Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)
Music is either sound or silence. As long as I live Ishall choose sound as something to confront a silence. That sound should be asingle, strong sound.
- Toru Takemitsu (1962)
Born in Tokyo on 8th October, 1930, Toru Takemitsu wasvirtually self-taught as a musician. His very few formal lessons were limitedto his contact with the composer Yasuji Kiyose. As Takemitsu himself relatesit, his musical epiphany occurred in his early teenage years when, whileserving as a member of a student relief force in the hinterlands of Japan nearthe end of the War, he became transfixed by a friend's recording of the famousFrench chanson, Parlez-moi d'amour. Henceforth, he determined, he would makemusic his life's work. At the end of the war Takemitsu supported himself byworking in the kitchen of an American military base, which provided him freeaccess to a piano in the dining-hall where he could hone his talents.
Takemitsu found himself drawn to the music of thosecomposers who were themselves deeply influenced by the musical andphilosophical traditions of Asian culture, notably Claude Debussy, OlivierMessiaen and, later on, John Cage. Through his mentor Kiyose he met hiscontemporaries Hayasaka and Matsudaira, who informed him about traditionalJapanese and Asian music. Between 1950 and 1952 the three of them took part inKiyose's Shin Sakkyokuha Kyokai (New School of Composers) group, whereTakemitsu had his first performances. At these concerts he met the composersJoji Yuasa and Kuniharu Akiyama, and together with several other painters,poets and performers, established a new group, the Jikken Kobo (ExperimentalWorkshop), dedicated to the performance of mixed media works. Takemitsu'scontributions to their repertoire included some of the earliest examples of musiqueconcr?¿te, free improvisation, graphic notation and aleatoric music. He beganexperimenting with two reel-to-reel tape recorders he set up in his kitchen,where he created the music for the film Woman of the Dunes.
Takemitsu came to international attention following thelavish praise Stravinsky expressed upon hearing his Requiem for strings in 1959during a visit to Japan. This work, dedicated to the memory of his mentorKiyose, was but the first in a series of sensitive, evocative orchestral works thatwould establish Takemitsu's international reputation. Many of these scores werechampioned early on by Seiji Ozawa during his tenure as conductor of theToronto Symphony in the 1960s. Takemitsu's inimitable integration of east andwest, timbre and texture, and sound and silence made him the first Japanesecomposer to achieve such an international presence. His scores for the films ofAkira Kurosawa (including the classics Dodes'kaden, and Ran) brought his musicto an even larger audience in the 1970s and 1980s. He enjoyed travellingthroughout the world preparing the first performances of his works anddiscussing his music. He was composer-in-residence at the Canberra SpringFestival, the California Institute of Technology, the Berliner Festwochen, ColoradoMusical Festival, Tanglewood Festival, the Banff Centre, Aldeburgh Festival andmany others. He also lectured at Harvard, Boston, Yale and other universities.
Robert Aitken invited Takemitsu to Canada for performancesof his chamber music in the New Music Concerts series in 1975 and 1983. Theclose friendships that developed between them, as well as with the members ofthe Toronto-based NEXUS percussion ensemble and many other Toronto musicians,led to the composition of a number of works which received their firstperformances in Toronto. Most of the pieces on this recording were personallyperformed for Takemitsu by these players and benefited from his coaching. Thespecial relationship that continues to exist between Takemitsu and Canada wasformally recognised in September 1996 when the composer was posthumouslyawarded the highly prestigious Glenn Gould Prize, for his exceptionalcontribution to the international world of music.
And then I knew 'twas wind (1992), for flute, viola andharp, was commissioned by the flautist Aur?¿le Nicolet's Japanese agent AkiraObi and was first performed by Nicolet, the violist Nobuko Imai and the harpistNaoko Yoshina in May 1992 in Mito, Japan. The title of the work is taken from averse in one of the longer poems of Emily Dickinson. Before the words of thetitle comes the line, Like rain it sounded till it curved, which continues, Andthen I knew 'twas wind. The distinctive instrumentation of the work isidentical to that of the penultimate composition of Claude Debussy, the Sonataof 1916, and is meant to be coupled with it in performance.
There are three compositions by Takemitsu on the subject ofthe Rain Tree. Rain Tree Sketch (1982) and Rain Tree Sketch II (1992, inmemoriam Olivier Messiaen) are among Takemitsu's most often performed pianoworks. The title was suggested by a passage from the novel Atama no ii, Ame noKi by Kenzaburo Oe: \It was named the 'rain tree', for its abundant foliagecontinued to let fall rain drops from the previous night's shower until thefollowing midday. Its hundreds of thousands of tiny, finger like leaves storeup moisture, whereas other trees dry out at once." In this, the earliestversion (1981), the pealing of crotales gives way the metallic spiraling of avibraphone, which is is set against the wooden weft of a pair of marimbas.
Takemitsu's fascination with the subject of water in all itsmanifestations has been a continuing theme in his works, dating back to thebeginning of his career with his 1963 electronic work, Water Music. Takemitsucomposed three versions of Toward the Sea, the first for flute and guitar, thenfor harp and string orchestra and finally for flute and harp. The firstmovement of the score was unveiled by Robert Aitken and the eminent Cubanguitarist Leo Brouwer in Toronto in 1981. The thematic seeds of the work aresewn from a pod of three tones carved from the word, SEA: E-flat-(Es in Germannotation)-E-A. The first movement, The Night, with its sustained flute tonesset against the delicate murmurings of the guitar, evokes the rustling ofleaves swept by an off-shore breeze. The manuscript of the score was includedin the 1983 art book Whales: A Celebration, by G. Gatenby. Listening to thesecond movement, Moby Dick, one might imagine Herman Melville's great whitewhale struggling to rise from the depths, while the finale, Cape Cod, conjuresup a vision of the glistening Atlantic waters off the coast of New England.
Commissioned by New Music Concerts with the generousassistance of the Canada Council, Bryce is dedicated to Bryce Engelman, the sonof the Toronto percussionist Robin Engelman. He relates that "In July of 1971Toru met my son Bryce who was seven years old. This was the first time my sonever bowed to anyone and the first time a stranger had offered to shake hishand. Toru and Bryce shared an afternoon of origami and later played softballin the backyard. At that time Toru asked me the meaning of my son's name, but Ihad forgotten. By the next day, Toru had checked it out and told me it meant 'thecentre of feeling'. He said, 'I am going to write a piece.' Bryce was firstperformed in Toronto in 1976". The piece is fundamentally constructed on therelationship between three pivotal notes extracted from the name "Bryce"(B-flat, C and E) and a constellation of eight quarter-tones which orbit aroundthese vertice points. Takemitsu was well acquainted with the proficiency of hisToronto friends and provided for a fair amount of improvisation in this score,including an extended flute cadenza.