SEMMANGUDI SRNIVASA IYER
Born on the 25th of July, 1908, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was one of the greatest and exponential Carnatic vocalists of the twentieth century musical era. He was born in the little town of Thirukkodikaval, in the district of Tanjore. He was the third son born to Radhakrishna Iyer, his father and Dharmasamvardhini Ammal, his mother. He spent the first four years of his life with his maternal uncle Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer. He was colossal Violin Maestro who brought up his nephew with love and care. This relationship did not last long as Srinivasa Iyer’s uncle passed away a few years later. After the death of his uncle, Srinivasa Iyer moved to his parents’ home in Semmangudi, in the district of Tanjore.
When he was about eight years old, Srinivasa Iyer started to learn music from his cousin Semmangudi Narayanaswamy Iyer. Later, Srinivasa Iyer underwent a rigorous musical apprenticeship under the tutelage of Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer.
In the year 1926, Srinivasa Iyer performed the first music recital in his career at Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. Later, in the year 1927, he performed in a concert in the Madras session of the Indian National Congress. This event was considered by Srinivasa Iyer as a major and colossal turning point in his life, as this concert catapulted him into the grandest league of Vidwans at that time. Srinivasa Iyer was a blessed and talented singer for he swayed his audience away with his mystical yet majestic voice. He was a highly creative singer with an orthodox sense of taste in Carnatic music. He was well known among people as a singer for producing soulful music in spite of his of recalcitrant voice.
Srinivasa Iyer’s musical career began in an era when practically every singer in the field of Carnatic music had an impeccable voice. Moreover, Srinivasa Iyer was particularly well known for his uncharacteristically nasal voice. His voice received criticisms from legendary singers. One such critic was the famous Dhakishinamurti Pillai, a Kanjira performer, who commented to his teacher and brother, “His voice is as melodious as the noise created when a coconut shell is scraped on a rock. Do not bother to give him vocal training. Let him learn to play the violin”. Srinivasa Iyer worked arduously to develop his voice through regular practice and rigorous training in spite of having received such criticisms from a legend like Pillai. His years of training and practice proved to be beneficial for him as in the end, his inborn talent for Carnatic music emerged triumphant over his deficient voice and he became an exponent in the Carnatic world
Srinivasa Iyer played a phenomenal and instrumental role for the work on the Krithis of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, along with the legendary Carnatic musician like Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar. His concerts were attended by people of royal order like Maharaja Swathi and Maharani Sethu Parvati Bai. During one such concert of Srinivasa Iyer conducted in the year 1934, Maharani Sethu Bai of Travancore was so impressed by his talent and scholarship that Srinivasa Iyer was invited by Maharani to Thiruvananthapuram to modify and popularize the compositions of Swati Tirunal. He was given the privilege of having succeeded the Harikesanallur Muthaiah Bhagavathar as the principal of Swati Thirunal College of Music at Thiruvananthapuram. He served as a principal for a period of 23 years until he was 55 years old. At the age of 55, he handed down his responsibilities of administering a college to G. N. Balasubramanian, another Carnatic legend and at the behest of the Government of India; he was offered to become the Chief Producer of Carnatic music at the All India Radio in Madras, between the years 1957-1960.
After retiring from his position as the Chief Producer, he concentrated on performing in concerts and tutoring youngsters. His love for music was so immense that he performed in public musicals concerts even after the age of 90. Srinivasa Iyer was famous across the country for his virtuosity as a concert performer. He meticulously planned every concert that he put up. He was careful in selecting the Krithis, Raagas and even in planning the duration.
Srinivasa Iyer, after having become a reputed and renowned singer, he rendered his service to the musical field by tutoring people in Carnatic music. He was the great and talented teacher who trained the exponential singing legend M. S. Subbulakshmi in Carnatic music. Subbulakshmi mastered the art of the nuances and the intricacies in Carnatic music under his tutelage. His disciples of music affectionately and lovingly addressed to him as Semmangudi Maama (Semmangudi Uncle).
He was honored with many awards for his musical contribution. He was awarded the Sangeetha Kalanidhi Award by the Music Academy in 1947. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan award and the Padma Vibhushan award.