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G.N.Balasubramaniam - musician with a golden voice

5:32 PM Posted by Vijayasri

G.N. Baalasubramaniam - (January 6 ,1910- 1 May 1965) popularly known as GNB, was a vocalist and a composer in the Carnatic music tradition.

G.N.Balasubramanian could produce fast gamakams and sangathis with strength and weight and with wide imagination. With such a voice as his, running at so fast a speed through the effects of Brighas, twists and turns would come in quick succession that he became an instant hit with both the lay audience as well as those initiated to the arts and science of carnatic music.
He also composed several krithis and was famous for his fast brikhas and gamakams. He acted in films, including Bhama Vijayam and Sakunthala. In the latter, he appeared as Dushyantha, alongside the vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi.

Balasubramanian also composed kritis and invented new raagas. He taught a number of students during his active years. Most famous among them are M. L. Vasanthakumari, Radha Jayalakshmi, S. Kalyanaraman and Trichur V. Ramachandran.
Balasubramaniam worked as principal of Sree Swathi Thirunal College of Music, Thiruvananthapuram of the state of Kerala.

G.N.B was born in Chennai and he was the son of G V Narayanaswamy Iyer, who was a keen student of music.
It was festival in the Kapaleeswarar temple, Mylapore, Madras. The top artiste to give the concert of the day did not turn up and the temple authorities were in a quandry. They decided upon the substitute and proceeded to meet G.V.Narayanaswamy Ayyar, Head Master, Hindu High School, Triplicane to depute his young son, Balasubramaniam to take the concert. Narayanaswamy Ayyar could not comprehend the request and was as confounded as Dasaratha was when sage Viswamitra wanted him to depute his son Rama. The authorities pointed out that Ariyakudi Ramanuja Ayyangar shot into fame only in similar circumstances by ascending the dias when the senior Vidwan Madurai Pushpavanam failed to turn up and had never an occassion to look back.
The parallel thrilled the ear of the father. He acceded and the son gave the concert, a memorable debut in which his guru Madurai Subramaniam and Pudukottai Vakil K.Rajamani accompanied on violin and mridangam. Fame and glory crowned G.N.Balasubramaniam quite soon even as the eastern sun in summer shoots into the sky and spreads its floodlight with dynamic speed and no twilight. Balasubramaniam was born on January 6, 1910 at Gudalur in Mayiladuthurai taluk. He studied in the Wesley College while learning music under his father, a disciple of Karur Chinnaswamy Ayyar and under Madurai Subramania Ayyar. He obtained his B.A. (Hons.) in 1929.
GNB, as he was popularly known, was a top vocalist of repute in a period which had seen fairly a large number of top-ranking musicians. His bracing, resonant and impressive voice and his special style rich with brisk brigas and pleasing delivery of kritis was a satisfying and thrilling experience to the vast concourse of admirers. His unique style, regulated tempo and masterly delivery were the delights of the audience. His melifluous voice would traverse the three octaves and the three 'kalas' with ease. His brikas were infectious and he kept his ears and mind open to receive what was best in other musicians. He had high respect for Ariyakudi Ramanuja Ayyangar, the senior artiste of eminence. He had a partiality for Todi, Kalyani and Kamboji and for Andolika, Nalinakanti, Vasantabairavi, Jothiswarupini, etc. His disciple, Trichur V.Ramachandran states that his master's style was essentially of a madhyamakala which sustained the interest of the audience. His singing was crisp and 'sangatis' measured.

GNB was one of the prominent composers of recent decades. Out of his 250 compositions in sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil in traditional and his own invented ragas like Chandrahasita, Sivasakti, Amrita Behag, etc., sixty had been published. A gentleman with humility as he was, he would not sing his own compositions in concerts. His respect for values was prodigious. He would return the nominal honoraria he got from the Music Academy as donation. A further feature of his concerts was that he would review the performances of his accompanists and his own. His joy would be immense at the excellence of others. He had a soft heart for rising artistes. His anxiety to satisfy the susceptibilities of the audience was immense.

Even as a boy, he had taken part in musical and dramatic activities in the Hindu High School which he joined in the sixth standard. Later he took the lead role of Dushyant in the famous Tamil film 'Sakuntala' in which another great musician, M.S.Subbulakshmi was the heroine. He had played the role of 'Narada' in the films Bhama Vijayam and Sathi Anasuya. Udayanan, Vasavadatha is another film in which he had acted. He was also pleased with the rendition of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan that he became an ardent devotee of Khan.

Here is a clipping from the tamil movie 'sakunthalai' where G.N.B sings a virutham 'ennai marandhavan' in raaga Kambhoji.

Before he actually made his mark as an vocalist, Mani got a chance to practice to the accompaniment of mridangam. This helped him a lot and taught him many useful bits about mridangam technique which he could make use of in his concert.

Very many of the earlier performances of the few early years were at some friends’ house parties, college functions etc. A performance was arranged by one of his admirers a well-wisher in Theosophical Society, Adyar under the world famous Banyan Tree (which has been there for centuries and ever green) Srimathi Rukmani Devi Arundale was the patroness of the occasion. Her appreciation and applause were noticed by the press representatives present on the occasion and they gave a glowing report of the concert in the next day dailies and that meant G N Balasubramaniam had arrived and the road to name, fame and fortune were open to him.

He could produce super fast gamakam laden sangathis with strength and weight and with great imagination. But,in such a voice of his, running at so fast a speed the effects of Brighas, twists and turns would come in quick succession that most of the audience, the lay audiences failed to appreciate and felt restless, those with a musical ear, sure knew some of the nuances but this is loss to the lay audience, of course, and also a loss to the musician that his great achievements pass unnoticed.

So, Mani,to overcome this, in coming years had restricted the speed, ideally suited to his voice at the same time easily followed by the audience. Thus, his style of Raga elaboration, rendering of standard kritis in the classic traditions and apt swaraprasthana endeared him to the average music hall audience as well as to the knowledgeable musically trained critical audience of his time.

He had taught and groomed during his active years number of his disciples to reach the top grade and among them are Radha Jayalakshmi, M. L. Vasant hakumari, Trichur V. Ramachandran, S.Kalyanaraman.

Mani was persuaded by his friends and admirers to act in a film called "Bhama Vijayam". Later he acted with the celebrated musician M. S. Subbalakshmi in Sakunthala as Dushyantha.

Apart from being a great vocalist, GNB also composed sevaral krithis. Unfortunately his life was cut short and he pass away in the prime of his musicianship at the age of just 55.

Watch a short clip from a documentary on Sangeetha Kalanidhi GN Balasubramaniam (1910-1965). Features interviews with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Umayalpuram K Sivaraman, Vellore G Ramabhadran, TN Krishna...
A short clip from a documentary on Sangeetha Kalanidhi GN Balasubramaniam (1910-1965). Features interviews with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Umayalpuram K Sivaraman, Vellore G Ramabhadran, TN Krishnan, M Balamuralikrishna, and ML Vasanthakumari. Also includes rare footage of GNB, TN Rajaratnam Pillai and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.


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