Takemitsu: Music for Orchestra

Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu creates a strange yet beautiful world, of yearning, of submerged complexity, of perfectly weighted timbres, of magical spans, of clouded, sensuous sound.


Listen

On Apple Music, on iTunes, on CD, and on Spotify:


When?

In 1977, Tōru Takemitsu wrote A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden, blending the timbres, melodies and structures of traditional Japanese music with the sound world of the Western symphony orchestra. Meanwhile:

  • Apple is incorporated; Ronald Wayne sells his share of the company to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak for $800.
  • The Granville Rail Disaster in western Sydney leaves 84 dead and 210 injured. The cause of the accident is attributed to poor track conditions.
  • George Lucas’ Star Wars premieres; it is still the tenth highest-grossing film of all time in North America.
  • Elvis Presley dies at his home in Graceland at the age of 42.

Fast Facts

  • Tōru Takemitsu’s music is a meeting point between East and West, bringing together European trends from the mid 20th-century (Messiaen, Ravel, Berg, Cage…) with the sound world of his native Japan. His musical aesthetic is a synthesis of contrasts: new and old, clear and obscure, complex and simple, local and global.
  • Takemitsu was deeply interested in dreams, and when he learned about the Australian Indigenous concept of ‘Dreamtime’ or ‘Dreaming’ — stories handed down from generation to generation — he was inspired to write the piece Dreamtime. The music itself doesn’t have any direct connection with the Indigenous music of Australia; Takemitsu instead focuses on the notion of meaning and clarity emerging from surface distractions, and of seemingly unrelated episodes forming an unexpected whole.
  • Another of Takemitsu’s preoccupations was water, expressed in his piece Nostalghia through images of mist and rain. The piece is a tribute to the work of Soviet film director Andrei Tarkovsky (best known in the West for the science fiction classic Solaris).
  • Vers, L’arc-en-ciel, Palma was inspired by the paintings of Spanish artist Joan Miró, and by the ‘naïveté’ and ‘unsophisticated and unaffected’ nature of the man himself.
  • The themes of dreams and water come together in James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake. Takemitsu took a phrase from the end of the novel, ‘Far calls. Coming, far!’ as the title for a musical meditation on the journey of a dream-river, meandering its way into a ‘sea of tonality’.
  • In A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden, Takemitsu’s fascination with numbers comes into play, as a pentatonic (five-note) scale is used to evoke an image from one of the composer’s own dreams: birds circling down into a garden with five sides, inspired by the five-pointed star shaved into the back of Dada artist Marcel Duchamp’s head, in a famous photograph by Man Ray.