Ravi Shankar in 1969

Indian musician and composer Ravi Shankar wrote this piece in 1980. The work is subtitled Raga Mala (“A Garland of Ragas”), presenting 29 ragas in four big movements. A raga forms the melody in Indian classical music. Ragas are patterns of notes but are different to a scale or melody in Western music. They are really a combination of both. Each rag:

  • has a particular ascending and descending pattern
  • is associated with a different time of the day, season, mood or special occasion

Each raga will have some notes that are more important than others. Ragas also contain short musical phrases. The raga is traditionally played on a sitar.

The sitar

  • Is a long-necked plucked string instrument with movable frets and a gourd resonator.
  • Is played by plucking the strings with a metal plectrum.
  • Has six or seven main strings and twelve or more sympathetic strings running underneath them, which resonate in sympathy.
  • Has a characteristic shimmering sound.

Listen out for the sitar player improvising using the notes of the raga in many different ways:

  • playing pitch bends (done by physically bending the string as it is played)
  • playing fast scales or runs
  • playing glissandos (slides)
  • ornamentation (fast notes that are added to a melody to embellish them)
Anoushka Shankar (Ravi’s daughter) playing the sitar

This piece was written with the following instrumentation:

 3 flutes , 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, percussion (anvil, bass drum, bongos, chimes, clave, conga, cymbals, finger cymbals, glockenspiel, marimba, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tambourine, tam-tams, thunder sheet, triangle, vibraphone, whip, wind machine, xylophone), harp, celesta, strings, and solo sitar

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