke Raftam (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wu2wcN984Q)

December 23rd, 2011, 05:35 PM
One interesting side of this non western classical music subject, is the vision that non western composers, educated musically in the West, have on their own culture, and how they interact with their traditions and the western influence.

One of those composers is Persian Behzad Ranjbaran, trained in the US. Ranjbaran uses three episodes from the monumental Shahnameh, the Book of Kings, a national Iranian epic written by Ferdowsi around one thousand years ago:


Where we will hear Japanese, Turkish or Arab musicians giving some real deep insights, perhaps Ranjbaran is not really able to get below the surface, though it's a nice piece nonetheless:


January 9th, 2012, 01:49 PM

January 13th, 2012, 12:39 AM
I don't know if you're familiar with the amazing throat singers of Tuva, in southern Siberia on the border of Mongolia,
but you simply have to hear them . They have an incredible technique of overtone singing , in which one singer can
produce two or three pitches at a time !
The Tuvans, who have traditionally been nomadic herdsmen similar to the Mongols, whom they resemble closely ,
speak a very archaic form of Turkish ,and are believed to be the descendants of the ancient Pre-islamic Turks .
They are Buddhists but combine Buddhism with Siberian shamanism .
When a throat singers sings , he usually begins with a weird kind of guttural growling , and then several seconds later ,
you hear a kind of strange kind of whistling sound. But the singer is not whistling , and actually singing two pitches at a time .
These may very well be the strangest sounds ever to come out of the human throat !
You can see and hear them on you tube and other websites you can google, and CDs are available .
Back in the 90s, I saw a group of them perform at the Winter Garden in New York, next to the ill-fated World Trade Center .
Throat singing can also be heard among the Mongols and other peoples of southern Siberia .

January 16th, 2012, 07:02 PM
Teizo Matsumura was a Japanese composer (in Japan he is well known composer of soundtracks), and a student of Akira Ifukube. He was also proficient in the Western classical music, and he tried to combine in some works Japanese traditional instruments, and Western techniques.

In this Shinkyoku (Poem), there is a dialogue between the 'shakuhachi' (a bamboo flute) and the 'koto'. In just about fifteen minutes, there is an impressive feeling of serenity.

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January 19th, 2012, 10:12 PM
One of the oldest and most revered Chinese musical instruments is the guqin.


Built of wood and incorporating seven strings, it's plucked with the fingers. The current form of this instrument is around two thousand years old.

There is a specific repertoire for guqin, going back centuries. Usually, those are short pieces, with a duration of less than ten minutes, inspired in poems, or in Nature.

A prominent performer from the 20th century, Guan Pinghu, is playing one of those pieces, Li Sao, based on a Qu Yuan's poem written in the 4th century BC.

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January 26th, 2012, 11:28 AM
Another example of Eastern melodies, arranged for Western convictions, in this case using the form of a concerto.

Fikret Amirov was one of the leading Azerbaijani composers. In 1957, he wrote (together with Elmira Nazirova) this Concerto for Piano and Orchestra after Arabian Themes, which is a rather enjoyable medley of East and West:

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January 31st, 2012, 08:42 PM
The music in Myanmar (the old Burma) is a mixture of local stuff, plus influences coming from India, China and Thailand.


One of its best traditions is the "Mahagita", a set of song that are considered classical, with origin in the 17th and 18th centuries. Usually the accompaniment is with the Burmese harp (picture above), and there is a female vocalist, like in this delicate and beautiful composition:


February 9th, 2012, 10:35 PM
I like most of what I've heard of Akira Ifukube's works. This is just a small piece, but it looks wonderful to me:


February 12th, 2012, 06:02 PM
In a parallel line, instead of Eastern composers using Western techniques, we can also find some Western composers using Eastern techniques.

On this vein, one of the outstanding Eastern influences is gamelan music, and Lou Harrison a good example of how to use this influence to write fascinating music. Those relaxing Three Pieces for Gamelan With Soloists, written in the 1970s, use an ensemble of gamelan and Western instruments.

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February 17th, 2012, 01:23 PM
We have commented in Opera Lively about Toshio Hosokawa's requiem, "Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima". Of course other Japanase composers were also inspired by the tragedy, and have created pieces, both in the Japanese musical tradition, and the Western.

One of the first was this Symphony "Hiroshima", premiered in 1953 and written by Masao Ohki, that we can hear complete in youtube:


It's a very interesting piece, especially the seventh section: Atomic desert: boundless desert with skulls, that is really hair-raising:


February 20th, 2012, 09:48 AM
Watching Pakistani singer Abida Parveen perform live is quite an experience, and it's very possible to attend one of her performances, as she gives recitals in the West often.

