Movement 1: Poco maestoso e con fuoco
Movement 2: Tema con variazioni: Andante
Movement 3: Rondo burlesca: Allegretto
In relating Chisholm’s music to any particular raga, it should be remembered that a raga is not so much a tune as a melody-type. Each raga has its appropriate season, or time of day or night, and carries with it emotional and even ethical significance, and may be associated with particular colours, or symbolic pictorial associations. Each note has its own character in the context of the particular raga, and the sequence of notes is approached differently according to whether in aroha (ascending) or avaroha (descending) mode, and according to the mood of the player and the development of the improvisation. The improvisation itself follows fairly strict rules and makes use of important melodic, rhythmic and ‘ornamental’ formulae; but ultimately it is the player and none other who makes the music, who brings to the ancient formulae life, meaning and originality, as Asad Ali Khan has written: ‘Each raga has its own character which must be understood and developed in presentation. But the raga itself is only a structure for musical discipline, and to come alive it must be steeped in rasa, the essence of emotion. An artist can invest the notes with any rasa, and the true listener will understand and respond to the musician.’
In many of the characteristics listed above, raga resembles pìobaireachd, and to a composer such as Chisholm, who had studied pìobaireachd, the transition from making use of the one to the other, in a Western classical context, will have been relatively easy. The Hindustani Concerto makes use of a different raga for each of its three movements. The Hindustani singer Prakriti Dutta maintained that Chisholm’s understanding of these ragas revealed that he had studied them intensively and with real appreciation of their structures and significances.
The first movement (Poco maestoso e con fuoco) is at times troubled and even aggressive in its passions; but there is also mystery, especially in the dialogue between the piano and the timpani. It is based upon Raga Asavari, which is usually played in the morning at about 9 o’clock. The accompanying image is of Asavari, adorned with peacock feathers, seated on top of Mount Malayagiri. Chisholm emphasizes the darker aspects of this raga, the expression of which centres around words such as grave, dignified, melancholy, wise, sober, as well as very tender and loving. Asad Ali Khan describes it as ‘full of bhakti rasa, devotional and contemplative’. Chisholm’s own direction of con fuoco—with fire—cannot be easily reconciled with these traditional associations; but as the movement develops, so the music reveals both grave and melancholy aspects, especially in the second subject, enunciated by the piano, and also at the start of the recapitulation in which the theme is given to the clarinet against a throbbing rhythm on the piano.
The piano’s opening statement is derived directly from the raga, but almost immediately breaks away into chromatic colouring of the material, which one might construe as Chisholm’s way of suggesting the various microtonal inflections that would be part of the expressive technique of a Hindu musician.
Motifs from the raga appear in many guises, sometimes delicate, sometimes dramatic, and the Meno mosso makes use of a transposed version of the aroha (rising motif), but it is part of a complex texture which uses the predominant intervals of the raga (semitones and major thirds) in different transpositions simultaneously. The central climax is in a mood more of desperation than anger. As the storm passes, it leaves behind the rumblings of the timpani, and the soloist falls back in halting rhythms, as though emotionally drained. The music then settles on a pulsating drone in E flat, over which a solo clarinet returns to the opening theme. It is a moment of beauty and mystery which soon reveals that passions are anything but spent. The movement ends with an extended cadenza for the soloist, and a brief orchestral coda.
The second movement is a set of seven variations on a theme based on Rag Shri. It is associated with the months of December and January and with the early evening. The image that goes with it is of a youth of such beauty that women become infatuated, and anger is soothed. But it can also be spiritual in its effect, like a call to evening prayer. In Chisholm’s opening statement, the notes of the aroha (ascent) and avaroha (descent) are combined, and accompany a melodic line similarly derived. The movement is a wonderfully compelling exploration of mystery, sensuousness and allure. In particular, the fifth variation draws close to the mood and the mode of Rag Shri, extruding a sinuous line against a rippling ostinato that breaks upon the shores of this exotic music in gentle but urgent waves. The beauty with which Chisholm embellishes the line, with subtle use of repeated notes and tremolo, would surely have created sensations down Sorabji’s spine, and Sorabji might well have preferred to receive the dedication of this work rather than Pictures from Dante, with its vision of Beatrice’s heavenly purity. Sorabji was profoundly in love with Chisholm and (although not reciprocating that love) Chisholm’s true musical homage is here, for it is in passages such as this that the scent-laden sensuality of Sorabji’s own Djâmi drifts into the more austere world of Chisholm and, as the Song of Solomon would have it, steals like little foxes into the heart of the beloved.
In the following variation, the bass clarinet and strings release a rush of passion which, in the final Variation 7, relapses into a dialogue between solo cello and piano—a beautiful submission to, and admission of, irresistible desire.
The third movement is based upon Raga Vasantee, which heralds the coming of spring, and is suggestive of colour and celebration. At first, the piano and orchestra seem almost capricious, even bird-like in places, mixing delicacy, wit and energy. But it is the energy that soon takes command of proceedings, leading the movement into a concluding section marked Allegro barbaro, in which Chisholm lets loose the piano and orchestra in a riot of festivity.
from notes by John Purser © 2012