CD1, CD2, CD3, CD4.
REQUIEM for strings (1957)
NOVEMBER STEPS for biwa, shakuhachi & orchestra (1967)
FAR CALLS. COMING, FAR! for violin & orchestra (1980)
VISIONS for orchestra (1989)
Kinshi Tsuruta, biwa
Katsuya Yokoyama, shakuhachi
Yuzuko Horigome, violin
Hiroshi Wakasugi, conductor
Recording dates: 29-31 July 1991.
Recording location: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space TOKYO Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
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1. REQUIEM for strings
This work is essentially structured in free ternary form on the basis of a single theme. The tempos of the three sections are Lent, Modere, and Lent.
But the borders between these tempos are highly elusive; the theme lodges within a vaguely defined vibrational amplitude which expands like ripples. As in a convulsion, the Modere section appears all of a sudden like an air bubble, and attempts to converge with the constantly slack vibrational amplitude. The specified tempos are thus mere expedients for performance and notation purposes; the work might be more accurately described as a set of variations with a tempo from start to finish of J=60.
The concept of "metre" in this work is totally different from that generally employed in western music. The work is structured on the foundation of what one might describe as "one by one" rhythm. There is no clear beginning or end. I have merely extracted at random a part of the continuum of sound which flows like an undercurrent beneath mankind and his universe. Such is how I would express the essential character of the work.
"Meditation" would have been an equally apt title for this "Requiem". Meditation implies an exclusivistic concentration on God, and, similarly, this choice of title was prompted by a desire to concentrate the mind on a single object.
2. NOVEMBER STEPS
1. It should not be a composer's business to strive to blend Japanese traditional instruments naturally with the western orchestra. On the contrary, he should attempt to emphasise the unique sonic domain inhabited by the biwa and the shakuhachi by setting it off strongly against the orchestra.
2. Establishing many different auditory focuses is an objective facet of the act of composition; another facet involves attempting to hear a single sound from out of a vast number.
3. Sound in western music ambulates horizontally. But the sound of the shakuhachi stands upright like a tree.
4. Are you aware that the ultimate sound sought after in performance by the shakuhachi master is that produced when the wind blows through an aged bamboo thicket?
5. One must first concentrate on the simple act of listening. One then comes to appreciate to what the sounds themselves aspire.
6. A biologist once remarked suggestively that dolphins communicate with each other not through sound itself but through the length of the silences between individual sounds.
7. Just as time differs depending on where one is on the Earth, so various time bands are established within the orchestra. A temporal spectrum.
8. One must not give the impression of a single musical work therewith being completed. Which is the more enjoyable: a journey thoroughly planned out in advance or a journey for which no advance preparations have been made?
9. Most contemporary composers have constructed walls of sound employing their own unique building methods. But who is there within these walls?
10. Eleven steps without any specific melodic subject. Metre constantly vacillating as in the music of the Noh.
11. November Steps was composed in response to a commission from the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the orchestra's foundation. It was first performed by that orchestra in November 1967.
3. FAR CALLS. COMING, FAR! for violin and orchestra
Over the past few years I have been working on two series of compositions based on the themes of "dreams and numbers" and "water". Works in the former series include Quatrain and A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden, those in the latter Waterways and Waves. The present work, Far Calls, Coming, Far! for violin and orchestra, is situated at the point of confluence between these two series.
I took the title from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, a novel which abounds with this author's unique dream language, and apparently gains a certain identity from its water imagery. I say "apparently" because my linguistic ability is quite inadequate to enable me to read the highly abstruse original with any degree of comprehension. I can merely imagine the nature of the work by reading abridged translations and commentaries in Japanese.
The River Liffey, which flows through Dublin, plays an important role in the novel. According to the critic Masayoshi Osawa, "Far Calls, Coming, far!" quoted as the title of my work are words sung by Anna Livia as she gazes on the union of the River Liffey with the paternal sea. In addition to its "literal" meaning, the phrase reverberates on a higher level with multilingual puns. Strong sexual imagery also appears to be present.
After a section of vacillation, the music advances into the mainstream, with a tonic on the pitch C. In the midst of a nocturnal landscape outlined by two sets of intervals (perfect fifth, augmented fourth, perfect fifth; minor second, perfect fourth, major third, minor third), the music streams outwards to the sea as represented by the tonality of C.