Though not the only genre she tackles, Parveen is known mainly for her renditions of Kafi. This is a light genre in the classical Indian music, based on poetry from the Sufi tradition of Punjab and Sindh. There is a sparse accompaniment, that today can be as simple as harmonium and traditional Indian percussion, because the focus is in the singer, and how he transmit the text, featuring originally the relation of the individual and God but that, as in Western mystical poetry, can also use parables remisniscent of earthly love.

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February 24th, 2012, 08:34 PM
In the island of Java, gamelan music is at its best in the center and eastern parts, that are more properly Javanese. In the court of the sultans there was a complex cultural arrangement, that included the presence of a significant number of musicians, that formed the gamelan ensembles.

The two most important cities of Central Java were Surakarta and Yogyakarta. The music from the first is famed to be more refined, while in the second the rhythms and sounds are more energetic. Between both cities there is always a strong rivalry, even if the are separated only for some 50 kilometers.

I spent my honeymoon in a trip to Java and Bali, of one month of duration, and I took the opportunity to attend several fascinating performances. It was also a very good opportunity to test my wife's patience, that was almost as fascinating.

There are basically two scales in Java, one pentatonic (slendro) and one heptatonic (pelog). In each gamelan ensemble there are also two group of instruments, each set tuned to that scales, and they play both separately and together. The exact tuning is different for each ensemble, and is considered an insult if one ensemble copy that tuning from another.

Those CDs are great material to get acquainted with Javanese gamelan:


"kraton" means court, and "gaya", style.


February 29th, 2012, 11:41 AM
Ottoman classic music is based on "makams", a concept similar to the Arabic "maquam", and loosely correspond with the Western modes, though there are also instructions on how to perform the development of the melodies.

This is a nice song, Menekşelendi sular (Moods of the sea), performed by the famous Safiye Ayla, that died at the end of the 20th century, after a very long career. The composer is Sadettin Kaynak, and the song was written in the 1940s.


March 7th, 2012, 01:06 PM
In China there are several opera 'flavours': Beijng, Cantonese, Huangmei, Yueju...

Curiously, for a westerner, perhaps the easiest way to enter Chinese opera would be the so called Modern Revolutionary Operas, that were less stylized, and more direct.


Though the traditional Chinese music is, of course, much better represented by the former 'flavours'

April 14th, 2012, 05:15 PM
Of course, for a Spaniard, Andalusian classical music is the closest thing among all non Western practices, due to geography and history. It's quite easy also to hear concerts of this refined music, originated in Andalusia during the Arab domination, all across Spain.

The heart of Andalusian classical music are the "nubas", pieces divided between instrumental and vocal passages, composed for particular days and hours, and transmitted orally. Originally there were twenty-four "nubas", and some fifteen survive, in Morocco and Algeria. Clearly, it's not possible to know for certain if those "nubas" are exactly the same than the ones played five hundred and more years ago, due to lack of written musical notation, and also the changes in instrumentation.

One of the most commited musicians working to preserve the "nubas" is Ahmed Zaituni, and his group based on the city of Tangier.


July 12th, 2012, 02:19 PM
The music of Somei Satoh has been described in Japan as "contemporary traditional music", and, at least to a Western listener, it brings echoes of an inefable Japaneseness.

This is the beautiful Violin concerto:


July 27th, 2012, 09:35 AM
"Tappa" is one of the styles considered semi-classical in India. They were basically love songs, performed mainly by women singers, known as Baigees. However, a celebrated composer from Bengal, Ramnidhi Gupta, adapted the genre into the mainstream of Bengali music.

This is one example from Ramkumar Chattopadhyay:


August 1st, 2012, 12:01 PM
Persian vocal music is a genre of its own, called tasnif. Usually the singer is accompanied by one or two intruments doubling the melody, along with some other providing the rhythm.

Some of them are the kamancheh:


The tar:


The tombak:


Mohammad-Reza Shajarian is one of the most important musicians in Iran. In this CD we can understand his talent:


A live performance:


August 6th, 2012, 10:48 AM
Tyagaraja (1767 - 1847) lived at the period of the great consolidation of Carnatic music, of which he was one of the main architects, along with his contemporaries Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry.

Of his very vast musical output, let's hear a song performed by another great Carnatic musician, Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna:


September 21st, 2012, 09:04 AM
East meets West again, this time in the person of Colin McPhee, arguably the first Western composer to make an ethnomusicological study of the Balinese and Javanese music.

