Khayal (literally "imagination") is the standard classical vocal form in Hindustani music. Its development is more recent than dhrupad, and it generally eschews the long alaps, but has a larger degree of improvisation (analogous to an instrumental gat) in the metrical singing. It does have its own long history, and has a very wide variety of performance styles (gharanas). Standard accompaniment is the tabla for rhythm, as well as a melodic accompaniment (sarangi, giving way to harmonium).
Khayal tends to be less well-received in the West than instrumental music or even dhrupad, but this is partly coincidental. Although the raga bhava of dhrupad is extremely impressive, the typical khayal recital will contain more suprises and personal touches. In addition, while there is a certain "universal" feel to instrumental music, khayal is based largely on nonsense phrases, making an understanding of the language not especially important (although it can help).
As with the other lists, this one could obviously be much larger. I am highlighting only a few styles and recitals I particularly like. In the present case, the choices are also mediated by the fact that relatively much less khayal is available in top-quality widely-available production. Nonetheless, the present list is varied enough to allow some range of styles and consequently to build a broader interest in the listener.
And now the list....
Amir Khan (1912-1974) was one of the most widely acclaimed singers in Hindustani music, and has been credited with founding the Indore gharana. Amir Khan's original and thorough command of form comes off convincingly, with a very reflective and philosophical character projected in grand architectronics. His discography has really blossomed of late, so there are other recordings of similar quality.
Mallikarjun Mansur (1910-1992) was famous from a very young age. After encountering Carnatic music early, he went on to study with the Gwalior and then Jaipur gharanas in his maturity. His performances can be electrifying, featuring a variety of rhythmic patterns and imaginative elaborations.
Iqbal Ahmad Khan (b.1954) is now the Khalifa of the Delhi Gharana, in succession to Tanras Khan. This is one of the oldest and most classical schools, dating back to a founding by the legendary Persian musician Amir Kushrau. The present performance is grand & spacious, with a luminous intensity. Although not well-known, it certainly establishes Iqbal Ahmad Khan as a khayaliya of the highest merit.
Gangubai Hangal (b.1913) is one of the most senior Hindustani musicians, as well as a long-time leading traditionalist among female vocalists. The present performance uses the typical repertory of the Kirana gharana and is quite forceful & memorable in a very straight-forward way.
To Warren Senders' words about Khyal.
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T. M. McComb Updated: 25 February 1999