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HomeFeaturesViolin maestro M.S. Gopalakrishnan who mastered both Carnatic and Hindustani Classical music

Violin maestro M.S. Gopalakrishnan who mastered both Carnatic and Hindustani Classical music

M.S. Gopalakrishnan, popularly known as MSG, was part of the holy trinity of violinists who played Carnatic music and was also well-versed in Hindustani Classical music.

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New Delhi: “I have not heard such a violin in all my travels! How superbly this young Indian is playing our instrument!” said American violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who is regarded as one of the great violinists of the twentieth century, when he first heard M.S. Gopalakrishnan in 1952.

Gopalakrishnan, popularly known as MSG, was part of the holy trinity of violinists who played Carnatic music, along with Lalgudi Jayaraman and T.N. Krishnan.

However, unlike most artists of his generation, MSG was remarkably fluent in both Carnatic and Hindustani Classical music, although the two genres demand very different performance mindsets and practice.

He was presented with the Padma Bhushan award in 2012 for his excellency in Indian classical music. He was also awarded the Madras Music Academy’s Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1997, the Padma Shri Kalaimamani and Sangeet Natak Akademi awards, among others.

On his seventh death anniversary, ThePrint remembers the violin prodigy and his extraordinary talent.

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A child prodigy

Born into a family of musicians in Tamil Nadu’s Mylapore, on 10 June 1931, MSG began playing the violin at the age of five. He gave his first live performance at a concert when he was only 8 years old.

His father, the legendary violinist Parur Sundaram Iyer, trained him in both Carnatic and Hindustani music. Iyer worked with many artists, including Hindustani musician Pandit Vishnu Digambara Paluskar for 12 years in the Akhil Bhartiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya — an Indian classical music institute — in Mumbai and was one of the earliest Indian violinists, who began playing it in 1906.

Both Iyer and MSG were even invited to perform a concert in Kabul in 1939.

MSG always attributed his success to his father with whom he would practice the violin for 15-16 hours a day in their small living room in Mylapore.

“My father began practising the violin at a very young age. Back then, very few knew how to play the instrument let alone the various techniques that needed to be excelled,” recalls his daughter Dr M. Narmadha, who is also a violinist and has been playing the instrument for the past five decades.

When MSG was 11, he accompanied renowned Hindustani vocalist Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in his recording of Raag Malkauns. Khan, amazed by the young violinist’s talent, gifted him a gold ring for his performance.

“My father was the only musician to have accompanied the great legend Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in his recording of Raag Malkauns at the age of 11. Ustad even presented him with a gold ring,” Narmadha tells ThePrint.

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Playing on a single-string 

A perfectionist in the art of violin-playing, MSG mastered the technique of playing the violin on a single string with one finger to avoid melody breakage, which is part of the Parur technique.

According to his daughter, he globalised the Parur technique and systematised the bow of the right hand and the fingering of the left hand in such a way that it gave the best possible combination of the usage of fingers for the best melody.

“He introduced the use of long bow on the right hand for continuity and similarly on the right hand he introduces the single string technique. The speed gets doubled, tripled and quadrupled when you play on single string because of continuity,” Narmadha, who started performing with him when she was 10, tells ThePrint.

MSG was also featured in an All India Radio national programme on Indian classical music in the late 1960s. Those who had tuned into his performance on this show called it an unparalleled musical experience.

‘Maradona’ of Indian classical music

In one of his blogs, music journalist Narendra Kusnur wrote that MSG was likely the only artist from his generation who was well-versed in both South Indian Carnatic and North Indian Hindustani music. He called him “the violinist who unified south and north”.

According to Vishnu Vasudev, a Carnatic music enthusiast, MSG’s rendition of Abhogi, a raga in Carnatic music, in the Hindustani style was nothing short of a miracle.

“It’s one (very impressive) thing to master Carnatic ragas and the idiom and Hindustani ragas and idiom separately. To be able to take a Carnatic raga like Abhogi and be able to defy decades of conditioning and play it in the Hindustani style with such consummate ease is simply awesome,” he wrote.

I don’t see anybody that has equalled this achievement. At one side he was exalted by the Hindustani artist Pandit Ravi Shankar ji and Visath Ali Khan sahib and on the other, he was recognised as the violin-trinity of Carnatic music. We can rightly call him the Maradona of the Indian music industry,” Narmadha, who continues to research and promote the Parur playing technique across the world, tells ThePrint.

Gopalakrishnan also toured numerous countries to perform, including the US, UK, Holland, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. He was also familiar with the western approaches to playing the violin.


In December 2011, at the age of 79, when Indian classical musician Purnaprajna Bangere asked him if he still played the violin, MSG had jokingly replied — “If I do not play the violin, I will die.”

