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ClassicsOnline Home » HOSOKAWA, Toshio: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Horn Concerto / Lotus under the Moonlight / Chant (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Märkl)
Japanese musicians have often taken the connection between man and nature as their theme and award-winning composer Toshio Hosokawa stands strongly in that artistic lineage. His Horn Concerto ‘Moment of Blossoming’ imagines the solo instrument as a lotus flower and the orchestra as the cosmos. The theme of the blossoming lotus continues in the piano concerto Lotus under the moonlight and in the songful Chant for cello and orchestra, influenced by Shômyô singing (the ceremonial music of Japanese Buddhism). The Horn Concerto was co-commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and London’s Barbican Centre.
Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955)
Moment of Blossoming • Lotus under the moonlight • Chant
My Horn Concerto ‘Moment of Blossoming’, was commissioned jointly by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, and the Barbican Centre of London. It is dedicated to the horn player Stefan Dohr, who first performed it.
Thus far I have composed several works on the theme of “lotus” or “blossoming”: the piano concerto Lotus under the moonlight, Stunden-Blumen for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, and Blossoming for string quartet, all treat similar themes. The lotus blossom is a mysterious flower of the East. Its roots take nourishment from deep beneath the mud, and its stalk passes straight up through the water, receives sunlight from the sky at the water’s surface, and brings forth its beautiful jewel-like blossoms. Without the chaotic world of the mud, the blossom could not open towards the sky. The physical form of the blossoming resembles that of a human being at prayer. The closed bud of the lotus flower suggests the shape of human hands pressed together in prayer. Eastern people compare the blossoming of the lotus with the blossoming of the human being from within, and have continued to think of it in this way. They have felt in this blossoming the power of, and rapport with, the cosmos.
Japanese artists have traditionally taken the connection between man and nature as a theme. I feel that they are seeking in art the ultimate dissolution of man into nature and the ecstasy of becoming one with it.
As in many of my other concertos, in this horn concerto I am imagining the solo horn as the “flower” or “human being”, while the orchestra in the background is nature, the cosmos, the place where the flower blossoms (in this case, I imagine a lotus and its pond). At the beginning, one long sustained sound is taken to be the water surface, and from that water surface the lotus flower quickens, begins to squirm, and aims at blossoming. Nature throws back various echoes at it. Before long, a low note begins to squirm on the water surface as if to indicate the water’s depths. Further, the quickening and longing towards the violent blossoming evoke a small storm, and a conflict occurs between the flower and nature. Deep within the quiet blossom is a quickening towards a violent opening up. Eventually, the pond recovers its deep silence, and the flower welcomes its hour of blossoming in peace.
I have arranged the brass instruments in a space, and imagined the concert hall itself as the pond spreading out widely towards the sky.
The piano concerto Lotus under the moonlight was commissioned by Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR). I was asked by Mr Richard Armbruster of NDR to choose one of Mozart’s piano concertos and to compose something with the same instrumentation, in commemoration of Mozart Year, 2006. I selected the Piano Concerto in A major, KV 488, and wrote this piece using its second movement in F sharp minor as the theme.
The music of Mozart has been one of my favourites among European music since I was a boy. Music which has integrated such great dignity and refinement, and the sorrow and comfort overflowing from it is a musical world which we orientals had previously never known. For the past 130 years or so, we Japanese have accepted western music in a variety of forms and tried to learn it. Mozart’s music embodies the highest sphere of such western music.
For the next few years I plan to continue to write works on the theme of “flower”. There are several reasons for my interest in this flower theme: my grandfather was an ikebana¹ master; for Zeami², originator of my favourite traditional Japanese theatre form Noh, the best performer was considered a “flower”; in traditional Japanese poetry “flower” is the most important theme. For me to attempt to become the flower and sing of its blossoming and death—that is a very traditional attitude for those of us who are Japanese artists.
The lotus is the most highly valued flower in the oriental Buddhist world. Most images of the Buddha depict Him standing on a lotus blossom. The blossoming of the lotus represents the opening of the mind (awakening to the Self) and the deep longing for satori³ and beatitude. The lotus sends its roots deep into the mud beneath the surface of the pond; the stem passes through the water; the buds dream of just barely breaking the surface and opening towards the sky. The shape of the lotus bud resembles the shape of human hands when pressed together in prayer.
The lotus flower is symbolized by the piano, the water and nature by the orchestra. In this music, the sustained note centred on F sharp represents vibrations on the water’s surface; the lower notes represent under the water; the lowest register represents the darkness of the mud at the bottom of the pond. The high notes, having passed beyond the surface, suggest the boundless sky.
As I composed this piano concerto, I imagined a scene something like the following:
It is a quiet moonlit night. The lotus flower, still in its budding stage, is bathed in moonlight, and turning towards its blossoming falls into a dreamy doze. In the dream, a longing for Mozart’s music (or the longing for western music) is faintly expressed.
This work is dedicated to its first performer, pianist Momo Kodama.
Chant for cello and orchestra was commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). The solo cello part of this concerto is influenced by the way of singing Shômyô, the ceremonial music of Japanese Buddhism. The characteristic singing of Shômyô of the Tendai sect and the Shingon sect handed down since 1200 years ago in Japan shaped the gentle curving line like the stroke of the oriental calligraphy brush. In 1986 I composed Seeds of Contemplation for Shômyô (a singer Buddhist priest) and gagaku4 ensemble and I encountered Shômyô, since then it has had various musical influences on me. It has effects not only on forms of “song” in my Lieder, choruses and opera, but also on the manner of melody in my instrumental works.
As with most of my concertos, in this work the soloist symbolizes a human being and the orchestra in the background signifies the nature and universe that extend inside and outside him. He starts singing, going through the process that the universe sometimes harmonizes with his song and at other times repels it, and then he deepens his own song. In the end, the song dissolves into the energy of nature.
A few years ago I had a chance to talk with Rohan de Saram and he was interested in the sphere of the spiritual. This work occurred to me through the experience that we discussed of life after death (Tibetan Book of the Dead) and the spiritual. The soloist who keeps singing a prayerful song inside the world with the cello was composed with Rohan in mind. This work is dedicated to Rohan de Saram.
¹ The Japanese art of flower arranging.
² Japanese actor and playwright (c.1363–1443).
³ Buddhist enlightenment.
4 Ancient Japanese imperial court music.
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