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This presentation illuminates a fascinating chapter in the encounter between European and Indian music, one that unfolded at a small south Indian royal court in the early nineteenth century. The Maratha royal court of Tanjore (aka Thanjavur), at the kingdom’s eponymous capital, is well known as the foundational centre of the south Indian classical traditions now known as Karnatic music and Bharata Natyam dance. Among the new developments at the time was the advent of European music, along with British colonial rule.
In Tanjore, even as key compositional forms such as the kriti were developed, Karnatic music also absorbed European musical styles and European instruments such as the violin and the clarinet. Serfoji II, the polymathic king who ruled the vastly reduced Tanjore principality under British supervision from 1798 to 1832, played a key role in these innovations. The Indian performing arts reached new heights of creative excellence at the Tanjore court.
At Serfoji’s court, European music blossomed in conversation with the Indian arts. Serfoji was the first Indian ruler to develop a full-fledged European wind band. He cultivated a wide range of European music, including classical chamber works for instruments and voice, and experimented with ensemble performances involving European and Indian instruments. Ultimately, the story of Serfoji’s, and south India’s, engagement with European music is a tale of dialogues among violins, veenas and harps, and of tunes and genres that travelled across national and cultural boundaries.
This is the third of three masterclasses presented by Dr. Indira Viswanathan Peterson.
Dr. Indira Viswanathan Peterson is Professor Emerita of Asian Studies, Mount Holyoke College. A scholar of classical Sanskrit and Tamil literature and Hinduism, she has published widely on South Indian literary, social and cultural history and performing arts. She is also interested in translation, European-Indian culture contact, and comparative literature.
Peterson is the author of Poems to Siva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints; Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi; and Arjuna and the Hunter (MCLI 9). Other books include: The Great Temple at Thanjavur: A Thousand Years (with George Michell); Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in modern South India (ed., with Davesh Soneji); and Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India (ed., with Martha Selby).
She is in the process of completing Tanjore Renaissance: King Serfoji II and South Indian Modernity, a cultural and intellectual biography of the royal polymath Serfoji; and Drama, the Court and the Public in Early modern South India, a book on operatic drama at the Thanjavur Maratha court.