Collections of themed recordings curated by John Noise Manis


VIII. Court Music Treasures


A Commentary  by Sumarsam

Born in East Java, Bapak Sumarsam received formal gamelan education and grew up as musician in Surakarta (Central Java). He is Adjunct Professor and Chair of the Music Department at Wesleyan University (Middletown, Conn) and an internationally renowned gamelan musician. He conducts workshops and concerts throughout the world. He has written “Gamelan – Cultural Interaction and Musical Development in Central Java”, University of Chicago Press, 1995.

This CD is meant to complement the sixth Volume (‘Kraton Surakarta’) in the series ‘Gamelan of Central Java’. Both CDs do not try to simulate the ways in which gamelan is practiced in a typical klenengan (traditional gamelan playing) – following prescribed modal (pathet) and mood progression – rather, it is a selection of  “classical” court style pieces, each to be appreciated on its own. In both CDs, the gamelan playing is done on the most well-known set in the Kasunanan court of Surakarta, Kyai Kadukmanis and Manisrengga; this fact enhances the value of the recordings in featuring a court gamelan practice. In fact, this gamelan set, and two pieces which appeared in a 1963 LP recording (Philips 831 201 PY), have inspired the producer to remake and record the performances of the pieces – Kombang Mara and Tukung – in the sixth Volume of the collection.

The musicians in the old LP record were kraton musicians. At the time, the use of notation was not as prevalent as today. Most likely the court musicians in that recording did not use notation. Their musical training was an aural one, learning by listening and by trial and error. On the other hand, most musicians of the present CDs are faculty members of the STSI (Institute of the Arts) in Solo. Notation takes an important role in their formal education. In much of today’s gamelan playing, it is not uncommon to see some musicians (including singers) using notation, even if only casually.

I should explain the use of gamelan notation. The most commonly notated part of the gamelan pieces is the balungan (melodic skeleton of a gendhing, usually performed by a groups of instruments, each having one-octave range). Balungan notation is the most readily available, and the only notation used in gamelan playing. Notations for other instruments exist, but are used for learning only, privately or in a classroom. Sometimes notation for gerongan (a male chorus part) is used. Commonly, a musician in charge of organizing a performance provides notation of the gendhing that the musicians will be playing. In some cases, a musician has his own book of notation. Format is unimportant – the notation is used according to the needs of its user, following his or her musical competency and repertoire. Particularly when playing rarely-performed pieces (especially long gendhing), notation is often used intensely. For other more familiar gendhing, notation is used as a backup (if it is used at all), in case the user forgets a certain passages.

It is quite revealing to compare the musical treatment of Kombang Mara and Tukung as they are performed by two groups of musicians of different generations and background – the 1960s court musicians and the 2000s STSI musicians. In aurally transmitted music such as gamelan, musicians learn the music and build up their musical competence by way of repetition and trial and error, as already noted. In this context, there is no difference between rehearsal and performance (both are to be conceived as a platform for both performance and learning). And precision in musical treatment is not always a relevant criterion in gamelan practice. A given musical treatment by a musician can be seen as a way to develop his musical competency, his execution of musical embellishment, or both. The court musicians of the old LP represent this musical practice at its best. The imprecise musical treatment by the peking and the belated entering of the bonang panerus in Tukung (then playing lively embellishments but also occasional inaccuracies in musical treatment), these all make better sense if one considers the aural musical practice that I have briefly outlined above. On the other hand, STSI musicians produce more polished music. Kombang Mara and Tukung in the sixth CD (‘Kraton Surakarta’) constitute a musical offer with clean, more precise musical treatment and stylistic articulation. The training and background of STSI musicians I mentioned earlier shape their musical production. The recordings of the present CD (‘Court Music Treasures’) also reveal that kind of precision in musical treatment/articulation and that more polished musical production by the STSI musicians.

Now, I will comment on each of the pieces.


Track 1 – Gendhing GAMBIR SAWIT, slendro sanga

This is one of the well-known pieces in gamelan. There is a song-text of a bawa (vocal introduction to gendhing) composed especially for Gambir Sawit that testifies the fame of this piece. It says in part: “….from ancient time to nowadays, Gambir Sawit has never bored anyone, even if it is sounded three times in one hour….”

There are a number of versions of Gambir Sawit. Besides klenengan, the piece can also be performed to accompany dance and wayang scenes. Usually, gerong-texts for the first part of the piece (merong) is Kinanthi (a macapat sung-poetry consisting of six lines per stanza), and the gerong starts at the beginning of the second kenongan phrase. In this CD, the gerong singers chose Sinom (seven lines per stanza). To fit into the gendhing structure, the gerong starts to sing in the third kenongan, and the last line of the verse is split in two lines.

Gambir Sawit in this CD is presented in an abbreviated version. In a typical klenengan, the merong is played two times before it goes to the ngelik section. In this CD, after the first gongan, it goes straight to the ngelik. The second part of the piece (inggah) is also a condensed version. It is played only in irama wilet. Performing this section in irama rangkep, which is known for its very lively treatment and evokes a lively atmosphere, would be a must in a klenengan.


