In a class of his own, Salil Chowdhury listened to the Western classical music collection of his father who had inherited a large number of western classical records and a gramophone from a departing Irish doctor. While Chowdhury listened to Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and others everyday, his daily life was surrounded by the sound of the forest, chirping of the birds, sound of the flute and the local folkmusic of tea garden of Assam. It left a lasting impression in him. He became a self-taught flute player and his favourite composer was Mozart. His compositions often used folk melodies or melodies based on Indian classical ragas but the orchestration was very much western in its construction. He developed a style which was immediately identifiable. Coming to what was then Calcutta as a young man to complete his graduation in 1944, a young Chowdhury joined Indian Peoples Theater Association (IPTA) writing songs and setting tunes for them. The IPTA theatrical outfit travelled through the villages and the cities bringing these songs to the common man. Songs like Bicharpati,Runner and Abak prithibi became extremely popular with the general population at the time.
Songs like Gaayer bodhu, which he composed at the age of 20, brought about a new wave of Bengali music. Almost every notable singer at the time from West Bengal had sung at least one of his songs. A few examples are Debabrata Biswas, Hemanta Mukherjee, Shyamal Mitra, Sandhya Mukherjee, Manabendra Mukherjee, Subir Sen and Pratima Banerjee.
Salil’s music was a blending of Eastern and the Western music traditions. He had once said: “I want to create a style which shall transcend borders – a genre which is emphatic and polished, but never predictable”. Salil Chowdhury Foundation of Music & Shyam Sundar Co. Jewellers organised “ The Salil Chowdhury Memorial Exhibition & Talk Show” marking the death anniversary of the legendary musician at a three-day exhibition featuring his rare paintings, works and awards, appreciation letters, pictorial gallery, audio-visual presentation and his memorabilia at Gorky Sadan last week.