Tanjore Viswanathan (b. Madras, India, August 13, 1927; d. Hartford, Connecticut, United States, September 10, 2002) was a Carnatic musician specializing in the Carnatic flute and voice. He was awarded the Madras Music Academy's Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1988. His brother was the mridangam player T. Ranganathan (1925–1987).
Viswa, as T. (Tanjore/Thanjavur) Viswanathan is often called, was the grandson of the legendary Veena Dhanammal, considered and remembered as the greatest exponent of Veena, the South Indian lute. Viswa was the brother of T. (Tanjore/Thanjavur) Balasaraswati, the greatest exponent of Bharatanatyam in the second half of the 20th century. Though hailing from the greatest musical family of his generation, Viswa sought the tutorship of Tiruppamparam Swaminatha Pillai, one of the innovators of the bamboo flute as an art musical instrument alongside T.R. Mahalingam (Mali). While a majority of South Indian (Carnatic) flautists play with the 8-holed flute fashioned by T.R. Mahalingam, students of T. Viswanathan play with the 7-hole flute innovated by Swaminatha Pillai.
Viswa combined the best musical traditions of his family and that of Swaminathan Pillai to play the flute in a uniquely vocal style, doing full justice to the lyric and lilt. In fact Viswa would very often put the flute down in the middle of his concerts and start singing, though he was not a trained voice artist. Viswa was a complete musician. He performed for dance as much as he performed pure music. His repertoire was wide and we may well have heard the last of many of the songs that he used to perform, in particular the songs of Muthuthandavar which were set to music by Swaminathan Pillai, and a host of Padams, Javalis and Tillanas that were the property of the Dhanammal family. He trained a number of students in India and abroad to sing, but just one student, T.R. Moorthy, on the flute.
Viswa was largely responsible for putting Jon Higgins on the carnatic stage, who became so popular as to be known as Higgins Bhagavathar among the rasikas of South Indian music. To teach foreign students, Viswa employed complex notations to represent the ornamentation/oscillation that is characteristic to South Indian music.
The astute listener can appreciate that the greatest level of syncopation between melody and percussion was heard when Viswa played with his brother Ranga on the drum. Some public concerts of Viswa can be downloaded free from www.sangeethapriya.org.
He first came to the United States in 1958 on a Fulbright fellowship, studying ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles from 1958 to 1960, and later teaching there. He was Head of the Department of Music at the University of Madras from 1961 to 1965. He also taught at California Institute of the Arts. Following the earning of his Ph.D. from Wesleyan University in 1975, he taught at that university for many years. Among his best known students were Anuradha Sriram, T.R. Moorthy, Jon B. Higgins, Douglas Knight and David Nelson.
Viswanathan and Ranganathan recorded the music for the Satyajit Ray documentary film Bala (1976), about their sister, the bharatanatyam dancer Balasaraswati.
In 1992, Viswanathan became the first Indian musician to be awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, of the government of the United States.
He died of a heart attack on September 10, 2002.
In 2004, Oxford University Press USA published a book co-authored by T. Viswanathan and Matthew Harp Allen, entitled Music in South India: The Karnatak Concert Tradition and Beyond, from the series Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture.