Tagore's Music
Music, like all other arts in India, had stereotyped patterns. There was and is the classical tradition, whether of the north of the south, which has behind it centuries of devoted discipline, and which has within its limits, attained near perfection. It is music, pure and abstract, and like all abstract art its appeal is limited to those who have taken pains to understand what may be called its mathematics. For them it can be very beautiful, hauntingly so, in the hands of a master, but ordinarily its appeal is limited. Its counterpart for the popular taste was the traditional religious and folk music, now rivaled by film music. The position was not dissimilar in literature where, before the nineteenth century, there was either the great storehouse of Sanskrit classics or the popular religious lyric and ballad.
What Rabindranath was doing in literature he also tried to do in music. While caring for both the traditions, classical and folk, he respected the inviolable sanctity of neither and freely took from each what suited his purpose. He was not even averse to borrowing from western melodies, although he did very little of that and made his own whatever he took from other sources. If his creative contribution in music has not received the same recognition as his contribution in literature, it is because, in the first place, the classical tradition of music in India, unlike that of literature, is still very alive and vital and there was no vacuum to be filled.
In fact Rabindranath did not attempt creation of new forms in abstract music. What he did was to bring it down from its heights and make it keep pace with the popular idiom of musical expression. In the second place, his own music is so inextricably blended with the poetry of words that it is almost impossible to separate the mood from the words and the words from the tune. Each expresses and reinforces the other. Hence his songs have not the same appeal outside the Bengali- speaking zone as they have in his native Bengal.
In Bengal, however, each change of season, each aspect of his country's rich landscape, every undulation of human heart, in sorrow or in joy has found its voice in some song of his. They are sung in religious gatherings no less than in concert halls. Patriots have mounted the gallows with his song on their lips; and young lovers unable to express the depth of their feelings sing his songs and feel the weight of their dumbness relieved.