Colonial rule in India allowed numerous cultural exchanges between the two countries. Bidirectional cultural exchanges in the arenas of architecture, textiles, painting and music benefitted both the regions aesthetically. The influences of England on India in the various realms of textiles, opium, spices, tea, etc. are widely discerned. However, India’s musical influences on England during the era from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century are less known and undocumented.
The culture of the east (India) was regarded to be irrational, psychologically weak and feminized, and was always negatively contrasted with the rational, psychologically strong and masculine culture of the west. India’s culture under colonial rule was considered inferior. A lot of facts and theories inform us of the influences of England that India had on its economy, industry, laws and even culture. However, there is considerably less evidence which proves that India had a major influence on the architecture, paintings and music of England.
India’s contribution in inspiring and influencing the music of England under colonial rule is often overlooked and negatively critiqued. But there were a few music composers of the west who dedicated their entire lives to the learning of Hindustani classical music. They were passionately committed towards a synthesis of the Music of the east with the west. The two western music composers, John Herbert Foulds and Maud MacCarthy experimented with Hindustani classical music to create beautiful melodies.
The western music composer John Herbert Foulds travelled to India in 1935. Already a renowned music composer in the west, Foulds was fascinated by the brilliancy of Hindustani music and undertook a project to write a book on it. After travelling to India, he devoted two years towards the learning of numerous Indian instruments such as Dilruba, Sarinda, Bansuri, Jaltarang, Sarod, Flute, Sitar, Sarangi, Tabla, etc. He also compiled a glossary of the commonly used terms from the languages of Hindi and Urdu and memorized them in order to bring ease to his rehearsals.
During his initial years in India, Foulds met Maud MacCarthy and they eventually married. MacCarthy was considered to be a child prodigy. She was a trained violinist in western music and had been training in Hindustani vocal in India since 1909. She showed great interest and progress in it. The two great musicians, Foulds and MacCarthy worked together towards a symphony of western music with Hindustani music. They shared their extensive knowledge of music with each other and produced collaborations in music theatre production towards the union of east and the west.
“They lived and breathed music together” (Ghuman, 263)
John Foulds is also known to have believed in Gandharva music, a classical music form, while composing his music. Gandharva music is a kind of music that is cosmic in nature. Gandharvas were considered to be angels, whose very nature was to produce and reflect music. This kind of natural music was considered to be the result of the psychic development of the senses which enabled the musicians to hear it from fragments of nature such as flowers, trees, wind, waves, etc.
Foulds further claimed to have heard the sounds of nature and have copied them exactly in his musical renditions. The concept of Gandharva music has its roots in Hindu mythology and this explains Foulds’s admiration and appreciation for the elements of Hindustani music.
Influenced by Gandharva music, Foulds composed a three-act Sanskrit opera named Avatara or Manifestation upon Earth of Deity. In later years, Foulds also gave set music to some of the writings of the famous poet, Kabir Das. The influence of Hindustani music over the works of Foulds was immense. His usage of Gandharva music in the operas he composed, made him a mysterious figure in the eyes of society. His ‘extra-musical’ inspirations gave him the name of “An eccentric/bizarre figure who dabbled in oriental religion of Hindustani Classical Music” by the western colonizers.
Moreover, while composing his operas, Foulds used a repeating phrase or a mantra which was a word or a song of power from the Sanskrit scriptures. He combined these Mantras with different patterns of rhythmic beats to produce certain distinctive melodic verses. Further, he also took inspiration from the folk music of different parts of the sub-continent and composed regional tunes in Punjabi, Afghani, Bengali, Kashmiri, Pahari, etc.
In 1936, Foulds was appointed as the Director of European Music at All India Radio in Delhi. This was an opportunity for Foulds to accomplish his dream of the synthesis of the east and west. As a stepping stone towards his dream, Foulds began to train Hindustani classical musical instrumentalists for the broadcast of his musical arrangements.
“Indian Musical Instruments are much admired…and the day is not far off -I may safely prophecy-when some of them will be utilized by our composers.”
-Maud MacCarthy (Ghuman, 282)
Foulds’s orchestra consisted mainly of Hindustani Classical musicians who played Foulds’ compositions on Indian instruments. Eastern instruments met the dimensions of the western mind for the first time. These ensembles were very well accepted and appreciated. The broadcasts promised a new “All India focus”. His main objective was to harmonize Ragas and create Ragic Harmonies and Indian Ragic Melodies. He also aimed to produce a Hindustani Classical orchestra with the help of indigenous instruments. His daily rehearsals worked towards creating an Indo-European orchestra.
“Mr. John Foulds who is in charge of our English Music in which he is a specialist…is also interested in Eastern Music. His great desire is to create a meeting ground between the two traditions. And he is very busy with this venture‟.
-Hindi-Urdu Journal, Awaaz (Ghuman, 284)
Foulds’ laborious work towards the harmony of the east and the west was largely indicative of the musical influences on the music of England from the Indian society. He wished to develop a certain kind of interest of the colonizers towards the culture or music of the people, whom they had colonized and lived with.
Not only Foulds but his wife, Maud MacCarthy was also an eminent follower of Hindustani Classical Music. She travelled to India in the year 1909 in pursuit of learning it. She was disappointed with the notion that Hindustani music was always looked down upon and that western music was considered to be superior. Most colonizers considered Hindustani music incoherent and chaotic to English ears.
MacCarthy defied all odds in order to be a student of Hindustani music. At the time of her arrival in India, no respectable woman would learn or even listen to music. She was an ardent and persevering student of Hindustani music who worked continuously throughout her life to learn a plethora of renditions of different Ragas in Hindustani music. . Therefore, Foulds and MacCarthy worked in harmony towards gaining a boundless knowledge of Hindustani music and combining the music of India with the west.
The life and works of John Herbert Foulds and Maud MacCarthy show that Hindustani music has the potential to transcend borders and also to collaborate with other musical forms. Through the ensembles of Foulds, it was accepted that Hindustani music could also be a part of the academic discipline of comparative musicology.
Pictures – Resonances of the Raj, India in the English Musical Imagination,1897-1947, Nalini Ghuman (2014)
Reference – Resonances of the Raj, India in the English Musical Imagination,1897-1947, Nalini Ghuman (2014)
Featured Image: The Royal Musicians of Hindustan in London (1912.) (From the left) Ali Khan, Dilruba, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Saraswati Vīna, Mushāraff Khan, Sitar, Maheboob Khan, Peacock-shaped Mayuri.