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Gamelan in the Mangkunegaran Court, Surakarta, Java, 1931​-​37

by Gamelan Kjahi Kanjoet Mèsem of the Mangkunegaran Palace

Odho-Odho 02:57


According to Mantle Hood's The Evolution of Javanese Gamelan, the first bronze drums (horizontal kettle gongs) arrived to Java from mainland southeast Asia shortly after 300 BCE. Javanese bronzesmiths worked toward casting tuned instruments for hundreds of years before the first sets of instruments were acquired by the kings around 300 CE. The forging of metallophone instruments of varying qualities proliferated for over a millennium. Some were exported to the mainland and surrounding islands, and nearly every village had a set, but the best quality instruments went to the palaces.

The court of the Mangkunegaran lineage was established in the middle of the 18th century. Within a hundred years its palace was a center of cultural activity, known for poetry, dance, and music. In the middle of the 19th century, the court became closely associated with the Langendriyan form of music-and-dance drama, danced and sung entirely by women, including the male roles. The recordings presented here were among the first made of the palace's musical art forms including the Langendriyan tellings of the 14th-15th century stories of the hero-prince Damarwulan and his nearly invincible enemy Menak Jingga who threatened the Majapahit Empire.

A footnote in Sumarsam's Javanese Gamelan and the West points out that:
"Besides the recordings of langendriyan at the Mangkunegaran court, the [record] companies also produced recordings of langendriyan music performed by kethoprak and wayang wong [theatrical] troupes outside the court, suggesting the popularity of langendriyan at the time. It seems that by the late nineteenth century, as wayang wong became a popular genre, the dancers of [that genre] adapted the music of langendriyan, especially the key musical feature of the genre: the singing of poetry by the dancers accompanied by srepegan [a brief rhythmic composition for the entrances and exits of characters]."

Some subsequent recordings of that repertoire were made in 1968 by E. L. Heins and, more thoroughly, in 1992 under the direction of Tamura Fumi. (Fumi made other notable recordings of the Mangkunegaran palace gamelans, as did Jacques Brunet and Alan Feinstein '70s.) The recordings made before Indonesian Independence have not circulated for nearly a century, so we have taken this opportunity to present these discs from the collection of Michael Robertson.

Certainly, the 78rpm 10" disc format was not an ideal transmitter of the spaciousness and orchestral complexity of the music, particularly in the cases of long-form performance genres. But for those interested or with an abiding love of the elegance of the music, it is a rare opportunity to experience it in the present connected to a receding past.


released February 24, 2023

Credited singers:
Tracks 6-8 Djaikem (as Menak Jinggo) and Samijem (as Dayun)
Tracks 9-14 Njai Ronggo Marodereras
Tracks 15-18 Njai Dembang Mardoeraras (aka Djaikem)

Recording dates
Tracks 1-8 recorded in Surbaya, January 1931
Tracks 9-14 recorded ca. 1931-33
Tracks 15-20 recorded ca. 1934-37

All performances in slendro except for track 1 which is in pelog.

Discs from the collection of Michael Robertson.
Transfers by Michael Robertson.
Restorations and notes by Ian Nagoski.

Many thanks to Jonathan Ward
Hat tip to Peter Copeland for his discographical research.

Performer and performance spellings are presented as they were on the original discs (except where abbreviated names are given in full). This is partially to benefit future researchers and to side-step post-colonial questions of transliteration. We assume that those interested in the repertoire will be able to understand the antiquated nomenclature.

Cover image: early 20th century batik design from Surakarta from De Batik-Kunst in Nederlandsch-Indie en Haar Geschiendinis by Gerret Pieter Rouffaer & Hendrik Herman Juynboll

Further reading:
Kaori Okado, "Langendriyan: The Expression of Cross-gendered Performance in a Javanese Dance Drama and Its Influence on Local Community" www.cujucr.com/downloads/pdf_8_2010/Kaori%20Okado.pdf


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early 20th century masterpieces (mostly) in languages other than English.

An hour in clamor and a quarter in rheum.

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