About this Recording
8.572479 - HOSOKAWA, T.: Flute Music - Vertical Song I / Sen I / Lied / Fragmente II / Voyage V (Bjarnason, Caput Ensemble, Birgisson)

Toshio Hosakawa (b. 1955)
Flute Music


“Calligraphy as an ascetic practice in search of a human cosmic awareness and an awakening to the roots of our existence. This is what calligraphy is: Cosmic immensity.”

These words about calligraphy can be found in the diary of the avant-garde Japanese calligrapher, Yuichi Inoue. I have continued to compose musical works, conceiving of music as a calligraphy of space and time. What I mean here by “calligraphy” is the form of a musical note. You could also call it the shape of a song, the shape of its core melody. The idea that the melodic shape of eastern music has a calligraphic form was suggested to me by my composition teacher, Isang Yun. Without seizing hold of the melody as a structural element in a combination of several notes, like the brickwork of western architecture, just one single note is born beyond the space-time of silence, grows like a plant and decays, like the form of an oriental writing brush. The glissando, the various forms of vibrato, the tone color changes often used and seen in the melody of eastern songs are the means of keeping alive the flow of life of this one single note.

In one stroke of the writing brush appears the breath of life, the power and depth of the person who draws the stroke It is an expression of the original power of life, and it is proof that the person lives.

If the “brush stroke” of my music differs from that of my teacher, Isang Yun, it might be in the attention my calligraphy pays to the place on which the stroke is drawn, to the canvas and its blank spaces, under the deeper influence of Japanese calligraphy. Japanese calligraphy places value not only on the subject being drawn but also on the blank space behind it, the power of the places where nothing is drawn. The appearance of the visible brush stroke is improved by means of the blank space in its background where nothing is drawn. In musical terms, the musical note is given greater expressive power by means of the inaudible blank space, or silence.

For me the flute is the instrument which can most deeply realise my musical ideas. The flute can produce a sound by means of the breath, and can be a vehicle by which the breath transmits the sound’s life-power.

In Japan from ancient times we have had a tradition of various flutes such as the ryuteki of gagaku, noh wind instruments, and the bamboo shakuhachi. My flute music no doubt is influenced by various forms of this tradition. The breath noise you sometimes hear in it, which sounds just like the wind of the natural world, is a noise that was until the nineteenth century forbidden in western flute music. In the Japanese tradition, however, this noise is something used positively as a way to approach a more natural breath.

In Vertical Song I for flute solo (1995), I looked not for a song which developed by stretching out each individual note horizontally but for a song which tried to rise up vertically above time. The following lines from Rilke provide illumination:

A tree ascended there, Oh pure transcendence! Oh Orpheus sings! Oh tall tree in the ear! ¹

Sen I for flute solo (1984) is a work from my earliest period which followed the process of a calligraphic brush stroke being drawn on the blank space of music.

In Fragmente II for alto flute and string quartet (1989), the fis note flows throughout the work from start to finish. The calligraphy of the alto flute is drawn on the canvas of a harmony formed with this fis at its centre.

Lied for flute and piano (2007) is a “song without words”, a prototype for the form of my songs, sung with the flute. The flute can be taken as the prolongation of the voice. The piano symbolizes the universe which spreads out in the background of the song.

In a flute concerto Voyage V (2001), the flautist can be taken as a human being and the ensemble as the universe and world surrounding him. Exchanging one type of flute for another, he wanders through the journey of life. The process by which he tries to attain harmony with nature by experiencing different kinds of discord with the world is then depicted with sound.

Performed as a final encore, Kuroda-bushi for alto flute is an arrangement of well-known Japanese folksongs, and in it can be heard the calligraphic form of the melody of such songs.

The accomplished Icelandic flautist Kolbeinn Bjarnason not only plays western flute music but is a musician who has studied shakuhachi music in Japan. This recording in which he featured my flute music accurately grasped the deep essence of the music I have been pursuing, and gave it new life.

Toshio Hosokawa


¹ From The Sonnets to Orpheus I by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell.

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