And less than two years later, on 3 January 2013, he passed away at the age of 81.

Bangere wrote in his blog: “Perhaps when he realized that he could no longer play, he left for the higher worlds!”.

This article has been updated to correct an error. 

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  1. Pl do not get confused. Nation and political parties are different. Pl come out from that kind of notion. Each and every person in India is patriotic. There is no need to brag about it.

  2. The first time i heard MSG live was at Donimalai, NMDC Ltd in 1985. It was a solo concert and i was completely mesmerised by his music. Unfortunately after that i could not get opportunity to hear him live in solo. He was most of the time accompanied by his daughter MS Narmada.
    But i would say if one wants to experience the magic of MSG, one has to hear him in solo.

  3. Great Genius and Maestro MSG Sir’s first concert as an violin accompanist was to my Guru and Father, Late Dr.Sandyavandanam Srinivasa Rao, a Doyen, Legend, Maestro and Guru, when at the age of 8 at Uttaradhi Mutt, Triplicane, Madras (Now, Chennai) in the year 1939. Sri Parur Sundaram Iyer, another legend and maestro, father of MSG was to accompany SSRao but due to indisposition, he requested SSRao to accept MSG to accompany him. SSRao was also given accompaniments by three generations of Parur Parampara-Prof.Parur Sundaram Iyer-Prof. Parur Anantaraman and Parur M.S.Gopalakrishnan-Parur Sundaresan and Parur Krishnaswamy. Students of Violin must study MSG Sir’s accompaniment to Great Maestros-truly Master Class!

  4. You have mentioned that Sri .MSG belonged to the Violin Trinity of the 20th Century but it is actually a Violin Quartet comprising of one more Maestro , Sri.M.Chandrasekaran who is alsothe only surviving Member of that Elite Club at 84 years of age with 7 Decades of Music at the Highest Standards. All the four had great camaraderie with each other and enjoyed each one’s Style or Bhani with utmost relish.

  5. My husband Eswara Narsinga Rao and I were graduate students at IISc in the 60s.We had the honor of arranging Sri M. Balamurali/MSG/TVG concert as students in the 60s in Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore campus for a packed audience. It was Sankranthi/Pongal. Sri Balamurali first was reluctant to come. “ we also celebrate Festivals, you know” he said. But my husband traveled to Madras to Sri Balamurali’s house directly and persisted . Sri Balamurali graciously guided him to MSG and TVG’s residents. All ended well . It was a glorious concert , hall packed to the hilt, people sitting in the windows just to have a glimpse of the trio !

    • Ma’am, thanks for sharing this. Do you remember what the KrishnaTraya (Balamurali-MSG-TVG) rendered that day? What was the exact date of the concert? And is there a recording available?

  6. Sangita Kalanidhi ,Padma bhushan Dr T V Gopalakrishnan , (born Jun 11, 1932 ) is the living legend who who has mastered the carnatic and Hindustani vocal (kirana gharana)and has been performing with unbelievable ease both the genres all through his career for 8
    decades besides being an inimitable maestro of Mridangam. Since boyhood , he has been an associate of Sri M S Gopalakrishnan in 1000s of concerts . While MSG accompanied TVG’s carnatic and Hindustani vocal music, TVG played Mridangam for MSG’s violin solos. TVG was the only mridangam wizard to have accompanied the trio of Parur Sundaram Iyer and his sons MS Anantharaman and MS Gopalakrishnan. Balamurali , MSG , TVG combine was a musical storm in the 60s and 70s a big hit among younger generation then. TVG , a guru of many Stars of today , had made a big impression on Pt Ravishankar and George Harrison is performing and teaching all three genres with incredible energy even at 88 today!!!

  7. Hello, thank you very much for quoting my blog. However, the article inadvertantly links to another blog. Could you kindly replace the link with the right one? Many thanks.

  8. I am surprised that the article has no mention of Shri Krishnanand, who taught Hindustani Music to MSG for years.

  9. Thanks alot for writing on Indian Classical Music, now a days very less people write, read and learn Indian Classical Music. I am 25 years old student of Hindustani Vocal Music.
    It was great to see this article. 🙏🏻😀

  10. First of all, please tell us why you leave space for comments on articles like these but not your heavily loaded, anti-national political articles. I should like to answer that myself: because you don’t have the courage to do it, as you know that the readers would take you apart mercilessly and leave you naked. Grow up, The Print! Nothing is more sacred than the nation!

  11. First of all, please tell us why you leave space for comments on articles like these but not your heavily loaded, anti-national political articles. I should like to answer that myself: because you don’t have the courage to do it, as you know that the readers would take you apart mercilessly and leave you naked. Grow up, The Print! Nothing is more sacred than the nation!

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