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ClassicsOnline Home » TAKEMITSU, Toru: Original Solo Guitar Works (Complete) (Shin-ichi Fukuda) (Japanese Guitar Music, Vol. 1)
Toru Takemitsu is widely regarded as the greatest Japanese composer of the 20th century. After the appearance of Folios in 1974 he was acknowledged as a formidable master of writing for the guitar, bringing to the instrument a sensibility and imaginative flair which have seldom been equalled. In the Woods was his final composition. Shin-ichi Fukada and Leo Brouwer were both close friends of Takemitsu, and this programme includes Brouwer’s two heartfelt homages in his memory.
Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996): Folios • All in Twilight • A Piece for Guitar: For the 60th Birthday of Sylvano Bussotti • Equinox • In the Woods • Two pieces from Twelve Songs for Guitar
Leo Brouwer (b. 1939): Hika: In Memoriam Toru Takemitsu • El Arpa y la Sombra: Omaggio a Toru Takemitsu
Toru Takemitsu, regarded by many in both the west and the east as the greatest Japanese composer of the twentieth century, was deeply influenced early in his career by the music of Debussy and Messiaen. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians described the characteristic elements of his mature musical language as ‘modal melodies emerging from a chromatic background, the suspension of regular metre, and an acute sensitivity to register and timbre’. We are fortunate that among his prolific output of orchestral, chamber music, film scores, and instrumental works, he also turned his attention to the intricacies of writing for the guitar, whether for solo or in an ensemble setting.
The classical guitar was in many ways an ideal medium for Takemitsu, combining intense subtleties of sonority with a wide range of timbres and possibilities. Within a short time, after the writing of Folios in 1974, he was acknowledged as one of the twentieth century’s most formidable masters of writing for the guitar. He brought to the instrument a unique sensibility and an imaginative flair for its colours and expressiveness which has seldom been equalled. This recording is particularly relevant to understanding his art as it is played by Maestro Shin-ichi Fukuda, a close friend of the composer and one of Japan’s most eminent recitalists.
The selection of music, moreover, includes two heart-felt works in homage to Takemitsu from Leo Brouwer of Cuba, himself one of the most innovative of contemporary musicians whose compositions range from solo guitar pieces to symphonic works, including concertos, chamber music, and many film scores. His immense output for guitar has developed through various styles embracing the avant-garde and the experimental, as well as neo-romanticism. Brouwer was a close friend of Takemitsu over many years, and in 1981 in Toronto he gave the première of the first movement from Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea for alto flute and guitar [Naxos 8.555859]. Hika (a dirge or elegy) dedicated to Shinichi Fukuda, offers homage to Takemitsu. Its soulful sonorities, written in Cordoba, July 1996, are enhanced by an unusual scordatura (the middle four strings being tuned to a G minor chord). The piece is in eight episodes following gently evocative chords ‘like bells’. After elegiac sections and more of the quiet chordal patterns, the work moves suddenly to velocissimo and vivace. (Here Brouwer quotes the plaintive Bulgarian folk-song used previously in Sketch No. 3 of his Tres Apuntes.) A final return to a meditative mood refers in terms of tempo and atmosphere to Takemitsu’s Rain Sketch II, in his composition In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen.
Folios (1974) was dedicated to Kiyoshi Shomura (b. 1947) who gave the première of the work in July 1974, in Tokyo. In the original liner notes for the long-playing record release, Takemitsu wrote short captions for each movement indicating the thematic intentions, though these aids towards an understanding were not included in the Edition Salabert score. The concepts for each movement as given were: I. Clear Perspective of Melody, II. 3+4 Rhythmic structure/Rain Music, III. Elegy, with a quotation from the Chorale, Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden, from J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion. The title Folios, according to Takemitsu, signified ‘just two facing pages, short pieces, no more than that’. The composition was strongly influenced by gamelan music, following a visit by Takemitsu to Bali, Indonesia, in 1972. Unlike most works by Takemitsu in that particular phase of his musical development, these three pieces (the first he wrote for solo guitar), were written in terms of traditional tonality.
All in Twilight (1987), in four movements, is a far more impressionistic work than Folios, the moods of each section being subdued and reticent but very evocative of the crepuscular atmosphere. Takemitsu’s own comment on a concert programme suggested that the primary inspiration for the piece came from a painting by Paul Klee from which the title is taken. The sonorities and textures explored here are very idiomatic to the guitar and display the composer’s subtle feel for the most minute nuances of sound. There are few expressive instructions on the score itself, though the second movement is indicated as Dark, and the fourth as Slightly Fast. Shin-ichi Fukuda gave the first Japanese performance of the work in Tokyo in December 1989, working under the composer’s guidance.
