The End of An Illustrious Musical Journey

Remembering M S Viswanathan – the incomparable musician who drew out the melody from classical music and served it up for us with accomplished ease. Musicians and music lovers are unequivocal in stating that the passing away of MSV brings to the end a golden era of beautiful and versatile music that catered to all generations. Whatever standards one applies, MSV’s name comes up as the musical legend who ruled south Indian film music scenario in the 1960s, 1970s and right through the 1980s.
During a career that lasted for more than five decades, this versatile musician introduced various genres of music to films and brought out melodious numbers in them all.

Birth and Childhood
Viswanathan was born in Elappulil in Palakkad, Kerala on June 24, 1928. His parents (Manayangath Subramanian and Narayanikutty) didn’t have any musical background. His father’s attempts at humming some of the popular tunes of those times were all the exposure Viswanathan had to music.

Viswanathan was just 4 years old when his father died. So desperate was the family situation financially that Viswanathan’s mother even attempted to commit suicide along with her child. It was only because of the timely intervention of his grandfather that a tragedy was averted.

MSV with  Malayalam poet O N V Kurup, Dakshinaa President C G Rajendra Babu and film-maker and writer M T Vasudevan Nair at the third death anniversary of Kerala's renowned poet, lyricist and film-maker P Bhaskaran
MSV with Malayalam poet O N V Kurup, Dakshinaa President C G Rajendra Babu and film-maker and writer M T Vasudevan Nair at the third death anniversary of Kerala’s renowned poet, lyricist and film-maker P Bhaskaran

Music School
Viswanathan did not have any proper music education in his younger days, though the passion for music burned like a fire within. This passion for music even led him to sell snacks in a theatre. He preferred music to studies, but the monthly fee of rupees 3 for music studies was too huge an amount for him. So he would stand outside music teacher Sri Neelakanta Bhagavathar’s house to listen and learn while other students were being taught. The teacher, when he came to know about it, was stunned and surprised. From there, the formal training started and it continued for four years which laid a strong foundation for MSV. His first concert (arangettam) was well received and music lovers were soon predicting a bright future in music for him. This was in 1930 when he was just a 13 year old!

A Versatile Genius Indeed!
When one listens to his enthralling Carnatic-based numbers it is obvious that MSV was blessed with musical genius, especially considering that he learned classical music for less than a decade in all. Tunes set by him have become referral points in that arena of music.

While Mellisai Mannars M S Viswanathan and T K Ramamurthy conquered the turf from the early ‘50s to mid ‘60s giving us some unforgettable lyric-laden numbers, post Aayirathil Oruvan (1965) MSV was on a roll on his own, recalls Ms. Sudha Raghuraman, Carnatic vocalist and Sangita Kalanidhi awardee. She adds that there was a song for each and every situation in everyday life. Aval oru navarasa naadagam was an anthem to all budding love birds. Love, humour, agony, despair, anger, joy, peace…virtually the nava rasas came to the fore in each of his compositions.

“His raga-based tunes intertwined with rich layam had great intensity of emotions. Versatility was his forte. He could adapt a song to any situation and what came out was a tune that played on all our lips, enlightening us, educating us, teasing us, cajoling us and overall, delighting us! His mastery in giving rich melodies with apt usage of instruments by a grandiose orchestra, all meshed into a beautiful repository of outstanding music”, notes Ms. Raghuraman.