About this Recording
CD-16283 - Vocal Recital: Yamada, Chiyomi - NARVAEZ, L. de / FUENLLANA, M. de / CACCINI, G. / DOWLAND, J. / ICHIJURO, K. / HUYGENS, C. (Kurofune)
English  German 

Kurofune is a musical trip and a visionary journey that carries the listener back namely to the 16th and 17th centuries, between Europe and Japan. Kurofune is a Japanese word that means Black Ships. It’s the name given to the Western ships sailing to Japan in the time between the 16th and 19th century.

Kurofune particularly refers to four American ships that arrived in the middle of the 19th century in Japan, under the command of M. Perry. Their arrival in 1853 marked the reopening of the country after more than two hundred years of self-imposed isolation, because from 1639 to 1853 Japan was closed to all Westerners who could only stay on a little island called Dejima in the Nagasaki harbour. During this era of the “locked state” which in Japanese is called Sakoku, there were mainly Dutch traders confined to Dejima Island. In this sense, the Kurofune became a symbol of the ending of isolation.

But the word is also more widely used thus covering the mentioned former periods as well. It’s in fact the 16th century which tells a very fascinating story about Europe and Japan, and which greatly inspired the project of the present musical journey. The story in question is about the so called Tenshō boys, and it’s directly linked to the presence of Jesuit missionaries in Japan.

One prominent Jesuit priest to visit Japan was Francisco Xavier. He landed in 1549 and stayed a bit more than two years spreading Christianity in the Western part of Japan, and from this time onwards until the Sakoku era, many Catholic missionaries came to Japan in order to proselytise people to Christianity. They acted under the guardianship of several Japanese Christian lords (the so called Kirishitan daimyos). The first missionaries were Jesuits sponsored by the Portuguese church, and later Spanish-sponsored Dominicans and Franciscans too; thus they came from Portugal, Spain, Italy…There was an Italian Jesuit called Alessandro Valignano (1539–1606) who not only thought it necessary to train Japanese Christians for the priesthood, but also wanted to send Japanese envoys to Rome and other European countries in order to make them meet the Pope and to show them the grandeur and power of the Western church and courts. For this purpose, a delegation of young people was selected as representatives of the Kirishitan daimyos, mainly four Japanese boys (Itō Mancio, Miguel Chijiwa Seiyemon, Julião Nakamura and Martin Hara): boys from noble samurai families who studied at the Japanese Jesuit Seminary. They started the sea journey, escorted by Jesuit priests and Valignano himself, in 1582, arriving in Portugal in 1584, travelling via Spain to Italy, and being back in Nagasaki in 1590. So the whole journey took eight years. It’s this trip that later came to be called the “Tenshō-Ken-o-Shonen-Shisetsu” (“Boys’ Envoys to Europe of the Tenshō Era”), Tenshō being the name of the years running from 1573 to 1592.

The journey of the Tenshō envoys represents a very important event in the history of the Occident and Japan: those young people were actually the first Japanese to undertake a “diplomatic” travel to Europe. In 1584, they had an audience with King Philip II of Spain, and in 1585, they met the Pope Gregory XIII who died that same year. The boys left Lisbon in 1586 and travelled back to Japan via countries and places like Mozambique and Goa in Western India. Their travels in Europe were accompanied by numerous masses, concerts, religious operas and dramas as well as ballets. They got a musical training on different instruments like the harpsichord i.e. and perhaps the vihuela as well. The musical journey of this CD is freely inspired by what the boys might have heard on their visits to Europe as well as by the music which might have been brought to Japan in the 17th century through the English and Dutch traders, and it brings this music together with Japanese music of the same time.

The black ships come sailing
from olden times to this day.
If the tie comes to an end
we will be made into sharks’ bait.
Sancta Maria.

Two poets of the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, Kitahara Hakushū (1885–1942) and Takehisa Yumeji (1884–1934) who was also a painter, preserved the text of this Old Kurofune Song of the Portuguese seamen of the 16th century. The song does not figure on the CD as such, but stands for another trace speaking of this ancient history. The paintings in our booklet are from Yumeji. Chiyomi Yamada dedicates this CD to these two poets. The 19th century transitional element can also be found in the Japanese songs on the CD insofar as the choice was made to accompany them not on the traditional Japanese instrument called shamisen, but on the European romantic guitar.

The order of the songs follows a completely intuitive inner musical coherence. So there is no need to look for a rational justification of this order. It’s important to pronounce some words on the music itself.