A Piece for Guitar, For the 60th birthday of Sylvano Bussotti, was presented to the dedicatee at his home in Rome on 1 October 1991. Only eighteen bars long and one minute in duration, the work presents a sequence of highly charged, expressive chords and intricate harmonic progressions, with a subtle use of Takemitsu’s highly characteristic harmonics, those bell-like resonances which offer an enchanting aura to the sustained harmonies.
El Arpa y La Sombra (The Harp and the Shadow) (2005), written in homage to Takemitsu and dedicated to Shin-ichi Fukuda, is the title of a novel by the great Cuban writer, Alejo Carpentier, based on the story of Christopher Columbus and his travels. As Leo Brouwer has explained, it was Maestro Shin-ichi Fukuda who asked the composer for a Concerto da Requiem in tribute to Takemitsu: ‘This gave me the idea of a solo fantasy based on the Concerto. In the solo piece we can appreciate ‘fioriture’ or ‘melismas’ into ‘agitato’; themes in contrast with nostalgic simple lines connected with quotes from Hika, a tombeau I wrote for the death of Takemitsu. El Arpa y la Sombra ends with a Toccata Furiosa, vanishing into thin air (or the sky) like the Concerto.’ Leo Brouwer also added that the piece has probably little to do with a representation of Takemitsu’s actual character but that both Columbus and Takemitsu were in love with ‘remote cultures’ (a kind of multicultural approach to life), and shared a somewhat introspective approach towards the environment. ‘As well as this, my music looks always for an ‘orchestral’ guitar with extended resonances.’
Equinox (1993) was composed for a recital commemorating the 25th anniversary of Kiyoshi Shomura’s début and is dedicated to him. The first performance was given by Kiyoshi Shomura on 4 April 1994 in Tokyo. Takemitsu wrote concert programme notes to introduce the work: ‘Equinox for guitar was inspired by the painting of the same name by the Catalan painter, Joan Miro (1967). During the equinox the length of day and night are the same and the title has some relationship to musical proportions and the harmonic pitch interval within the composition, but no literary meaning. This piece is a gift for the 25th anniversary since his début of Mr Kiyoshi Shomura, who taught me about the guitar. ’
In the Woods (composed in hospital, November 1995, Takemitsu’s last composition before his death in February 1996), consists of three independent pieces for solo guitar, Wainscot Pond, after a painting of Cornelia Foss, dedicated to John Williams, Rosedale, dedicated to Kiyoshi Shomura, and Muir Woods, dedicated to Julian Bream. The première of Wainscot Pond, performed by Norio Sato, took place on the occasion of the funeral service for Toru Takemitsu in Tokyo on 29 February 1996. Julian Bream gave the first performance of Muir Woods in London on 4 October 1996. The work in its entirety, as well as the second piece, Rosedale, was first played by Kiyoshi Shomura in Tokyo on 15 October 1996.
As Takemitsu has commented, each title is taken from a place where there is a beautiful forest. Rosedale Woods are in Toronto, Canada, in a quiet residential area of the city where the trees are especially beautiful in the sunlight of early autumn. Muir Woods are in a suburb of San Francisco where giant sequoia trees ‘extend towards heaven in the deep forest’, which reminded the composer of the frailty of humanity in the face of nature. Takemitsu wrote Wainscot Pond after receiving a postcard from a friend showing a picturesque landscape, but confessed that he did not know where it was situated in the United States. In fact, Wainscot Pond is a lake in the Hamptons, Suffolk County, in the state of New York, some 160 kilometres from Manhattan.
Julian Bream has described Muir Woods in terms that could well apply to all three pieces: ‘The music has an undeniable valedictory quality. It is highly distilled and the texture characteristically refined. It is also music of extraordinary stillness, music that dissolves gently into silence. ’
In lighter mood, Takemitsu made transcriptions in 1977 of twelve songs, including the Londonderry Air, Over the Rainbow, Summertime, What a Friend, and The Internationale. All the songs were given new and innovative harmonic renderings of extraordinary originality and often a touch of humour. The two songs performed here are from the Beatles, both composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Takemitsu remarked that to play these pieces may demand high virtuosity as well as a measure of ‘flexible spirituality’.
Grateful acknowledgement is due to Maestro Shin-ichi Fukuda’s helpful comments drawn from his personal friendship with Toru Takemitsu about the composer and his works.
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