Paganini of India

September 7, 2010 at 03:55 AM ·

What do you all think of the Paganini of India?

Replies (66)

September 7, 2010 at 12:40 PM ·

The violin has been absorbed into the south Indian (Karnatic) music culture.

Here's a Wikipedia article on Dr. Subramaniam:

I've also read that the violin has been adopted in Persian "classical" music, among other non-European music cultures:

The violin's flexibility of tuning and intonation make it adaptable to non-Western music cultures, in contrast to other European instruments such as winds and piano that have a fixed tuning.

September 7, 2010 at 02:01 PM ·

September 7, 2010 at 02:02 PM ·

Frankly speaking, he doesn't seem to have enough technique to play even a single of Paganini's works. Better to give him another title...

September 7, 2010 at 07:34 PM ·

 You can't be serious! You may be deceived visually by the Indian technique but are you actually listening? This may not be the the best clip of Subramaniam but some of the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard from a violin have come from him. I had a one on one lesson from him many years ago and live his tone is like nothing else I've ever heard. He also studied Western Classical violin. He is one of the greats and I will give him a new title - Raganini!

Also check out his brother L.Shankar

September 7, 2010 at 07:42 PM ·


This is a better clip

September 7, 2010 at 09:08 PM ·

Christopher, thanks for the great clip.  The good doctor does  jazz too.  Perhaps he is also the Indian Grappelli.


September 7, 2010 at 09:54 PM ·

Western classical violinists (of which I am one) spend so much time avoiding playing anything other than the 12 notes of the western scale, getting them spot-on pitch, shifting cleanly and abruptly to get at the core of any of these 12 notes, in any octave. It's great to be reminded that there is a whole world of music in those microtones, or srutis, in between, which we avoid like the plague :)

Subramanium is exploring exactly just that in the clip that Christopher referenced. Elsewhere, he also plays some blindingly fast "Moto Perpetuo" speed pieces too, as does his brother L. Shankar. Their level of technique easily matches the western virtuoso standard, albeit on a different level. Just listen to the *single fingers* moving from note to note, and how accurate the intonation is. Still on technique, just listen to this, by L. Shankar : 01'37, listen to the tremolo - that is unheard of "over here"!

This type of music is not to everyone's taste, but anyone who doubts the technical ability of these guys (and loads of other Indian violinists), is missing something. They are missing a lot :)

Aside from concentration on technique, it's the sheer evocative beauty of this music that appeals to me. Subramaniam and Shankar are rated among the top violinists in the world, and there's no mystery about that.

September 7, 2010 at 10:18 PM ·

 If you think it's easy to play this type of music you just try it!

September 7, 2010 at 10:35 PM ·

 Here is another style of Indian violin :

This is N.Rajam who plays North Indian music as opposed to the Carnatic (South Indian) style of L.Subramaniam and L.Shankar.

I used to be a big fan of Indian violin but I remember some of the hardcore stuff being a bit of an acquired taste at first. 

September 8, 2010 at 12:41 AM ·

Here is a track with L.Shankar playing at his best. It's a shame the uploader put low quality audio as it doesn't really do justice to Shankar's joyous liquid tone - here it sounds a bit grainy. With that in mind, listen to it as a taster and get to hear it in better quality. This track literally changed my life!


Buy the whole album for $7.92:



September 8, 2010 at 01:25 AM ·

I don't mean to be rude, but as you asked me, I will tell you my experience, since I visited India several times and met most of these people:


1. They have a deficient and tight bow grip and wrist.

2. They hardly know a single bowing technique properly. (most of their advanced students just know up-and-down)

3. They hardly use the left pinkie, if at all.

4. They do not move above the 4 th position, except with one or two fingers, gliding.

5. Nearly every note is searched for by gliding, rather than by instant finger placing.

6. There is hardly any real double-stopping or chords, if at all. (I am not taking open strings into consideration, the only double thing they often do... )

7. Nothing about harmonics, left hand pizzicati, chromatic scales, etc.

8. They always use a mic, what disguises many tonal shortcomings.

9. Hardly any sense of bowing dynamics and tonal variety.


Their only actually impressive technique is the gamak, which is unknown in the west. Otherwise, I do not think that anyone who has seriously studied Paganini's works and heard them masterly performed would be even slightly impressed by any of these Indian violinists, what to speak of matching their technique to his...

Here is a gypsy playing Paganini, though they also have their own music, technique and style:

This is someone well deserving the title Gypsy Paganini !

September 8, 2010 at 07:57 AM ·

 I'm going to agree with Mr. Benford.  Even though I find the Indian style of playing pleasing to the ear, the technical deficiency of the players is very apparent.  I share Mr. Benford's objection to the comparison to Paganini, a symbol of Western technical proficiency.  I appreciate the melodies that are created but overall the thing that would keep me from pursuing this style for myself is my need for the technical comprehensiveness of the European tradition.  It's the same reason I completely abandoned fiddle playing.  I felt limited near the bottom of the fingerboard. 

September 8, 2010 at 12:30 PM ·

 Is that what has become of music, we judge it by technical prowess rather than beauty?

Anyway, I disagree. Subramaniam and Shankar have consumate technique but that's not the point is it?

And so what if they couldn't play Paganini caprices, Paganini probably wouldn't be able to play Indian music and it wouldn't make him any less of an artist.

Rick, I could pick apart most of your points but the main one that they slide to the notes is somehow a shortcoming is ignorance of the style. Indian music is a vocal tradition, the violin and all the instruments imitate the voice which in the Indian style is rich in glissando. Western classical music is an instrumental tradition largely written by pianists which is why we spend so much time trying to sound like a piano rather than exploiting the fretless fingerboard to its full expressive advantage. Your criticism is a bit like an Indian violinist hearing a Western violinist and saying they have to cover up their bad intonation with vibrato (which is true in all too many cases).

I take your point that the comparison to Paganini may not be the best one but I think the more important point here is that we can learn a lot from Indian violinists and other string players of the world. They show us that style and technique are not set in stone and that the violin can sound beautiful in so many different ways. 

Personally speaking I've been moved by the above musicians playing but I have never once been moved by anybody playing Paganini Caprices. Impressed maybe but I don't judge art that way.



September 8, 2010 at 01:54 PM ·

Ignorance is to comment on someone's post without understanding it. I did not speak a word about style, musicality or musical taste, but simply replied to the original question saying that it is not fair to compare the Indian players' technique to that of Paganini. Does anyone really think that to find the pitch by gliding is technically impressive? Out of the many  top teachers I met in India, none of them could play something as simple as a 3 octave scale without gliding, and everyone of them promptly admitted that their technique is aeons behind the western one. Now if the very westerns can't notice it, I have nothing else to say.

September 8, 2010 at 02:15 PM ·

forgive my ignorance, but every time i see the word or name of paganini, i think of someone doing wild stuff on the violin. :)    tricks, fireworks,,,so you go,,,woolala.

i did not go woolala watching the indian performers.  they are good artists, perhaps even top of the field in india, with interesting sounds or sound effects.  but then, some old fridges can produce interesting sound as well (no offense intended, just pay attention next time.  really really listen:).

the interesting exchanges between rick and christopher illustrates that with music, the style is in the eye of the beholder and often trumps objective standards.

September 8, 2010 at 06:55 PM ·

 What I'd like to point out is that the Indian style is rich in slides - it's part of the music. In fact it's what I find most technically impressive. If you are unaccustomed to the style or indeed have spent your life trying to avoid sliding then then you may miss this. However, as we are talking about Subramaniam here, (and not the guys that Rick met) in his case he slides when he wants to and doesn't slide when he doesn't want. His style is like the Indian vocal style and portamento is a big part of it. It's not that he can't hit the notes - that is absurd!!! 

Not Subramaniam but Shankar, check out around 1.20 in this clip and tell me if he can't play scales without sliding to each note, can't play above 4th position etc…


And Rick, I don't see how you meeting some substandard violinists  makes the tradition null and void. I met lots of rubbish western classical violinists - it doesn't mean that they are all rubbish! Not to mention that many classical players of a high standard could not improvise for toffee or play a note without written music, even with these shortcomings it didn't mean they had nothing valid to say in their own field.


September 8, 2010 at 09:23 PM ·

@Michael : I can't understand how you could not appreciate the technical mastery of Indian players like Shankar and Subramanium (if that's who you are referring to, and have watched / listened to the clips that Christopher showed - if not, then disregard the rest of this). While it's true that this technique is not comparable to the western "Paganini" standard, it's only because it is so different that it's not possible to compare like with like. However, let's for a moment take musicality out of the equation, and concentrate on technique. Any technique is reducable to and explained by human mechanics - whether it's a Pag caprice, or an Indian raga. We all know Pag's technical demands - rapid fingering / bowing / coordination, pure intonation, lightning-fast shifts, etc - all that is happening in these Indian violin clips, plus persistent sliding / gliding with single fingers to and from notes, spot on pitch, sometimes at extremely fast tempos - very difficult. Just try fingering 3 consecutive notes with the same finger, while defining each note clearly and of course having perfect intonation. The mechanics are every bit as complex and difficult as anything Mr Pag ever devised - it's just the resulting sound that is totally different.

I am working on Indian technique just for my own interest. The fingering of 3 consecutive notes with a single finger - here's what I mean. It's by no means perfect, but you get the idea :

Also, can I politely say that if you abandoned fiddle playing just because of a first position restriction, then you have missed a world full of great music, imo.

September 8, 2010 at 09:34 PM ·

 Yes Jim, isn't it so that when you study it and know what's involved you appreciate the technicality?Not easy let me tell you.

September 8, 2010 at 09:50 PM ·

Yes, there's a lot more to it than meets the ear or the eye :)

September 8, 2010 at 10:42 PM ·

 And Al, if you did not go 'woolala' at the clip I had posted you had better go back to listening to fridges!! :)

September 8, 2010 at 11:41 PM ·

i usually go woolala when i open the fridge:)

hey christopher,  i want to be respectful to your strong reaction to that clip.  similarly,  sometimes i would find a clip to be woolala and others won't.  having said that, as rick mentioned, i have a hard time accepting violin music made with a clip-on microphone.   

anyway, here is clip that is WOOLALA to me.


September 8, 2010 at 11:53 PM ·

 Actually there I kind of agree with you regarding the amplification. Shankar used to have the most amazing acoustic tone then he went very electric and I thought it was a shame that we weren't hearing that tone anymore although he did some very nice albums with Jan Garbarek on his double neck 10 stringed electric violin. 

The same with Subramaniam, as I mentioned, he had an amazing acoustic tone standing next to him and his electric violin doesn't do his tone justice. I disagree though with a previous post that suggested amplification covers up tone shortcomings. Concert halls do that! Amplification brings out all the grittiness of the violin.

September 9, 2010 at 01:45 AM ·

Jim, I'm not going to argue about whether or not the technique of shifting in tune between a bunch of notes with one finger is "every bit as complex and difficult as anything Mr Pag ever devised" as you stated.  You seem to have your heart set on this and it's kind of an irrelevant comparison to be honest.  I disagree with that statement but it isn't worth it to me to attempt to change your mind.  I will however address what you said about fiddling.  I'm not putting down fiddling either.  I listen to it in the car and I enjoy the work of many different players, however it's not what I wanted out of my own playing, which is why I spend so many hours a day exploring my way through etudes.  



September 9, 2010 at 02:16 AM ·

i do not like the elecrtic violin; its a monotonous tone. and i also agree the comparison is irrelevant. fine, you like, but why paganini? that would necesitate a remarkable array of techniques and showma- or show woman- ship.thats not the case here., fine, nice playing, but not an exhibition of many techniques that envisage the violin in many different manners, plucking, for example. or playing with the wooded bow, or vibrato, glissando, or maybe making music out of hitting the other musicians on the head with it, or any other creations he can amass..but no, this is not the case here. no paganinihe, paganinidum

September 9, 2010 at 02:21 AM ·

when i said glissando, in the sense that it is not the only particularly endemic technique on show but belongs to a larger array. yes, indeed, india. anyway, the other way of looking at the violin's relevance to indian music is that onece you break up the note to many other intermediate notes..well you sort of can't give in to the acrobatic leaps over wavelength span that paganini could afforrd. it takes longer for the bus to go from A to B in india because it has so maaaaaaany other stops in between and people just push into you. the land of billions of people and billions of notes.

September 9, 2010 at 02:22 AM ·

Paganini was perhaps the most virtuosic western violinist.  The reason I compared Dr. Subramanium to Paganini is because he is probably the most virtuosic violinist who plays  classical Indian music.  If you listen to a wider spectrum of his work you will see he is fluent over the whole finger board,  can improvise in different styles, and when he desires can play with correct western technique.  He produces beautiful tone colors and is creative, having the ability of fusing the best of Indian classical music with western musical ideas. One must remember that classical Indian music is very different from western music which explains things like the lack of chromatic scales and double stops . 

I found Lakatos's arrangements derivative of Paganini but  somewhat hackneyed .  Also his  technique was a bit sloppy and his sound seemed lacking in brilliance and color.   

September 9, 2010 at 03:32 AM ·

I did not say a word about tradition. We are pointing out verifiable and measurable  technical patterns.

 Lakatos is an expert in gypsy music, not in Paganini. He just shows how he can manage it, and he does it. I gave him as an example of someone who can demonstrate a wide variety of technical proficiency in a different musical field, and whatever his Paganini may sound like, he does play it.


A further objection is that Paganini was not only a violin virtuoso. He was a genius who changed the history of violin playing and the very music of Europe, besides leaving a good number of compositions that gave him a position among the greatest composers. As far as Subramaniam is concerned, he just enjoys the reputation of being a famous Indian musician. Indeed, he is quite criticized among Indian orthodox circles for making rubbish commercial versions of classical raagas. To the present day, he left no remarkable legacy to India or its music, and I don't think that many people would give much credit for his compositions.


L.Shankar left India in his youth, and he received many years of training in US. He developed his own music and he is not considered a performer of Indian classical music.

September 9, 2010 at 12:21 PM ·

 So what are you saying exactly?

September 9, 2010 at 01:09 PM ·

When I started this thread it was not my intention in any way to disrespect Paganini.  Everything Rick said about Paganini is true.  The name Paganini has become synonymous with violin virtuosity and it is commonly used to describe someone who is virtuosic.    I don't know what Dr. Subramaniam's legacy will be but he now is widely respected as a violinist and composer.  Just check out is wiki page. .  Apparently Dr. Subramaniam does have a Master's degree in western classical music.

The renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin said of Subramaniam:  "I find nothing more inspiring than the music making of my very great colleague Subramaniam.  Each time I listen to him, I am carried away in wonderment." 




September 9, 2010 at 01:51 PM ·

But then, Yehudi Menuhin found every musician and human being he met wonderful etc. etc., at least when reading his books ;-)

September 9, 2010 at 03:10 PM ·

True, Menuhin was a yes man. He even recommended a luthier who ruined my violin...

I never meant to minimize Mr. Subramaniam, but I think that people should receive the proper credit within their own field for what they really are. Subramaniam and several other Indian players have a very high technical level in their own music, and it is totally unnecessary and ludicrous to try to bring them to the same level of what we consider technical excellence in the west.

September 9, 2010 at 04:18 PM ·

not to be controversial for its own sake, but to what extent is this reverse orientalism? admiring something because its 'exotic' and therefore 'spiritual' (yeah, i'm suspicious of the menuhin quote)?  slides are natural to indian music, my indian violinist friend does it all the time very nicely. he's no paganini beyond being very reasonable playing,. i'm not sure i understand what sets this guy aside. reasonable playing does not make for virtuosity.  how many indian violinists do we know and how does he compare to them?is there a rich culture of virtuouso indian or other violinists practicing in the indian idioms? and that electro output completely churns out a generic monotonous sound that i do not like. personally, i don't like it, its boring. my opinion. and its not because its indian. my opinion

September 9, 2010 at 06:09 PM ·

 Whether you like Indian violin or not is not so important. I think it's good that this was posted as so many classical violinists are unaware of the world of violin playing outside of their tradition. It can be informative to see entirely different ways of approaching the instrument which can lead to a healthy self reflection on one's own technique and style. You may come out of the experience unaffected but more aware of your own cultural identity or it may send you in an entirely new direction.


As I said earlier, I was genuinely moved by some of these players in my formative years and it was Shankar and Subramaniam that set me off on a new non-classical direction. Paganini never really moved me. I was, I guess you could say, entertained by the Caprices - a bit like watching a trapeze act. Nothing wrong with that in its own right but move me, no. I know he has some good tunes but a lot of it is fast scales and arpeggios - a kind of proving ground for violinists, the rest of the world aren't listening to them much. I don't really care to hear yet another generic violinist scratching through them. 

September 9, 2010 at 06:54 PM ·

"I think it's good that this was posted as so many classical violinists are unaware of the world of violin playing outside of their tradition"

Many years ago I played a cassette tape with some music by shakti (la dance de bonheur, shankar playing the violin) for my teacher. He wasn't interested at all. But he himself was performing all over the world, including india. He told me how they performed with their string quartet, wearing western suits and ties, in the tropical heat in madras. I thought to myself "oh the indian audience must have come to see them fools".

September 9, 2010 at 09:25 PM ·

Jim, I'm not going to argue about whether or not the technique of shifting in tune between a bunch of notes with one finger is "every bit as complex and difficult as anything Mr Pag ever devised" as you stated.  You seem to have your heart set on this and it's kind of an irrelevant comparison to be honest.  I disagree with that statement but it isn't worth it to me to attempt to change your mind.  I will however address what you said about fiddling.  I'm not putting down fiddling either.  I listen to it in the car and I enjoy the work of many different players, however it's not what I wanted out of my own playing, which is why I spend so many hours a day exploring my way through etudes.  

Michael, we'll just need to agree to disagree on that one. I have studied Indian violin techniques for many years, and also have followed the music of Subramaniam and Shankar since the 70s, so, along with developing my own technique (primarily western classical, but including Indian and other genres) and listening intently to these musicians in particular, that might give you an insight into why I say the things I do about comparative technical abilites, eg of Subramaniam and Paganini players. I understand these things in depth. Not everyone does.

Fiddling, or playing etudes, you do what you do, and that's fine :)

It's also worth noting that beautiful, evocative, soul-wrenching, gut-pulling music, played from the with heart, with feeling, etc, etc, regardless of genre, is usually directly related to the level of the technical ability of the player. That is something a lot of us seem to forget (and many either can't see it, or don't want to admit it), and is only brought to the fore in discussions like these.

September 9, 2010 at 09:51 PM ·

As far as Subramaniam is concerned, he just enjoys the reputation of being a famous Indian musician. Indeed, he is quite criticized among Indian orthodox circles for making rubbish commercial versions of classical raagas. To the present day, he left no remarkable legacy to India or its music, and I don't think that many people would give much credit for his compositions.

Sounds like sour grapes to me! Anyway, a little bit of musical prostitution never hurt anyone.

September 10, 2010 at 06:14 AM ·

In India it does, as classical music still has a religious character there. Similarly, there is no much praise of Vanessa Mae in this community, and no one here would suggest that it is a 'sour grape' case. Of course, she can blow the mind of many people who can't tell Bach from Paganini...

September 10, 2010 at 08:28 PM ·

In India it does, as classical music still has a religious character there. Similarly, there is no much praise of Vanessa Mae in this community, and no one here would suggest that it is a 'sour grape' case. Of course, she can blow the mind of many people who can't tell Bach from Paganini...

Interesting comment.  To properly evaluate Vanessa's playing, you'd have to listen to her (playing fine acoustic violins only, and not have any visuals. It's the only way to un-muddy the equation and show intellectual honesty. Then listen to others' audio only and decide.


September 11, 2010 at 02:47 AM ·

 Hmmm, whadya think Jim? Maybe we should stop liking these Indian chaps, this guy obviously knows what he is talking about and it seems we have been sadly deluded all these years! Oh well, I'll get my coat...

September 11, 2010 at 03:05 AM ·

Sometimes this seems to be comparing apples to oranges while beating a dead horse???

September 11, 2010 at 03:28 AM ·

 Well anybody can see that, unlike a fine apple, an orange has too thick a skin and is nowhere near a green color (anybody can see that surely?), therefore you should never eat them!!! :)

Erm, an orange just doesn't taste very appley!!??!! 

September 11, 2010 at 03:29 AM ·

Sometimes I wonder what people drink before coming to this thread...


Just as Subramaniam is considered as a spoiler of classical music in India due to his hodge-podge synthetic arrangements, so is Vanessa in the rest of the world by the conservative section. This is the reason because she does not get much attention here, and her technical skills have nothing to do with this part of the discussion.


September 11, 2010 at 04:14 AM ·

And apples have advanced modified protein packages. What a lovely way to say, Worm.

September 11, 2010 at 01:33 PM ·

I have recordings of both Subramaniam and L. Shankar and have heard the latter perform live.  His 70's group, Shakti, is a favorite of mine.  I appreciate and respect their musicianship.

That said, I have no reason to believe either would or would not make a great player of western classical music.  And no reason to indulge in pointless speculation.  I do know that crossover attempts fall short almost every time.  

September 11, 2010 at 02:18 PM ·

Niccolo Paganini was an evolutionary step for the violin & violinist for the genre (he played guitar also and his surviving guitar works are amoung my favorites). Has the other taken such a step?

September 11, 2010 at 02:36 PM ·

Well, he definitely took the revolutionary step of being the pioneer on electrified violin in India, in days when they were just recovering from the appearance of the amplifiers...

September 12, 2010 at 12:27 AM ·

Sometimes I wonder what people drink before coming to this thread...

Not sour grape juice, anyway. As for the original question of the post "What do you all think of the Paganini of India?", I think, absolutey and unconditionally, technically and musically, excellent. I've already said why.

September 12, 2010 at 12:43 AM ·

Absolutely agree - his playing changed my life.

September 21, 2010 at 03:26 PM ·

To clarify a few things.

Mr. Subramaniam can play paganini caprices. I have heard him play paganini caprice No. 5 on his jazz/fusion album titled Converstaions

There's another album named "The Violin Legends" (which I guess was released in India) where he has played Bach Partita No. 3 in E Major, Paganini Caprice No. 5 and Bach Double Concerto n D Minor for two violins. This album also features Grappelli and Menuhin, who mostly play on the fusion tracks. And when he plays the Western Classical, he plays it pure - no Indian "sliding" influences there.

Assuming he's the best Indian violinist (which I believe he is, in spite of what few Indian musicians seem to think), the question we should be asking is he up there with the best in the western classical as well? Well, that's hard for me to judge, but if somebody can objectively listen to whatever few western classical pieces he has recorded, and comment, that should end the debate on if he is good in western classical.

To my ears, they all sounded very good.

As regards to L. Shankar, I don't believe he can play western classical. From what I read on the net, he studied Ethnomusicology in the US. But then, if he can play like the way he does on his double necked violin, I don't think he needs to do anything else!

Coming to Indian vs Western violin playing techniques, I think western violin is far more developed and superior to Indian on the technical grounds alone. Indian technique while very good on sliding and the feel, lacks on the technical front.

In fact, Mr. Subramaniam himself says: 

"Technically the Indian violin is very weak and the western violin highly developed. There are so many aspects - the way you hold the instrument, the pressure you apply on the various strings, the pressure you give the bow, the emotions you give for a particular note, as also the spirituality, culture and so on - that make the difference. This was a revelation to me."

Click here to read the entire article.

I have a good friend from India who plays a bit of Carnatic violin. According to him Indian violinists while good at sliding techniques (which is mostly what they are taught), need to re-tune the violin everytime the key changes. My friend does too - so when he plays with bands, he carries multiple violins tuned to different keys! And he tells me if you listen to Subramaniam's Indian or Fusion pieces, you will be surprised to know that he mostly plays on D. His 5-string violin is tuned to D-A-D-A-D.

Subramaniam's choice of Electric instrument: I think the reason behind it was the need for amplification. When you play the violin in a Jazz/Fusion setup with guitars, keys, drums etc., you need the violin to be as loud as them and at the same time not feedback. Subramaniam uses custom made Barcus Berry 5-string Electric violins. These don't have microphones but piezoelectric pickups which give the fatter tone to his violin, which like everything else in life, is not liked by everybody. If you don't like Jean-Luc Ponty, my feeling is you ain't going to like it.

Coming to the original point of comparing Subramaniam to Paganini. I think comparisons are inevitable when people reach that level of musicianship. I'm not sure who else has been compared to Paganini, if ever. This can only mean that many out there believe he's that good. According to my violinist friend, Subramaniam has adapted many western techniques into his Indian playing style to an extent that other Indian violinists find it virtually impossible to replicate.

Has Subramaniam had the same impact on Indian violin that Paganini once had on the Western violin, to deserve this comparison? I don't know the answer - but according to my friend, the answer is not an emphatic yes, but its just a matter of time before he gets there.

September 21, 2010 at 04:17 PM ·

I just took the trouble of listening to it. By no means I would call this a performance of Paganini. He does not play the arpeggios at all, nor the original ricochet bowing. I found the arrangement disgusting. 


Subramaniam did nothing innovative in the Indian violin. He just imported what was already being done in the west for centuries.

September 21, 2010 at 07:49 PM ·

Its interesting to notice the divergent musical tastes amongst people. Somebody mentioned Vanessa Mae wasn't good enough, now Subramaniam!

It's little strange that there aren't any articles/views written about Subramanim's supposed bad violin technique. On the contrary, all the reviews I have read on the internet about Subramaniam have been quite positive. I know, lack of negative reviews by itself, doesn't mean something is good.

Even the staunchest critics, who do find his compositions repetitive and boring, do acknowledge his mastery over the instrument and his virtuoso status.

I respect your views.

September 21, 2010 at 08:30 PM ·

@Rick - where did you hear Subramaniam playing Pag's #5? From a track sample, or from the actual Conversations album? Thanks.

September 22, 2010 at 03:36 AM ·

Actually, I used to have a copy of that album many years ago. Not my piece of cake. If you search in the Google, you will find the caprice track posted in many places.

I am not exactly criticizing his technique in this track, but I am strongly conservative when it comes to interpreting someone's work, even more if we are speaking of Paganini. Let him play as the man wrote it, instead of making a disco version.  BTW, critics of music hardly ever know a pinch about technique to be able to say even a word.

What really bothers me is that Oistrakh was not called the Paganini of Russia, nor is Perlman called the Paganini of Israel, so why the heck should this fellow be called the Paganini of India???  Even if he could play a few western works, he would never match any of them.


September 22, 2010 at 04:04 AM ·

This is not the best performance of this caprice, but Markov does it in the original way:


Paganini should be played with Paganini technique.

September 28, 2010 at 09:56 PM ·

Yes, the Markov clip is very good, showing the slurred 3s and 4s bowing. Word has it that the current viruosi prefer to play this one with single bows, just for the increased volume and clarity factor, in large performance areas.

I found the Subramaniam Caprice # 5 clip here :

I'm left in no doubt as to his technical abilities after hearing this. Very cleanly played, but this version is let down by the accompaniment - he needs to lose the drum machine! Yes, a dreadful arrangement, I'd agree. Ironically, it's slightly more demanding this way, as there is absolutely no room for a pause anywhere (....solely a technical comment).

"Paganini of India", or not, as you wish, but at least this clip adds a bit more relevance to the subject of the thread.

July 2, 2011 at 05:12 AM ·

I learn South Indian classical (Carnatic) music on the violin.

South Indian classical music employs very different aesthetics from Western classical music. It is very inappropriate to compare their techniques. It is like ridiculing a lawyer for being unable to compute the indefinite integral of a complicated function.

Indeed, it is true that LS isn't much liked by the more "orthodox" listeners of Carnatic music. But his virtuosity is immense.

July 7, 2016 at 01:58 PM · As a practitioner of Indian music, I feel compelled to write a reply even after this long after the initial post date. I think it could be objectively argued that the Indian violin is technically deficient. But many here completely fail to understand the context in which the Indian violin is played.

As far as I know, the western classical violin thought process is the result of nearly 400 plus years of investigation. Subramanium plays most of his music through the lens of Indian classical, or what we can broadly call 'Raga' music. The south Indian tradition of music is entirely dominated and shaped by vocal music. The violin is mostly used to accompany the vocal performer, and even as a solo instrument it is used to mimic vocal compositions. To accuse the Indian style of lacking double stops, harmonics, chromatic scales, etc. is quite ridiculous. The Indian style is a monotonic style of music with a deep emphasis on the 'Gamaka', or the typical Indian slides with all the complex micro-tones. The character of Indian music derives from this type of microtonal music, which results in distinct melodic identities called Ragas. Indian music is mostly about exploration of ragas.

I have never seen a master violinist in the western classical tradition who could play Gamakas in a way that would sound authentic to the Indian connoisseur. Can I accuse such maestros of not being proficient at their instrument? Of course not, after all they have dedicated their lives in pursuit of different goals. They are indeed masters of the craft they worked towards.

Words like "Paganini of India" make for nothing more than cheap headlines. Further more, they prevent people from understanding underlying complexities. Subramanium has it hard from both ends. They western classical musicians accuse him of being incapable of playing a western classical music, and the Indian orthodox accuse of stepping away from tradition in pursuit of showmanship. Both make the same mistake in having misapprehensions about Subramanium's pursuits. Subramanium has indeed learned and adopted many western classical thought processes in his playing. But ultimately, I don't think he ever intended to play western classical music. In my opinion, he is certainly a virtuoso with a sizable command over the instrument. He has played with top musicians across the world who play varied genres of music. He is a crossover violinist who has introduced south Indian violin to the world. Their is character and soul to the music he produces, which in my humble opinion is more important the mastery of certain techniques.

July 7, 2016 at 03:01 PM · "Paganini of India" was an unfortunate title. And crossovers can never satisfy everyone.

I dicovered the sitar through George Harrison, then Ravi Shankar, followed by more "purist" Hindi and Karnatic musicians whom I distinctly prefer.

Crossovers? Menuhin recorded with Ravi Shankar in two LP's (East Meets West). Beautiful, if rather basic.

Just to help the ignorant, the slides are not used to find a note; they create a subtle interplay of harmonics against the ever-present drone (often tonic/dominant) and against the background rustlings of the basic scale (of which there are hundreds).

July 7, 2016 at 11:57 PM · "The Indian style is a monotonic style of music with a deep emphasis on the 'Gamaka', or the typical Indian slides with all the complex micro-tones."

And what do You know about vocal style?

July 9, 2016 at 11:50 AM · Well firstly, I would like to point out that the problem here is his naming of the Paganini of India...which I understand may not fit...however as an avid performer of Indian Carnatic Music I have a lot to say...I also learn Western Classical Music (from a classical teacher in the US); however I play carnatic music professionally all around US and India.

It is astounding how technique can be deficient when it is not up to the "Western Standards." Technique is subjective to the style of music...the technique needed to play Carnatic Music is completely different from the technique needed to play Western Classical Music, so it is EXTREMELY arrogant and ignorant to say that Carnatic Indian musicians are "deficient" of technique.

Carnatic music is composed of ragas, and what gives the ragas life is the "Gamaka." @Rick, the Indian musicians who were "searching" to find a note by sliding was either a student who was just learning, or lack of knowledge of how the music works. The sliding, oscillations would be a better word to use, is used in order to create the phrases and give life to the ragas. This is in NO WAY searching for the notes.

Rick, I would like to know who are the top teachers that you met in India. Anyway, my point is that it is wrong to say that they could not play something as "simple" as a 3 octave scale. For us, the raga mayamalavagowla with gamaka is the simplest of scales. I can guarantee you even Yehudi Menuhin, Oistrakh, or any top Western player or teacher would be unable to play something as "simple" as Mayamalavagowla with the right technique and right gamakas without extensive and proper training in Carnatic Style. What is simple is subjective to the style, so refrain from commenting on the techniques and styles of any other style of music.

L Subrmaniam is an outstanding Carnatic violinist, and the reason he is criticized is because he went into fusion, and commercialized the classical carnatic music to the mass crowd. This is why some orthodox musicians criticize him. Maybe saying that he is the "paganini" of India is a stretch, but in no way were a lot of the comments by any means accurate.

Another outstanding violinist is MS Gopalakrishnan...He was an excellent Carnatic and Hindustani violinist. He was gifted a violin from Yehudi Menuhin when he visited England. He was able to play western pieces IN FRONT OF MENUHIN with no experience in Western Music. My point is that, every style has its own technique and its own difficulty, and its own aesthetics and style. Please do not compare and make ignorant comments. Thank you.

July 9, 2016 at 12:30 PM · Yes, also a few points, as I understand the different perspective (or open mindedness), but could not phrase it in such a nice, and accurate way.

First of all, i think Oistrakh could've played it, so that's not a good example.

Second, I think the meditative aspect in western classical comes from the tone, and if You observe all Indian violinists who have such a nice tone learned at least a little bit of classical. The violin is a western instrument, and it co-evolved with the playing technique.

Third, I would clarify, that to listen to Your instrument speak, as widely discussed in this forum, you also have to say something, either the interpretation of a composition, or a strict rule-based improvisation, allowing phrases to convey emotional messages, that probably even some animals understand in a (pre-language) way. I think Indian classical music is an older tradition, and can touch spirituality in feeling beings more universally, than the culture-evolved dichotomy of composers/performers, as of opposed to the bards of the medieval times, who were often the performers of their own compositions.

Also, please note, that I would not like to devaluate far than excellent musicians, like V.G. Jog, who lacks a western tone, but nevertheless complies to a great violinist (in my opinion) because of the musicality.

My favourite Indian violinist is Shishirkhana Dhar Chowdhury. Dunno why :) just because :) best,k

July 9, 2016 at 06:17 PM · Hi! What I meant to say with the oistrakh was using the right gamakas, and using the correct technique. He would definitely be able to do it with the right training or guidance. The soul of Indian music definitely comes from the ability to set your mind at peace and achieve some spiritual elevation. The amount anybody can do in a ragam is unbelievable, and you are correct that a great tone is not necessarily needed in order to be a great Carnatic violinist (of course it is an amazing bonus). I really urge you to listen to MS Gopalakrishnan. He is amazing.

July 9, 2016 at 10:47 PM · well, to be honest, I think south Ibndian (Carnatic) music, I mean, violin, is more sensitive of tone production than Hindoustani. I have no idea why. But my teacher plays hindoustani with south indian technique (like the up bow, staccato like).

Playing an alap will surely achieve calmness, maybe not if the audience is bored ;-) If i am stressed, and start to rehearse jazz with the band, then I gradually calm down, and not slowly. Does that make any sense? :)

July 10, 2016 at 07:57 AM · Calm music often needs intense concentration and fine control: the music is calm, not the musician!

July 10, 2016 at 02:56 PM · The musician is also calm, he is just very involved in what he is doing.

July 10, 2016 at 07:43 PM · Not the same kind of calm...

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