On the Japanese side, there are mostly lullabies. Let’s talk about them first:

Pleasure quarters played a significant role in Japanese culture. They were places to perform and foster Japanese music. Lullabies were part of the music of these pleasure quarters, and they could be heard on the island of Dejima as well, and one of the amusements of the Dutch traders that were isolated on Dejima Island was to listen to such lullabies. Sendo no Yamma is a lullaby in which a girl tries to let her future husband know the correct answers to the difficult questions that were asked in the husband’s selection. In the Hakata lullaby a baby-sitter complains about her mistress in a sarcastic way. The baby-sitter in the Takeda lullaby grieves over her poverty and yearns for her home town. This motif of lament can be found in numerous Japanese lullabies. Nen nen korori is a lullaby widely sung in Japan till this day. It’s a “pure” lullaby without cadences, a chant for the eternal guardian deity who for the Japanese is not Maria but their natural mother.

There are three more Japanese songs: Inoko is a festive song by which people express their wishes for many descendants and prosperity. It goes back to the celebration, in October, of the agricultural god and can be traced back to the 8th century. Kocha e bushi was the first Japanese music to be printed, at the beginning of the 20th century, in Western notation: it was published with a cover picture by Yumeji. The song depicts the 53 government post stations along the Tōkaidō route which was running 500 km along the sea coast connecting Edo (modern-day Tōkyō) to Kyōtō. The song describes beautiful sceneries, good regional food and lively pleasure quarters. Kocha e means ‘come over here’ or ‘you are welcome here’. The third song which isn’t a lullaby either is called Kurokami. It’s the only Japanese piece of music in the present selection whose composer can be named: his name is Koide Ichijyuro. On the surface the song describes the disconsolate feelings of a woman abandoned by her lover, but underneath lies a sense of mujō or transience of being, a common notion in Buddhism. The lyric starts with kurokami (black hair) and ends with white snow.

On the European side, we have music from Luis de Narváez, Miguel de Fuenllana, Giulio Caccini, John Dowland, Constantijn Huygens and Claudio Monteverdi, and there’s the Iberian hymn O Gloriosa Domina which opens up our trip. It’s an original Latin ‘oratio’ chant (which is a Catholic prayer called orasho in Japanese) which is still, to this date, sung by the so called Hidden Christians on Ikitsuki Island of Nagasaki.

Passeávase el Rey Moro by De Narváez is a romance based on the fall of the Muslim city of Granada. Si los Delfines Mueren de Amores by De Fuenllana is a longingly song which might have been sung by the sailors on the black ships…Both Spanish composers served King Philip II whom the Tenshō boys met, and both composers wrote for the vihuela. The Tenshō boys might well have been in contact with the vihuela at the Spanish court. At one point, the vihuela was certainly brought to Japan by Western ships. In the Japanese-Portuguese dictionary from 1603 of the Portuguese missionaries in Nagasaki, even the Japanese shamisen is called a ‘ceria viola de tres cordas’, at that time viola being just another name for vihuela.

In the Italian peninsula, the Tenshō boys were received enthusiastically by Francesco I de’ Medici whose court attracted many intellectuals. In this context of intellectual vivacity, the virtuoso singer Giulio Caccini published Le nuove musiche (1602) in which special emphasis is put on the text. This led to his “music of spirit” and a reciting style that is related to old psalmodies. Movetevi à Pietà is taken from this publication. The Tenshō boys also visited Cremona, where Claudio Monteverdi lived. He was from the same generation as the Tenshō boys. His Pianto della Madonna, on the same melody as Il lamento d’Arianna, is based on the story of the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. It depicts the universal tears of a mother beyond time and place. Another side of Monteverdi’s creativity can be heard in the jubilant Exulta Filia motet.

We then have two songs from Dowland integrated in our musical adventure between East and West. The English, like the Dutch, arrived in Japan in the first half of the 17th century, not as missionaries but as traders. In 1600, the Dutch ship De Liefde, under the command of the English Pilot William Adams, landed in Japan. In 1613, England opened a trading house in the city of Hirado, in the Nagasaki prefecture. Come Away, Come Sweet Love by Dowland is from his First Book of Ayres (1597). In darkness let me dwell was published by Dowland’s son Robert Dowland in the compilation of songs called Musicall Banquet (1610). Both songs stand for the English music that might have come to Japan, through the Kurofune movements at that time.

Last but not least, we have the Dutch composer Constantijn Huygens who was also a diplomat, poet and scientist. He composed courtly monodies in the last transitional period from modal to tonal music. As we have said already, during the period of national isolation, the only contact Japan had with the Western world came through the Dutch trade ships. The Dutch traders, living on Dejima, were not allowed to practice Christianity at all, they had to worship clandestinely. The monody Sospiro della Sua Donna by Huygens is from this very special time in the relationship between Japan and the Netherlands.

Kurofune—our visionary journey—can now start and bring us back to a time when people from the West and East tried to share their musical ideals beyond so many cultural differences.

Close the window