4. VISIONS for orchestra
2. Les Yeux Clos
When asked to compose a work to commemorate the centenary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, I recalled an experience I had had many years ago during a stay in Chicago.
The airport being closed on account of heavy snow, I spent almost a week at a friend's home in the city. I took this opportunity to make daily visits to the Chicago Art Institute, located opposite the Symphony Hall, and thereby gained the chance to view this museum's vast collection of art works. Those which impressed me most, in an almost indescribable manner, were the paintings of the French artist Odilon Redon. Although almost twenty years have elapsed since, I felt motivated to compose a work related to Redon's paintings in response to this commission from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Visions was inspired by Mystere and Les Yeux Clos, two paintings in colour dating from Redon's later years. Redon created three works entitled Les Yeux Clos, two monochrome lithographs and one oil painting. The composition of all three is the same: a woman with eyes closed depicted in an atmosphere of meditative tranquillity. I had previously composed two piano pieces with this title based on the lithographs. This orchestral piece thus completes my Les Yeux Clos set.
- Toru Takemitsu (translated by Robin Thompson)
Toru Takemitsu: ORCHESTRAL WORKS
1. REQUIEM for strings (1957)
This is the work to which Stravinsky paid an awesome degree of respect when he visited Japan in 1959. This eulogy of music at the opposite pole from his own by a composer who had pursued the concept of metre to the ultimate degree in The Rite of Spring. (1913) was perhaps stimulated by Stravinsky's awareness of the presence in the Takemitsu work of utterly natural melodic lines within a rhythmic context incapable of being subsumed under western concepts of metre. Stravinsky was perhaps intuitively aware that this music had floated up directly from its composer's subconscious, just as The Rite of Spring had emerged from his own. With its subtle fluctuations of tempo and dynamics within the slow passage of musical time, Takemitsu's music has a pliability reminiscent of a gentle breeze; each sound possesses its own essential value, with the result that the overall musical texture is one of high acoustic tension. The long tones - born out of silence and returning to it - are full of a mysterious profundity which beckons the listener into a world of deep contemplation, and give rise to that almost mystical resonance which is one of the features of Takemitsu's work. Although this work employs western musical materials, its content is permeated with a quintessentially Japanese sensibility.
The work consists of three sections. The main theme of the opening Lent section is a long melody which floats up above heavy, dark harmonies, and is interspersed with a short second melody. This section alone accounts for almost a half of the total length of the piece. The central section, marked Modere, features rhythmic figures incorporating staccati and pizzicati linked by the second motif which appeared in the opening section. After a repetition in almost the same form the music enters the recapitulatory Lent section. This section is based on a return to the material employed in the opening section, omitting the second episodic motif. The work thus comes to an end with the main theme revealed in its entirety like an afterimage.
2. NOVEMBER STEPS for biwa, shakuhachi and orchestra (1967)
It was after receiving a commission from the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra that Takemitsu set about the difficult task of composing a work in which the biwa and the shakuhachi were employed as solo instruments with orchestra. His solution to the problems presented by this combination was not to blend these traditional Japanese instruments in a facile manner with the orchestra, but rather to place them in stark contrast to the orchestra. One of the consequences of this approach is that while the orchestral score employs a highly specific system of mensural notation, the music for the solo instruments is essentially improvisatory, pitches and performance techniques being specified in no more than an abbreviated and minimal manner. There are almost no sections in which, as in the manner of the traditional concerto, the solo instruments are pitted against the orchestra. The soloists and the orchestra are thus left to inhabit their own respective acoustic worlds, and the music appears to develop in parallel.
