Rabindra Sangeet also known as Tagore Songs, are songs written and composed by Rabindranath Tagore. They have distinctive characteristics in the music of Bengal, popular in India and Bangladesh. It is characterized by its distinctive rendition while singing which includes a significant amount of ornamentation like meend, murki, etc. and is filled with expressions of romanticism. The music is mostly based on Hindustani classical music and folk music of Bengal.
Brief history of Bengal
After the decisive victory of the British East India Company in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, they became the rulers of Bengal. The Nawabs had almost no practical power of their own. Under the British rule, the lifestyle of the people of Bengal started to change gradually. People of Calcutta had enough money at this time and they were desirous for entertainment. In 1779, Calcutta’s first theatre was established which emulated European theatres of the era. Music listening, learning and cultivating European music styles and performance practices began around that time.
The year 1795/96 is considered significant in the history of Bengal when Herasim Levadev, a Russian musician and bandmaster, came to the city and translated two Russian dramas. Many Bengali actors and actresses participated in Lavadev’s dramas. In the beginning of the nineteenth century theatre groups were formed in places like Chandannagar, Kidderpore, Dumdum, etc. British, Italian, and German culture started influencing Bengali culture and music. In 1805, the Bengali drama Vidyasundar was staged. It commenced with pleasing orchestral music and was accompanied by Indian musical instruments such as the esraj, the sitar, the sarangi, the pakhvaj, etc.
From the first half of the nineteenth century, Calcutta saw a rise of orchestral music in Bengali theatres and affluent society. On 3 July 1857, a drama titled Ratnavali was staged at Jatindramohan Tagore’s house at Belgachia. Jatindramohan Tagore (later known by only his last name which eventually became synonymous with Bengali songs of the era) was one of the main organizers of this drama. He assigned musicians Kshetramohan Goswami and Jadunath Pal to form an orchestra imitating those found in European theatres. Hence, he and other Bengali musicians and scholars began experimenting with European music. They developed Bengali notations, called gat. These activities cemented the name Tagore in Bengali-Indian music history.