Takemitsu: Music for Orchestra

ABC Classics
Mar 14, 2017 · 2 min read

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.

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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.