Track 2 – Gendhing bonang DHENGGUNG TURULARE, pelog nem

Gendhing bonang is an instrumental piece – vocalists and all soft-sounding instruments do not participate. As in any gendhing bonang, toward the end of the gendhing, the inggah is played in a loud style. This is the climax of gendhing bonang – musicians must produce a loud sound from their instrument in fast tempi. The intense percussive sound of bronze instruments is where musical delight lies.

It has been said by some musicians that pieces with the initial name Dhenggung (there are several of them) have a connection with Sundanese gamelan Dhegung. But there is not yet any proof or analysis about this connection. The only similarity of these pieces with gamelan Dhegung is the fact that they all utilize only five notes (12356 out of 1234567 of the pelog tuning system for Javanese Dhenggung).


Track 3 – Gendhing MANDULPATI, slendro nem

Another presentation of this piece can be heard in a Nonesuch record (H-72044) of a Paku Alam gamelan in Yogyakarta, recorded in 1971. Featuring soft-sounding elaborating instruments and singing, and composed in pathet nem, this is a calm and stately piece, suitable to be played in the early part of a gamelan concert. The second part of the piece is called ladrang Agun-Agun. Like Dhenggung Turulare, toward the end of the piece the inggah is performed in loud style, while the soft-sounding instruments drop out. Only a few gendhing rebab have the inggah played in loud style.


Track 4 – Gendhing CARABALEN

Carabalen is believed to be one of the archaic ensembles (Monggang and Kodhok Ngorek are the others). This ensemble has only four tones and consist of only a few instruments:  (1) Two sets of gong-type instruments, one playing constant interlocking patterns, the other the melody of the piece.  (2) A pair of drums, providing a rhythmic configuration and supervising temporal flow.  And (3) a group of gong-type instruments, delineating the rhythmic structure of the piece.
There are several Carabalen pieces. This one is called Pisang Bali.


Track 5 – Gendhing kemanak bedhayan PANGKUR

This piece is typified by the use of a pair of archaic instruments, the banana-shaped kemanak; hence gendhing kemanak. Providing a basic pulse, the kemanak, together with kethuk, kenong, and gong, delineates the gongan structure of the piece (in this case it is ketawang – sixteenth basic pulses per gongan comprising two kenongan phrases). The kendhang provides a simple rhythmic configuration and supervises temporal flow. Instead of having multi-layer instrumental and vocal melodies (as in a regular gendhing), the melody of gendhing kemanak is provided by a single line sung by a mixed chorus. There are not many pieces in this genre; they are all for accompanying bedhaya and serimpi dances.

As in dance performance, the piece starts with a pathetan to accompany the entrance of the dancers. Pathetan is an un-metric modal song performed by rebab (as melodic leader) gender, gambang, and suling. A short vocal introduction (buka celuk) commences the piece. The piece in this CD consists of two cycles (i.e. two verses) of the poem. A complete performance consists of eight verses. The verse sung in this piece is macapat Pangkur, and the dance is named after it.


Gendhing GAMBIR SAWIT – Gerongan, Sinom metre

Tumrape wong tanah Jawi
Wong Agung ing Ngeksiganda
Panembahan Senopati
Kapati amarsudi
Sudaning hawa lan nepsu
Pinesu tapa brata
Tanapi ing siyang ratri
Amemangun karyenak tyasing sasama

An example of good behaviour
For the people of Java
Is the great man of Ngeksiganda [Mataram]
The venerable Senopati.
To attain intensely
The diminishing of passions
By pursuing it through meditation
Day and night
Creating the conditions for one’s well-being.


Gendhing kemanak bedhayan PANGKUR – Chorus, Pangkur metre

Purwakanireng  Pangripta
Kang tinengran karsa dalem sanga Aji
Angka sewu pitungatus
Lawan wolungdasa sapta
Sinengkalan Mulat Badan Sabdeng Ratu
Nggayuh sengsem mrih kretarta
Dwijasta Muji Sang Aji
Sudarsaneng Padmajendra
Amigena langen resmining rerangin
Supadi manglipur wuyung
Akarya sukaning wadya
Tembung wewangsalan ukeling agambuh
Linud rarasing kang taya
Sindhen sesendhoning gendhing

The beginning of the creation
Marked by the King’s order
In number – one thousand seven hundred
And eighty seven
In chronogram [words] – ‘Seeing Body the Command of the King’
Yielding enjoyment to achieve peace
‘Priest’s Hands to Hail the King’.
Exemplified by the King’s good wishes
Using beautiful artistic expressions
In order to treat sorrow
To make his subjects happy.
The meaning of the words is elaborately riddled
Following graceful movements of dance
Singing is the song of gendhing.

Pesindhen (female singer): Nyi Cendaniraras
Gerong (male chorus): Darsono, Rustopo, Waridi
Rebab: Suraji
Gender: Ibu Pringgo Hadiwiyono
Bonang: Supardi, Rusdiyantoro
Musicians of STSI and Kraton Surakarta
Music coordinator: Joko Purwanto
Recording made 11 May, 2004, at the pendhapa Sasono Sewoko of Kraton Surakarta
Gamelan Kyai Kaduk Manis Manis Rengga
Musical Design, Mastering, and Photos:  John Noise Manis

Special gratitude is expressed to G. P. H. Cakraningrat (Gusti Nur), a son of the late Susuhunan Paku Buwana XII