Madhukar Gangadhar Pednekar, popularly known as P. Madhukar, was born in a family of musicians on 27 February 1916 in Mumbai. Madhukarrao began his initial training in harmonium at the age of eight under his maternal uncle, Shankarrao Rajapurkar (Gunijan). His rigorous practice and talent won him appreciation when he received a gold medal from the noted vocalist Sawai Gandharva. Later, Madhukarrao started taking lessons from Bahulkar, a well-known harmonium player of Mumbai.
Madhukarrao's passion to attain the best led him to becoming a disciple of Annasaheb Mainker of Sangli, a harmonium player and noted music director. Madhukarrao benefited immensely from his association with Annasaheb Mainkar. Belonging to a wealthy family, Mainkar had spent a huge fortune in pursuing his love for music. Luminaries like actor-singer and theatre producer Bal Gandharva, tabla player Ahmed Jan Thirakwa and sarangi player Qadir Baksh Khan often stayed at Annasaheb's residence. Recitals featuring such reputed artistes left an indelible mark on Madhukarrao and enriched his playing. He was also influcenced greatly by Mainkar's progressive thinking, his imagination and his quest for experimentation in music. Mainkar had made a departure from the routine parameters of harmonium playing and introduced several new techniques in his playing.
Madhukarrao also assisted Mainkar in composing music for cinema and gradually became successful music director himself. He composed music for Marathi, Hindi and Telugu feature films like Chokha Mela, Chaliteel Shejari, Vakil Saheb, Dharampatni, Savitri, among others and also composed music for theatre. In c. 1934, he was employed by His Master's Voice Company.
Madhukarrao's playing displayed unimaginable speed and forcefulness, which were a result of his natural technique and the lightness with which his fingers were positioned on the keyboard. He had diligently practised special paltas to gain total command over the instrument. He had also composed unique gats, which he practised at various speeds.
His consummate skill rendered is possible for him to accompany vocalists in keeping with the stylistic features of their gharanas. At ease with any raag and taal being presented, as well as with any tempo, form of music or key that the vocalist chose. Madhukarrao would also add some of his musical ideas to the performance.
Madhukarrao improvised on and experimented with the art of playing harmonium and devised a unique way of presenting the instrument on the concert platform. He incorporated various phrases like dir-dir of the sitar and draan of veena and played different sitar jhala patterns on the harmonium. There was therefore, a more lively combination of tantkari and gayaki in his performance style. His command over laya was equally good.
Harmonium playing became second nature to him and the magic in his fingers permitted him to achieve what would otherwise have seemed impossible. He composed many gats for harmonium solo and repertoire, which reflected his keen aesthetic sense and understanding fo the intricacies and finer points of art music. He was well versed with minute aspects of vocal music like alaap, upajang, gamakang, taan, boltaan and could reproduce and express the same with precision and ease. His taanpaltas have broadened the vision of harmonium playing.
Madhukarrao also made a thorough study of gayaki, raga rules and shrutis, and regarged Acharya Brihaspati as his guru in matters related to theory. A devotee of the Kirana gayaki, he looked up the Ganpatbuva Behre as mentor.
He was an extraordinarily intelligent, imaginative and hard-working artiste. An outstanding researcher, he had mastered the art of tuning and making the instrument. In his efforts at establishing a respectable place for harmonium in the world of music and at enhancing its functionality, he had tried to produce meend by placing a string in response to every note in the instrument. Much before synthesisers became popular in India, Madhukarrao attempted to adapt modern technology by electronically displaying the notation of music played on the harmonium. His experiments with introducing electric attachments to several instruments had met with success. He was one of the earliest musicians to have introduced the clavioline to North Indian art music, which he had bought for a sum of Rs. 6000/-.
Madhukarrao played many instruments and started a music class at his residence, called Tansen Sangeet Vidyalaya. His harmonium demonstrations had been recorded by the committee appointed by the All India Radio for reassessing the decision to ban harmonium from AIR broadcasts.
Madhukarrao died on 20 July 1967, but left behind noted disciples like Anant Kemkar, Tulsidas Borkar, Vishwanath Pendharkar, Chandrachud Vasudeo, Anant Rane, Datta Jogdande, Lavekar, Laxman Kanse and Arondekar. These disciples have propagated his style and have in turn trained a large number of students, many of who are rapidly gaining recognition on the contemporary concert circuit.
Prepared by Aneesh Pradhan based on information sourced from Dr. N.R.Marulkar, Gomantakiya Sangeetkar Swarmanch, Madgaon.