The work as a whole consists of an introduction and eleven sections. There are no obvious breaks between these sections, the music moving forward in a steady flow. The shakuhachi and the biwa play the leading roles throughout the work. In contrast to the eloquence of the soloists, the orchestra comes only rarely to the forefront, although it stands at the core of the work and gives it a rich sense of perspective. The strings, harps, and percussion are divided into two groups placed symmetrically on either side of the stage. Making effective use of clusters and harmonics, the orchestra provides a vivid and brilliantly coloured background. The writing for the solo instruments employs both traditional and unconventional techniques, the composer attempting to draw from the instruments all the latent expressive possibilities that they possess. In the tenth section Takemitsu makes use of his own form of symbolic notation to take the place of the staff notation employed until that point, thereby creating a richly imaginative world of sound. This section consists of an extended cadenza for the two soloists, one page of notation being allocated to each. The shakuhachi is given seven fragments and the biwa has nine; the players are given the freedom to choose the order in which they play these fragments. Use of contemporary techniques here results in an exquisite realisation of the concepts of stasis and dynamism in their uniquely Japanese forms. Takemitsu gives shape to a temporal and spatial world totally different from that of western music.
3. FAR CALLS. COMING FAR! for violin and orchestra (1980)
Takemitsu's music began to change during the late 1970s. Clusters and unconventional sound effects began to retreat from the forefront of his work, to be replaced by an emphasis on his earlier modal language supplemented by the incorporation of tonal contexts. He began to treat specific themes such as dreams and water, and became interested in numbers as manifestations of compositional logic. As Takemitsu writes in his notes to this work, Far Calls, Coming Far! takes its title from James Joyce's novel Finnegan's Wake. In order to depict the world of dreams of a man as he sleeps through the night, Joyce wrote this highly abstruse novel on a base provided by the English language but supplemented by ancient and modern European languages. Takemitsu's work is based on the idea present within Finnegan's Wake of a river (represented by the violin) flowing into the sea (tonality).
At the core of the work are the pitches E-flat (Es in German), E natural, and A, representing the letters of the word SEA. A hexatonic scale is then formed consisting of these three pitches together with their transpositions a third higher. This pitch material has a strongly tonal character similar to the character of the novel with its multiple layers of meaning. There are suggestions here also of the tone row, with its strong tonal implications, employed by Berg in his Violin Concerto.
After a short introduction which hints at the main theme, the solo violin presents a melody rooted in this theme. The music is based on the original hexatonic scale, and includes melodic figurations built from a descending scale consisting of the retrograde form of this scale. The solo violin plays a strongly undulating melodic line while the orchestra plays harmonies with an overtly tonal character. Material from the main theme stretches weblike through the inner parts of the orchestra. A pedeal on C apppears in the bass halfway through the work, hinting homo-phonically at the proximity of the sea. Another short theme then appears in the bass line. This becomes the core which generates the music that follows with its melodic weblike character. The low C appears frequently; a violin cadenza emerges at the point where the music moves to a series of appearances of the short theme. After this almost too simple and prosaic chain of musical events, three "waves" based on the main pitch material roll forward above the bass pedal on C. The solo violin weaves a path between these waves, its material containing allusions to the main theme , and fades away after becoming absorbed by the sea.
4. VISIONS for orchestra (1989)
Debussy and Messiaen are two composers particularly dear to Takemitsu, their influence being evident especially in his early work. Modal writing, vivid orchestration , and subtle textures have remained key features of Takemitsu's music throughout his career. Visions, a recent work, was inspired by Odilon Redon's ethereal paintings from his last years. Contemplative in character, it seems to represent the essence of Takemitsu's style.
This piece is reminiscent of the music of Messiaen. While clearly rooted in the key of G-flat major, the music features ecstatic harmonies reminiscent of the Turangalila Symphony along with melodic and rhythmic figures and bird calls all in a Messiaen-like idiom, Little attempt is made to develop the motifs which appear, most scattered through the music in almost unvaried form. Although the orchestration results in a tonal coloration similar to that of the music of Messiaen, one senses in the pointillist tonal variation the influence of Jeux, a work of Debussy which Takemitsu has always revered.
2) Les Yeux Clos
Although similary inspired by Redon's Les Yeux Clos, the starting point for two piano works composed in 1979 and 1988, this orchestral piece presents a world of rich tonal colour. The sound structure changes in different ways with every appearance of a distinctive motif consisting of three pitches. Mysterious visions are revealed by means of freely metamorphosing textures suggestive of a melody of tone colours (Klangfarbenmelodie).
Notes by Hiromi Saito (translated by Robin Thompson)