In part 1 of this post (link also at the top of this page), I highlighted some features of Ilayaraja’s orchestration. I will highlight a few more features of his arrangements in this post along with a few of his songs. It is really hard to separate the wonderful combination of creative innovation and inspired orchestration in his songs. However, let me try to focus only on his great orchestration. I am using the terms arrangements and orchestration interchangeably, though there is a technical difference in the two terms.
You can listen to 10 more songs of Ilayaraja (from Tamil and Telugu films) on the player below. The player automatically shuffles songs and allows you to skip songs, but with limits on skipping. Click the play arrow below to enjoy the wonderful experience of Ilayaraja’s orchestration. ( A tip to enhance your listening pleasure: When listening to the songs in the player, if you want to browse further on this site or another one, open a new window for further browsing. The player will continue to play Ilayaraja’s songs in the current window while you are browsing)
Among the 10 songs, following stand out as ‘really special’.
1) Ilaya nila from Payanangal Mudivithilai – Tamil:
Being a guitar player, Ilayaraja knew how to get the best out of this instrument. This song features guitar as the main instrument. I am sure you will find that the guitar piece in this song is one of the finest in film music. As mentioned earlier, his tunes and orchestration are both equally strong without being dominated by the other. SP Balu’s mellifluous singing is complemented by the sweet sound of the guitar(s). This wonderful composition was the inspiration for the popular Kishore Kumar number Neele neele ambar par from Kalaakar.
2) Abba nee theeyani debba from Jagadeka veerudu athiloka sundari – Telugu:
Dhak dhak karne laga – superhit from Beta is based on this song. Observe the flowing tune, orchestration set to a foot tapping rhythm. Despite the number of instruments in the orchestra, a feature of Ilayaraja’s music is that it is never loud or jarring. In fact, you can hear each and every instrument clearly even though he uses multiple instruments playing simultaneously. This is in sharp contrast to Hindi films of the 60s, 70s and 80s, where composers used orchestras with more than a hundred musicians. However, the net result was often loud or jarring with violins or trumpets. Also, most of the other composers used lots of violins to create fillers in vocal breaks. Ilayaraja made a clean break from this tradition to achieve clarity. Ilayaraja understood how to use multiple instruments to create a pleasing effect, based on his deep insights into western music.
3) Gali ningi neeru from Sri Ramarajyam – Telugu: This is the sad situation when Rama instructs Lakshmana to leave Sita in the forest based on insinuations of the public. The situation is sad, the timeline of the story is a ‘period’ one, but most of the instruments used are ‘modern’. This is another distinct feature of his music. Ilayaraja focused mostly on the effect and feel he wanted to create, identified the required instruments to get that feel and wrote the notes. As listeners, we get transported and mesmerized by the effects. Do we really care about the instruments used as long as the feel is wonderful?
4) Jaanavule nerajanavule from Aditya 369 – Telugu: In this story, the hero gets into a ‘Time machine’ and gets thrown “back” many years into the era of Vikramaditya. Ilayaraja captured the ‘period’ effect beautifully with the arrangements and also by using Jikki, a singer from yesteryears. It is appropriate to highlight one more feature of his music. Not only do the vocals stand out as equally strong when compared to the orchestration, his tunes are beautiful melodies by themselves. You never feel that he orchestrated very well to cover up or gloss over a poor tune. Try it out. Take any of his tunes and hum it without any accompaniment. They are all beautiful melodies in themselves and will stand out even with no arrangements or poor arrangements. But when you have a combination of a wonderful tune and brilliant orchestration, the result is magical!
5) Balapam petti from Bobbilli Raja – Telugu: A common feature of his tunes is the beautiful blend of rhythm and melody. He used multiple types of percussion instruments, string instruments, guitars and sometimes, vocals to create beautiful rhythm patterns. Notice the beautiful rhythm in this song.
Other gems include songs from Paneer Pushpangal, Dharma Durai, Idhayathai Thirudathe.
To sum up, the South Indian film music scene has two eras – before Ilayaraja entered the scene and after. He brought about a refreshing change in arrangements and orchestration that were way ahead of anyone’s comprehension. He broke all established norms about arrangements and orchestration. He showed that you could use any single instrument in many different moods and create different types of effect and feel. For example: he used violins in joyful, romantic, sad and also youthful dance numbers. The flute was not restricted to a rural, classical or folk type of setting – With a flute, he could transport you to many different worlds. By combining his deep knowledge of western music, folk styles and Indian instruments, he created a world, which was different, magical and unbelievable! Hats off to this creative genius.
I hope you enjoy listening to all the 10 songs and admire this great composer. In my next post on Ilayaraja, I will cover the many innovations he brought about in film music and composing styles. See “Hits of Ilayaraja, innovation“
The link to part 1 of this post is here. You can also click the link at the top of this page.