When the name of the Alathoor brothers is mentioned, one immediately thinks of their laya oriented music. The brothers were trained by the expert laya vidwan,Venkatesa Iyer (alias Venkateswara Iyer), who happened to be the father of Subbaiyer, the younger of the duo.
brothers-Srinivasa Iyer and Subbaiyer were not brothers at all. Srinivasa Iyer
was Tamil and Subbaiyer belonged to Mulakanadu Telugu sect. They hailed from
Alathoor, which is a small town near Trichy in Tamil Nadu. Srinivas Iyer (born
1912) was older to Subbaiyer by about 4 years. Knowing the potential of
the young boys, they were taught music together by Venkatesa
The Alathoor brothers debut came about in 1928 at the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival in Tiruvaiyaru and later performed at the Guru puja at the Dakshinamurthy Temple, Tiruvarur. Though the musical worth of the boys was noticed, but they were not lucky enough to get concerts for quite some time. One of the reasons was that the brothers music showed much rhythm based exposition, whereas the laypeople wanted music for melody sake. The audience seldom cared for the music with laya aspects and kannakku for their swara singing. All they looked for a happy blend of singing kritis without laya complexities.
Venkatasa Iyer had known Pudukottai Dikshinamurthi Pillai,the percussion vidwan of repute. Through his contacts, the brothers were introduced to Palani Subramania Pillai, who became the mrudangist of their choice. Their partnership proved to be great source of joy for the audiences. Concert offers were steadily coming in and they became highly popular vocal duo. The brothers performed at the Madras Music Academy in 1939 for the first time. Like their guru, Venkatasa Iyer, the brothers had the greastest admiration for Saint Thyagaraja and had learnt some rare kritis from him. Rendition of rare kritis of Thyagaraja was admired by the audiences. Incidentally, the brothers happened to be the fourth generation disciples of Saint Thyagaraja through Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaiyer.
Srinivasa Iyer had a soft, feeble voice and consequently he handled neraval and swara singing with Subbaiyer alternately, whereas Subbaiyer had a strong voice and he did
raga elaborations more often. Like their guru, they did delve on rendering some complex pallavis with strong grip on laya aspects. Even to this day, they are remembered for their
expert handling of pallavis.
Subbaiyer, who was more outgoing than Srinivasa Iyer and so he became the office bearer for the Tiruvaiyaru Tyagaraja Aradhana committee and served in various capacities till he died. Honours came to them slowly and steadily. The Trivandrum Court made them "asthana vidwans". The brothers were awarded Sangita Kalanidhi title from the Madras Music Academy in two successive years - Subbaiyer getting it in 1964 and Srinivasa iyer in 1965. Unfortunately, Subbaiyer passed away in June 1965 and was not there to see his singing companion getting the honour.
After Subbaiyer’s passing, Srinivasa iyer did not perform for a while but he was coaxed into performing by Palghat Mani Iyer and other well wishers. He did perform later on and finally passed away in 1980. Sangita Nataka Academy honored him as well as other music organizations.
The legacy of Alathoor Brothers music brings back nostalgia of good music without the flamboyance and frills.
Much of the information for this article was collated from Carnatic Summer by V. Sriram. East West Books, Chennai, 2004