Dr. Karunamaya Goswami :
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is the greatest Bengali poet and composer. He is also the only poet from the Indian subcontinent to win the Nobel Prize (1913). The book of poems for which the award came was Gitanjali (offering of songs). The collected poems were mostly songs representing some of the best of his compositions. Rabindranath was brought up in an excellent home environment of classical music. But he had little interest in taking rigorous training. He only enriched insensibilities with diverse musical experiences from the home atmosphere. Tagore received some musical schooling from his elder brother, Jyotirindranath Tagore.
It is on record that Rabindranath Tagore began to systematically compose songs from 1881. The number of his songs stands at about 2500. Sixty years of his life as a poet-composer is divided by critics into three phases. The first extends from 1881 to 1900, the second from 1901 to 1920 and the third from 1921 to 1941. The first phase has been described as the period of preparation. Tagore prepared himself musically and lyrically by composing his songs on the models of Hindustani classical songs.
The second phase has been called the period of experimentation. At this stage, Tagore made wide-ranging experiments in creating varied melodic patterns independent of Hindustani stock-songs. In this phase, he is also found to pay keen attention to the folk music of Bengal, particularly baul.
Tagore composed most of his patriotic songs at this time and many of the songs were profoundly influenced by baul music. The third phase has been described as the phase of composition par excellence. It presents us with what is known as the Tagore musical style.
The compositions of this stage were made on the basis of experiences gathered and experimentation made of a very wide range spread over, forty years. The mature Tagore musical style evolved out of a combination of folk forms, particularly baul and classical melodies.
Rabindranath Tagore put his songs into four major categories. He called them Puja, swadesh prem, and priority there are two minor categories - vichitra and anushthanik.
Tagore's Puja songs,. also known as Brahma sangeet, are about six hundred and fifty in number. Composed mostly in the dhrupad musical style, these songs stand out as the best of Bengali devotional songs.
The Puja songs in their excellence of lyricism and music make the essence of allegiance to God universally inspiring. Even though Brahmaism has declined as a religious movement, Tagore's Brahma songs are 'progressively gaining in popularity. His experimentation in these songs gave a new direction to Bengali urban music.
His swadesh songs number about seventy. They include some of the best of Bengali patriotic songs. Tagore started his career as a poet-composer in a patriotic home environment and continued the mission till 1911 when the movement opposing partition of Bengal was over. Tagore composed his song 'My golden Bengal, I love you' now the National Anthem of Bangladesh, during the Swadeshi movement. In most of his songs of this genre, Tagore experimented with folk melodies, particularly with baul and thus began a trend which took an ultimate shape in the third or the last phase of his life, as a composer.
Tagore composed nearly 300 songs on the seasons of Bengal.
His position in this respect is unique. No other Bengali poet composer worked so significantly and on such a huge scale. He does not merely describe the change in nature - in flowers, in plants, in creepers, in wind, in livers, in the sky, he also communicates the corresponding staty of the human mind. The relation' between music and nature has always been intimate and this assumed an organised shape in the classical music of India, where seasonal melodies were made and the six major ragas were linked with the six seasons. Nature always played an important role in shaping the aesthetic aspirations of men when they lived close to it.
But they were being increasingly cut off from nature as the rural life suffered a decline to yield place to modern urban civilisation. Rabindranath tried to revive in his seasonal songs the old, affectionate and perhaps eternal relation between man and nature. He came to North Bengal to oversee his ancestral estate at an early age.
There he passed many years in the closeness of trees, the green and golden fields, shaded villages and the restless rivers. At the age of forty, he founded the Shantiniketan school at Bolpur in Birbhum where also he lived very close to a pastoral environment. This closeness to nature inspired him to depict in hundreds of songs the changing mood of the Bengali mind.
Rabindranath composed over four hundred love songs. The stream of such songs flows smoothly from the first to the last phase of his creative life. He never tired of being inspired by the intrinsic chair and depth of the man woman relationship and presented the basic feelings of life in their endless shades and subtleties. As in the music, so in the theme, there is a gradual development in his love songs. The first phase gives a robust feeling of personalised relationship. But in later phases the personal mode merges into the universal urge and the expressions, both lyrical and musical, become philosophical and nearly ethereal.
Unlike the traditional Bengali love songs, Tagore songs on love never present a jovial mood. These are pensive musings over a sense of separation between the lovers, both craving for a union which otherwise appears remote.
Rabindranath termed some of his songs ceremonial. They are befitting to some ceremonies and festivals. These songs speak of Tagore's great innovative power. Today Bengalis cannot think of holding many of their ceremonies without Tagore songs.
Tagore modeled his music on dhrupad. He recognised this on many occasions. Once he said, we have got two things in dhrupad : vastness and depth and a sense of control and symmetry.
These are the qualities he valued most as a composer. His objective was to heighten the essence of lyric and never to go for improvisation allowing music to prevail over poetry. He largely followed the four-movement structural design of dhrupad which immediately became the most widely followed musical model in Bengal.
He worked ceaselessly to bring about a fusion of poetry and music. His success is regarded as phenomenal. Rabindranath pursued strictly the concept of composed music unknown to Bengal before his elder brother, Jyotirindranath, tried it. He gave an institutional shape to this concept by composing nearly two thousand five hundred songs on this model and established the idea of the absolute right of a composer over his composition. He left nothing, for the care of the posterity. Tagore took very careful steps in teaching his music and preparing their notations and in grooming a generation of performers to save his compositions from willful or carefree improvisations.
The growth of modern urban music in Bengal owes a great deal to Rabindranath. He gave it a new aesthetic direction and he himself exists as in the greatest model of a composer-poet.