Indian music and the West: An exploration

Indian music and the West: An exploration
From the 17th century, Indian mythology and ideals have exerted an indefinable influence on Western thought and artistic practice. The use of certain
types of note intervals, experiments in transilience (equivalent of the gamaka), as well as atonal/functional harmonies have found their place periodically in themes that were generally classified as mystical or exotic.

English literature on the topic played down the role Indian music played on the West, in concordance with the imperialistic nature of the discourse. However this cannot detract from the influence Indian classical music has played on notable composers and indeed, its contribution to large tracts of Western classical repertoire in the last 200 years: Specifically, composers from the French ‘orientalist’ school including Leon Delibes (notably in the opera Lakme), Georges Bizet (in the opera Pearl Fishers), Claude Debussy (several piano reductions post his meeting with Inayat Khan, and also sections of various operatic works); latter day minor composers including Maurice Delage, and his experiments with prepared pianos to reproduce Indian classical sound, notably Carnatic music-influenced motifs following his visit to south India in the early 20th century, and his Ragamalika composition that followed.

The English composer Gustav Holst was deeply inspired and indeed influenced by Indian classical ideas and musical specifics in composing Savitri, his one-act opera based on the story of Satyavan and Savitri. Holst perhaps embodies the spirit of India’s influence on the West the most. This essay explores some of these composers in detail… read more