Tagore’s: Songs of Love and Destiny
Ugo Bonessi, piano


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CD • 9 tracks

The Daniélou Collection

The music and the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore arranged for voice and piano by Alain Daniélou.

Francesca Cassio, voice.
Ugo Bonessi, piano.

On This CD:

1. The poet’s birthday (He nuton) 5:13
2. The shadow bird (Din guli mor) 4:11
3. Your life has begun (Tomar holo shuru) 3:18
4. If our heart (jodi Prem) 4:27
5. The earth is drunken mad (Himshaye unmotto prittvi) 5:29
6. The dusty road (Gram Chara) 2:24
7. Wandering from sky to sky (Gogone gogone) 5:24
8. Khoro bayu boy bege (original Bengali language) 3:11
9. Before me lies spread the ocean of peace (Shomukhè shanti parabharo) 6:34

Tagore, with a Roman touch by Dipanita Nath
Two Italian performers bring alive the poet’s music.

An Italian woman singing English versions of Bengali songs composed by none other than the legendary Rabindranath Tagore. Add to this a predominantly Bengali audience and you begin to understand why the Italian vocalist, Francesca Cassio, felt she was walking on a razor’s edge.

Cassio, 38, and pianist Ugo Bonessi, 47, presented their renditions at the India International Centre on Tuesday, and as the applause cut into the last strains, both felt that they had just passed a really tough examination. “Tagore would have been very pleased today as he always wanted to spread his music in the west. In fact, he had urged French scholar Alain Daniélou to transcribe his songs for the western voice and piano,” said Cassio. She and Bonessi are the first to have performed Rabindrasangeet according to the Daniélou notations.

Daniélou transcribed 18 songs, including the national anthem, into French and English, ensuring that the translated words were true to both Tagore’s meaning and melodies. “I feel as if I’ve just completed a project that Tagore and Daniélou started in 1932,” she added.

For a foreigner it is anything but easy to play Tagore, as Bonessi found out. “Unlike western classical notations, Tagore’s songs use ragas with its complex microtonal inflections that belong to the oral tradition of Indian gharanas. I could grasp these intricacies entirely due to my long interest in Indian classical music,” says Bonessi, who first heard the tabla during a Zakir Hussain show in London. “I was so awed that I began learning khayal and dhrupad. Bitten by the India bug, I visited the country in 1980 and then kept coming back,” he says.

Like him, Cassio had discovered the poet laureate early. “The west knows him only as a poet so it took me some time to realize he was also a composer,” she says. A national award-winning jazz singer from Rome, she became addicted to Indian classical music in the late 1990s. “I began learning Indian music at the Daniélou Foundation in Venice and followed it up by doing my Phd in Varanasi,” she says.

So, when the Daniélou Foundation started looking for the perfect voice to sing Tagore in English, their search threw up only one name – Cassio’s. “It was my grounding in Indian and western music that helped,” she says. It took her and Bonessi of them 18 months to learn 10 songs, all of which are part of a CD called Tagore’s Songs of Love and Destiny.

Their work is far from over. After a show in Kolkata, where Cassio’s guru Girija Devi will be present, the duo will visit Shantiniketan to complete learning the remaining eight songs. “And then, maybe, I can sleep in peace,” smiles Cassio.

Ugo Bonessi=Author