Topic 7 : The Story Of The World’s First Shruti-Harmonium

The world's first Harmonium was made over 100 years ago (in 1911) by Mr. Earnest Clements, a Civil Servant at Ahmedabad and a music enthusiast, and Mr. Krishnaji Ballal Deval, a retired deputy collector from Sangli. 

The task was difficult and achieved with a unique methodology.

They first wanted to precisely understand the frequencies used by stalwarts of Indian Classical Music. So first they created a string instrument, like a Veena, with just 2 strings. They would approach a stalwart, and then tune both strings in the Shadja. 

Later, the stalwart was made to sing a raga and asked to stay on every swara. As he stayed, Mr. Deval would play the same note on one of the strings, get a consent from the stalwart that it exactly is the same note being sung, and then calculate the % distance of the string from one end to arrive at the frequency using Galilio's Law.

There could not have been a more ingenious and accurate method at that time to arrive at shruti positions. 

They engaged several top class singers including Ustad Abdul Karim Khansaheb and derived the shruti positions very accurately.

Further, using good offices of Mr. Clements and making use of these shrutis, the world's 1st Shruti-Harmonium called as Indian (Hindu) harmonium was made in London by Mr. H. K. Moore of M/S Moore and Moore company at the New Oxford Street, London.

It was patented in London (Specifications of Inventions etc 1911, 1xxxviii, London Patent Office,1913,under no.15548). The details of this harmonium are fully described in a book written by Mr. Clements : Introduction to the study of Indian Music, Longmans, Green and Co., 1913, priced at $ 2 net).

Also, Mr. Deval had earlier written 2 books :

  1. The Hindu Musical Scale and Twenty Two Shrutees (1910), and
  2. Music East and West Compared (1908).

Every Octave had 23 notes, and 11 extra notes were played by pressure upon studs which pierced the black and white manuals. The cost of the Harmonium was 20 Pounds.

Finally the new instrument was decided to be unveiled in the 1916 All India Music Conference (AIMC) in Baroda convened by Mr. Bhatkhande, who already had reservations about Mr. Deval not being a musician himself and still claiming to document the science behind ancient shrutis.

Mr. Deval and Mr. Clements presented their 'Shruti-Harmonium' to the audience.

Next day, a group of Mr. Bhatkhande's supporters were recruited to oppose the instrument vehemently and conclude that the notes it gave were not those used in Indian Ragas. To add fuel to the fire, Mr. Clements gave a presentation later on how the modified European staff notation could capture all the nuances of the Indian Classical Music better than the earlier notation systems.

This too received a negative response largely due to the underlying fear that the Britishers were now gearing up to swallow the Indian Classical Music as well!

The 'shruti-harmonium' was opposed ignoring the fact that the notes coming out of the instrument were those actually sung by no other than the Maestro of Kirana Gharana Ustad Abdul Karim Khan in the first place !

It must be noted that Mr. Bhatkhande was not very appreciative of Abdul Karim Khan.

The worse was that the same dramatic battle between Mr. Deval and Mr. Clements on one side and Mr. Bhatkhande's supporters on the other also repeated in the next AIMC at Lucknow in 1918 !

There once again the 'shruti-harmonium' was presented to deaf ears, several prejudiced questions were raised about Mr. Deval and he not being a performer could not satisfy the prejudiced audience.

He had to say that he was not there to appear for an examination. On that, Mr. Ramaswamy Iyer, the Chairman advised sarcastically that if Mr. Deval cannot answer the questions, he should retire from his lecture just as he had retired from his deputy collectorship! 

Thus it was a political defeat for the world's 1st Shruti-Harmonium and the instrument became obsolete in just about 4-5 years after these events.

Today we know that in this harmonium made 100 years ago, 17/22 shrutis were perfect, and other 5 were only marginally different.

What a tragedy!

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