Happy Birthday Ilaiyaraaja: How old classical compositions inspired the genius musician to make new tunes

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Updated: June 02, 2021 2:19 PM

There had been many articles trying to dissect Ilaiyaraaja music notes but very few know that he was a postmodernist artist

Ilaiyaraaja, Birthday of Ilaiyaraaja, Ilaiyaraaja music career, Ilaiyaraaja music notes, how Ilaiyaraaja comped music, inspirations of Ilaiyaraaja, dissection Ilaiyaraaja musicIt is the 78th birthday of music maestro Ilayaraaja. (IE Image)

Music legend Ilaiyaraaja is one head with many hats. Not just a music composer he was a singer, songwriter, orchestrator, instrumentalist, and conduct arranger who worked in several languages and is credited for introducing Western musical sensibilities to South Indian film music. There had been many articles trying to dissect his music notes but very few know that he was a postmodernist. He has believed that art is always inspired by another old form of art, which is often the pillar of the artistic system known as postmodernism.

Ilaiyaraaja had composed thousands of songs but hardly one would imagine that he lifts his compositions from songs of other composers. Ilaiyaraja has also talked about film composers giving him references and asking for compositions in similar tunes. He had said that this happened in the career of every film music composer. Recalling one of his experiences, he shared with late singing legend SP Balasubrahmanyam, how once actor Kamal Hassan was not satisfied with his original score for the movie Apoorva Sagodharagal and asked him to compose something based on an old song. That was how the song Puthu Maappillaikku was made and later appreciated by the actor.

Apoorva Sagodharagal was released in 1989 with Kamal Haasan in a double role and Puthu Maapillaikku song plays in the background as Kamal’s dwarf character falls for a girl. Illaiyaraja further said that he altered very little from the song he has lifted it from but nobody found out.

Ilaiyaraja further revealed that Kamal Hassan was referring to Naan Paarthathilae from MGR’s 1966 film Anbe Vaa while explaining his expectations for the sound score of Apoorva Sagodharaargal. Naan Paarthathilae was the composition of legendary musician M.S Viswanathan.

It should be noted here that Ilaiyaraaja did not reuse the tunes of MSV as it is, he rather took bits and pieces from the song and fashioned it according to his liking to come up with a new composition and made it extraordinary by adding his personal touch of ingenuity, creativity, and individuality. He was inspired by the score but worked on it to the point that it becomes his own. That is the fine line between inspiration and plagiarism.

Comparing composing music to magic as an act he said just like when magicians trick his audience into believing that he pulled pigeons out of mango when they know he cannot create a pigeon, his music is ‘a kind of deception.’. Those composers managed to deceive a lot became popular in the country and he is no exception including his contemporary Balasubrahmanyam, as they compose songs and are influenced by other composers, he added.

Ilaaiyaraja’s music is characterised by its orchestration technique where he assembles West musical notes with Indian instruments. Now one cannot help but wonder who are the other composers, classical compositions that inspired Ilaiyaraaja.

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