The Odeon Link

Between 1855 and 1903, the German link faded out somewhat thanks to the strengthening British influence. But with the arrival of the recording industry we find a German link being forged once again. Among the earliest recording companies to come to India was the International Talking Machine Co. m.b.H of Weissense-Berlin whose record label, Odeon, was the first to the released as double sided discs. The agency was set up in Calcutta in 1906. The first recordings of Indian music for Odeon happened in 1907 and began to be sold in the country from 1908. The south Indian interests of the company were initially controlled from Colombo, Sri Lanka, and later a branch office was established in Blacker’s Road, Madras. By the time of the first World War, the label could boast of over 2000 titles but continuous changes in management of the company resulted in poor distribution.

The big break happened in 1930, when AV Meyyappa Chettiar (1907-1979) along with KS Narayana Iyengar and Sivan Chettiar formed Saraswathi Stores with the sole aim of marketing 78 rpm records. The company tied up with Odeon whereby Saraswathi Stores recorded the masters and sent them to Germany where they were pressed into discs and sent back for sales in India. Given AVM’s marketing techniques the Odeon labels became very popular. The first attempt at recording the dialogues of an entire play along with the songs and releasing them as a 78 rpm disc set, was by AVM and Odeon. Several Carnatic stars entered into exclusive contracts with Odeon, the most notable being the foremost artiste Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar (1890-1967). Those being the years of musical films, AVM began recording and selling discs of songs from films as well. The technique of simultaneous recording for film and discs not having come in then, this necessitated the re recording of the film songs exclusively for the discs. Saraswathi Stores maintained a full orchestra for this purpose and in case the singing stars refused to record or were too busy for a repeat performance, several singers with similar voices were pressed into service. Most of these songs were Carnatic music based and became very popular. Odeon remained a top selling label till the second World War. By then the label was owned by the Columbia Graphophone Co. Ltd., and the obvious German associations with Odeon as a brand forced the dropping of the name in favour of Columbia.

The Saraswathi Stores experiment made AVM look at film making as a business and he set up Saraswathi Sound Productions in 1934. Later he founded Pragati Studios in 1940 and in 1945 set up AVM Studios which till today is a leading film production house in India. The Saraswathi Stores orchestra which boasted of many a classical artiste became a part of the film production company and created many a memorable song. The Stores remained a popular outlet for selling 78 rpm discs and later cassettes till the 1980s when it was closed. The spacious heritage building housing the Stores became a restaurant co owned by AVM which in turn closed down in 2002. The heritage building was pulled down to make way for a high rise in 2005.

Links through scholars and musicians

Prof P Sambamoorthy (1901-1973) is one of the most noteworthy scholars and musicologists in Carnatic Music belonging to the 20th century. He had by 1928 established a name for himself as a teacher of the theory and practice of music on the organized lines of a college curriculum. His name was suggested to the Deutsche Akademie in Munich as a suitable candidate worthy of training and this was accepted by Dr Their Fielder then president of the Akademie. The Madras University gave Sambamoorthy a grant of Rs 2000 to fund his travel expenses. Sambamoorthy left India on 14th April 1931 and reaching Munich enrolled for studying the flute under Gustav Kaleve, violin under Prof. Joseph Kilian and harmony under Dr. G Schrey. He also studied the theory of music and the European flute at the Staatlichen Akademy der Tonkunst. Sambamoorthy was made a Member of the Gesellschaft fur erforschung der musik des Orients in Berlin in 1932. He returned to India in April that year and lost no time in setting up an orchestra on Western lines for playing Indian music. This was very popular in the 1930s.

Josef Kuckertz (1930-1996) was a German musicologist who took active interest in Carnatic Music. Born in Wurselen near Aachen, he studied musicology in the University of Cologne and took his doctorate from there in 1962. He began teaching at the Institute of Musicology there from 1962 onwards. In 1967 he completed his post doctoral thesis on “Form and Melody formation of Carnatic Music of south India in the context of Middle Eastern and north Indian art music”. Continuing as a professor at the University of Cologne, Kuckertz did research on the raga system in Carnatic music in Madras between 1967 and 68. Between 1970 and 71 he undertook a second trip of south India once again in connection with Carnatic music. In 1978 he published “Bharad, Vaghyamurali and the daff gaan of the Deccan”. Kuckertz traveled in the 1980s to south India with several of his students and also attended the Carnatic music festival held in December 1982. Kuckertz’s writings were compiled by his student Selina Thielemann after his death and published under the title of Essays in India Music in 1999.

The Link Today

Ludwig Pesch is a well-known name in Carnatic music today. His book, Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music is a well-researched work. Pesch trained as a flautist under H Ramachandra Sastry. Later he also established an open-air theatre at the Island Grounds, Madras. This sadly, did not last. Many Carnatic music artistes have given performances in Germany to discerning audiences. Some of them are Aruna Sairam, an artiste who is extremely fluent in German, Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam, whose diary maintained during her visit to Germany, available on the web makes interesting reading and Sanjay Subrahmanyan. Some of the celebrated venues in Germany where Carnatic music is heard are University Music Circle, Germany, the Deutche Welle, Cologne, the Harmoniale Festival , Berlin and the International Mandolin Festival, Rudolstadt. This year it is appropriate that one of the foremost exponents of the art form, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, is performing at the Francke Foundations Halle, from where the first missionary Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg set out to India in 1706, marking the beginning of a 300 year old association with India and with Carnatic music.



1. Moon, Sir Penderel; The British Conquest and Dominion of India; India Research Press, New Delhi, 1999
2. Seetha, S; Tanjore as a seat of Music; University of Madras, Madras;1981
3. Ethiraj, N; Tanjai Ma Mannar Sarabhoji; Arasi Padippagam, Tanjavur, 1999
4. Ranimaindan; Appachi, the biography of AV Meyyappa Chettiar; Vanathi Padippagam, Chennai; 2002
5. Kinnear, Michael; The Gramophone Company’s First Indian Recordings; Bombay Popular Prakashan, Bombay; 1994
6. Kuckertz, Josef; Essays on Indian Music, edited by Selina Thielemann; Indian Musicological Society, Baroda; 1999
7. Pesch, Ludwig; Illustrated Companion to South Indian Classical Music; Oxford University Press, Delhi; 1999
8. Rajagopalan,N; A Garland- Biographical Dictionary of Carnatic Composers and Musicians; Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay; 1990
9. Iyer, Venkitasubramonia S; Swati Tirunal and His Music; College Book House, Trivandrum; 1975

Articles, Journals and Publications:

1. Kincaid, Charles; Haidar Ali, Dictator of Southern India; in Great Men of India, The Home Library Club Edition, 1939
2. Bhageerathi, MA; Kirustuva Illakkiyamum Isaiyum Vedanayaga Sastriarin Isai Thondu, in Ilakkiyattil Isai Koorugal; Tanjai Tamil Isai Palkalaikkazhagam, Tanjavur, 2000
3. Bhageerathi, MA; Professor P Sambamoorthy, Musicologist of the Century, in Sruti, August 2005, Chennai
4. The Ziegenbalg Legacy, 300 years of Indo European Intercultural Dialogue; Franckesche Stiftungen Zu Halle, 2006
5. Thanjai Peruvudaiyan Perisai- Musical Compositions of the Tanjore Quartette; Edited by Vidwan Sri K Ponnayya Pillai of Tanjore, 1940, reprinted by Ponnayya Kalaiagam, Madras; 1964