Tabuh-Tabuhan (1936) combines Balinese and traditional Western musical elements. It is scored for Western orchestra, with a few Balinese percussion intruments, but McPhee used Western instruments such as celesta, xylophone, marimba, and glockenspiel to provide for a "Western gamelan". It also used some folk Balinese music elements.

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September 28th, 2012, 10:13 AM
Ustad Amir Khan was one of the more important Indian's musicians of the 20th century.

He created his own 'gharana' (an Indian's school of music, but not only devoted to teaching, also to create a musical style) in his native city of Indore, and popularized a classical genre like the 'tarana'.

This is a recital performed in the early 1970s, before Amir Khan died in a car accident in Calcutta, in 1974:

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October 5th, 2012, 11:38 AM
On the subject of non-Western composers familiar with the Western tradition, let's hear a young Persian musician, Mehdi Hosseini, educated in Russia and Austria.

Baluch is a brief piece, in three movements, written for flute, xylophone, horn, violin, cello and double bass, merging sounds of this native Persia with post-Soviet influences:


October 20th, 2012, 09:34 AM
From the Turkish composer and pianist Fazil Say let's hear this colorful quartet for soprano, ney (a traditional Turkish wind instrument), piano, and percussion:

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February 18th, 2013, 02:33 PM
The "Song of the Heike" or "Heike Monogatari" is a Japanese epic poem relating the fight between two rival clans for being the dominant power in 12th century Japan.

This poem has been recited along the centuries by the Japanese equivalent of our minstrels, mostly using as accompaniment a kind of lute, the 'biwa'.


There are several types of 'biwa', an instrument invented around the 8th century. Let's hear Junko Ueda performing "Dan-no-Ura" (from the "Heike Monogatari"), in a festival in France.


April 9th, 2013, 03:28 PM
In Sri Lanka, the old Ceylon, there is not a tradition of classical music comparable to India. Most of the music that can be listened in the island is either folklore or B(K)ollywood-style melodies.

Based on Indian and Western classical music, and using instruments from the Sinhalese folklore, Ananda Samarakoon built the "Geeta Sahitya" school in the first half of the 20th century. The intention was to promote a kind of art music for the country.

Let's hear a song from that school. One of those songs was chosen as the National Anthem of Sri Lanka:


April 28th, 2013, 09:05 PM
Though in the West we tend to consider Beijing opera as the "Chinese" opera, there are several regional flavours. One of them, is the Cantonese, perhaps somewhat less formalistic and with a singing closer to the western practice, than Beijing's.

Until the 20th century, all the female roles were sung by males. This was changing, up to the point that one of the biggest stars of Cantonese opera, the alto Yam Kim Fai, was singing male roles. There is a big tradition in Hong Kong of performing Cantonese opera, and some movies have been shot since the 1950s. Let's see one of those movies, starring Yam Kim Fai, with Fong Yim Fun singing "The Fairy Of Luoshui", and with English subtitles:


May 13th, 2013, 03:26 PM
Rabindra Sangeet, also known as Tagore Songs, are songs written and composed by Nobel Prize Rabindranath Tagore, that are hugely popular in Bengal. The songs are inspired in both Indial classical music and Bengal folk music.


May 17th, 2013, 09:33 AM
It's well known the influence of Gamelan music on Western composers like Debussy, Britten, Messiaen,...

One of the strongest impacts was on Claude Vivier, the composer of the opera Kopernikus.

Vivier learned gamelan in Bali, working with Balinese musicians, and he tried to write a piece that, starting from the very heart of Balinese music, will also incorporate Western tradition. Was he succesful?. I think so. Let's hear this "Pulau Dewata", where somehow we can discern the unhappy and lonely child that was Vivier, in this sound universe created many miles away from his native Canada, by the shores of the Indian Ocean:


May 18th, 2013, 02:32 PM
Dhrupad is one of the oldest genres of Hindustani classical music. As such, it was in decline since late 18th century, until it was revived after the end of the British Raj. Nasir Moinuddin and Nasir Aminuddin Dagar ("The Dagar Brothers") were among the musicians that started the comeback. This is one performance using the Raga Bhairavi, usually considered to convey a reserved, even sad mood:


May 20th, 2013, 11:39 AM
Fāṭima ʾIbrāhīm al-Baltāǧī, better known as Umm Kulthum, was an Egyptian singer, born in 1904. She was perhaps the most revered singer in the Arab world since the 1940s until her death in 1975:


June 9th, 2013, 08:58 PM

The great Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu was somewhat closer to the Western practice than to Japanese's own tradition. However, there are pieces like this In an Autumn Garden, written for a 'gagaku' ensemble, that are indeed a contemporary part of this tradition: