My mission is to present you with the kaleidoscopic world of musical composers who are inspired by Tagore. Being one example of how Tagore lives on in our collective minds.
It is because I believe there is only one true reality, with many, many unendless ways to experience part of this truth. Arts, science, intuition, tradition, religion, nature, all being instruments to see and live and experience part of this reality.
Some people offer humanity a very rich and kaleidoscopic view on this reality. Such a person is Tagore.
I believe an harmonious togetherness of all people is possible, and someday shall be reached. Call it eternal peace. Music and poetry are an opportunity to experience some of this peacefulness right now, in the present.
Some people sing to us and teach us extremely well to listen and to experience this harmonic future right now, in the present. Such a person is Tagore.
When the heart is hard and parched up,
come upon me with a shower of mercy
When grace is lost from life,
come with a burst of song
(verse 39 from Gitanjali)
I provide you here with an overview of these composers, as well as with a list of compositions, mainly settings of Tagore’s poetry. As many compositions are rather unknown, or sometimes even “obscure”, I also have tried to uncover recordings and references to publishers or archives.
At present 516 composers have been identified, in musical styles as divers as pop, jazz, Klezmer and of course classical music, both instrumental and vocal. And be sure, any addition or correction to these pages is more than welcome:
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was an Indian, Bengal writer, philosopher, composer, painter, and true polyglot. A source of inspiration for many, including many composers. But not only during his lifetime. Up till present people are inspired by his personality, his ideas, his texts, his paintings and his music.
Even a broad audience is sometimes reached. Like when Matt Harding‘s energetic and optimistic YouTube video “Where the Hell is Matt (2008)” acquired world fame when within a few days millions watched the YouTube video. The music is based on verse 69 “Stream of Life” from Gitanjali, set to music by Garry Schyman, sung in its original Bangla. In English it starts with:
The same stream of life that runs through my
veins night and day runs through the world
and dances in rhythmic measures.
I first learned about Tagore back in 1981, through musical settings by the composer Zemlinsky. In my mind then was settled the urge to find out more about Tagore and music. But it took me till 2002 before I finally started my research. Reading “The Myriad-minded man“, the Tagore biography by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson (1985) I was especially triggered by the description that Janáček gave of Tagore’s visit to Prague in 1921 (page 233).
One composer setting poems to music is Tagore himself, who created thousands of songs, in a whole new style for Bangla music, called Rabindra Sangeet. A collection of these Bengal songs can be found on a separate page.
Several academics have studied Tagore settings. Such as professor emeritus Rokus de Groot (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands), musicologist and also as a composer included in my index. Another is Carlo Coppola (University of Oakland, USA), professor emeritus of literature.
For an overview of some publications on this topic, please have a look here
During Tagore’s many, many travels and lectures around the world he met many kinds of people. Amongst them world leaders, writers, artists, kings, politicians, industrials, scientists, philosophers. Check out for instance his conversations with Einstein, which were recorded and transcribed.
Tagore’s ideas are strongly humanitarian, universalistic, being a solid bridge between Eastern and Western culture, a true “uomo universale”. His influence reaches far, though often unrecognized. A strong advocate of liberal arts: in his opinion to educate should be for life, not for living. Present day philosopher Martha Nussbaum is perhaps the most influential advocate of his ideas: teaching drama, music and literature to children and students is an absolute necessity.
Some other points of interest:
- in 1913 Tagore received the Nobel prize for literature, being the first non Westerner, profoundly influencing people like Yeats, Gide, Wells, Hesse, Pound, Russel and many others
- India’s national anthem, Jana Gana Mana, was originally composed in 1911 by Tagore for the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress. His compositions (>2500) are still very popular in the Bengali world. Many Indian films feature his songs, both in Bangla and translated into Hindi, in Bollywood movies. Bangladesh’s national anthem, Amar Shonar Bangla, is also based on his work, prepared and arranged by Samar Das (1929-2001).
- Visva-Bharati, the university which Tagore founded in Shantiniketan, is based on his ideas on multicultural education. The grandfather of Amartya Sen (Nobel laureate in economics 1998) was the nucleus around which this university was formed.
- Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi: modern India rests on those two towering personalities of the twentieth century. See for instance this article which also clearly outlines their shared vision on the importance of education.
- Quite a number of present day celebrities use Tagore’s words for inspiration. See e.g. Martin Sheen, reading “My country awake”, which he learned while filming “Gandhi”, in 1981. He is reciting these words from Tagore on many occasions, like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, on 16 August 2002.
- On Tagore and film, see IMDb for a comprehensive overview.