This work was written in 1961, the same year as Alan Bush started work on his third opera, 'The Sugar Reapers
', or to give it its continental title, 'Guyana Johnny'. The Indian and African populations of Guyana are characterised by the use of their respective national idioms.
The Three Raga Melodies were studies which Alan Bush undertook in preparation before writing the opera. The principle of the raga method of development is strictly followed in all three pieces. Each melody is written in a different one of the 72 scales of classical Indian music. In each of the thousands of ragas a particular sequence of notes occurs when the melody is rising, and a different sequence when it is falling. These three melodies all follow the strict rhythmic style of Indian music, the same time-signature being maintained from start to finish. Whereas the first and second are in scales which are identical with West European Aeolian and Dorian modes, the third scale is unknown in Western Europe and requires at times the use of the interval of the augmented third. The melodic principle of the raga is observed throughout, but that of the held bass note, invariable in classical Indian music has been abandoned.