About this Recording
8.573595 - Guitar and Harmonica Recital: Fukuda, Shin-ichi / Watani, Yasuo - TAKEMITSU, Toru / HAYASHI, Hikaru / TOGAWA, Yoichi (Japanese Guitar Music, Vol. 3)
English 

Japanese Guitar Music • 3

 

Japan has for decades enjoyed a flourishing culture of the classical guitar including excellent performers, composers for the instrument, and makers of guitars, as well as leading periodicals and publishers willing to invest in compositions.

Modern Japanese history originated in the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when a constitutional monarchy was founded after centuries of feudalism. Western influences became welcome and in this context interest in the guitar gradually increased. This was also stimulated by Segovia’s concert tours of Japan from 1929.

After the Second World War the classical guitar gained popularity from the 1950s onwards. The great luthier Masaru Kohno (1926–1998) established an international reputation and was rewarded with huge demand for his guitars while Akinobu Matsuda (b. 1933) studied with Segovia and gave recitals in Europe. From the 1960s guitarists such as Julian Bream, John Williams, and Narciso Yepes regularly performed in Tokyo and other leading cities.

This recording reveals the expressive nature of both the guitar and the harmonica in the creativity of Japanese composers. Some compositions frequently represent the principles of Ma, an everyday word from Japanese indicating space and time. Composers within Japanese culture instinctively use silence between sounds to communicate a sense of structure and significant meaning. Often their economy with notes achieves intensity by concentrated sound clusters and fragments with pauses of silence in between the phrases. The combination of harmonica and guitar in these recordings provides an amazing combination of traditional Japanese musical qualities and contemporary expressiveness.

Toru Takemitsu, regarded by many in both the west and the east as the greatest Japanese composer of the twentieth century, was deeply influenced by the music of Debussy and Messiaen. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians describes 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’. The classical guitar proved an ideal medium for Takemitsu, combining subtleties of sonority with a wide range of timbres and possibilities. Within a short time he was universally acknowledged as one of the twentieth century’s most formidable masters of writing for the guitar. He brought to the instrument a profound sensibility and an imaginative flair seldom equalled.

Takemitsu made arrangements of twelve songs (1974–1977), including Summertime (1977), Secret Love (1977) and Over the Rainbow (1974). All the songs were given contemporary transcriptions of extraordinary originality and often with a touch of humour. Takemitsu remarked that to play these pieces may demand high virtuosity as well as a measure of ‘flexible spirituality’.

Hikaru Hayashi, born in Tokyo, studied composition with Tomojiro Ikenouchi (1906–1991) at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music 1951–1953. In 1953 his Symphony in G won the Grand Prize of the Art Festival of Japan, the first of many prestigious awards. His output includes operas, symphonies, over thirty solo piano suites and sonatas, chamber sonatas for flute, violin and strings and several film scores. Hayashi was a close friend of Takemitsu, whom he introduced to Movie Music world.

Naked Island (1960), a film written and directed by Kaneto Shindo, for which Hayashi wrote the music, concerns a family with two sons on an island in the Seto Inland Sea. Their conditions of living are primitive. To irrigate plants they fetch buckets of water from a nearby island and carry them up steep slopes. When the boys catch a large fish, the family travel by ferry to the nearest town to sell it to a fishmonger. On returning home they discover their elder son has fallen ill and he dies soon after. Following the funeral, they return to their life of hard work and privation. The film, in black and white is significant for its lack of dialogue.

In the guitar solo arrangement, the poignant theme sounds totally idiomatic for the instrument. The melody is played later in the piece on the lower strings, creating a cello-like effect. In the next arrangement the wonderful harmonica of Yasuo Watani takes over the tunes with guitar accompaniment. Later in the piece the guitarist performs the melody in fine contrasting colours. This arrangement was by Daisuke Suzuki (b. 1970), a former student of Shinichi Fukuda. The solo guitar version was published by Gendai Guitar (2015), while the duo transcription for harmonica and guitar was commissioned by Shin-ichi Fukuda for this recording.

Song Book for harmonica and guitar once again demonstrates Hikaru Hayashi’s melodic inventiveness. For various episodes the harmonica performs solo cadenza-like passages before the slightly abrasive entry of the guitar. The two instruments then blend in extended dialogue, the pace increasing in an impressive finale with the tension steadily rising. This work was written for the duo of Joe Sakimoto (harmonica) and Mikio Hoshido (guitar) in 1985.

Hamon (Ripple on the Water) gradually builds in intensity with cryptic expressive phrases and meaningful silences. The guitarist displays many idiomatic techniques of the instrument such as variations in tone colour, acerbic ponticello notes, and liquid sonorities in the upper register. Both Song Book and Hamon are played from the original manuscript and are not yet published.

Yoichi Togawa, born in Kyoto, graduated from the Music Department at Kyoto City University of Fine Arts and Music. From 1983–1992, he lectured at Kyoto City University of Fine Arts and Music. His output includes orchestral and chamber music, song and choral works, piano compositions, and music for Japanese traditional instruments. His music has been performed in many countries including major cities of Europe, the USA, and South America.

In Tamayura (Fleeting Moment) the harmonica begins with an extended solo, setting the mood in short melodic snatches. The guitar enters with arpeggiated passages before embarking on its own solo. This evolves into a lively conversation between harmonica and guitar, the latter providing at one point repeated notes in the bass with an almost orchestral texture. A calmer passage offers the two instruments alternating prior to a meditative duo. The guitar has the last word with haunting harmonics. The composition was written for Yasuo Watani and Sin-ichi Fukuda and premiered in 1994.

Michio Kitazume comes from a musical family, his father being the clarinettist Risei Kitazume (1919–2004) and his sister the composer Yayoi Kitazume. He first studied composition, piano and conducting at the Tokyo University of the Arts and later in Paris. His compositions include works for orchestra including concertos, pieces for wind band and brass ensemble, choral music, and instrumental items for organ, piano, percussion, and traditional Japanese instruments. He is a director of the Japan Society for Contemporary Music, and Guest Professor at Tokyo College of Music as well as Emeritus Professor of Aichi-Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music.

Orasho, dedicated to Shin-ichi Fukuda, uses a number of characteristic guitar effects such as tremolo and harmonics to create its delicately atmospheric web.

Jun-ichi Nihashi studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and later at the Paris Conservatoire with Olivier Messiaen. He has been awarded a number of prestigious composition awards and has written operas, orchestral music, and pieces for mandolin ensemble and guitar.

Autumn is an ambiguous season in eastern and western cultures, mixing ripe mellowness with regret that summer is past. Autumn Song, dedicated to Watani and Fukuda, expresses both aspects of that time of year. After a gentle opening, the work develops into a lively dance before reverting to the earlier mood. The ending is appropriately meditative.

Takashi Yoshimatsu is considered to be one of Japan’s most eminent composers in the western style. He studied at Keio University but left to become keyboard player in a rock band. He wrote serial music at first but later composed in a neo-romantic style. He has written symphonies and concertos, pieces for string orchestra, works for traditional Japanese instruments, and piano compositions as well as guitar music.

Yoshimatsu’s Forgetful Angel II is a major work exploring sound qualities such as ‘blue’ notes in harmonica and guitar. The guitar part features lyrical elements as well as sudden brusque moments, complete with strumming, ‘bent’ notes, harmonics, and also rhapsodic moments. The second part begins with harmonics followed by a harsh crescendo from the harmonica, the mood becoming abrupt and anguished. Occasional soothing palliatives from the guitar add contrast culminating in sweet harmonics. In the second movement Yasuo Watani plays two small bells while Shin-ichi Fukuda activates the wind chimes while playing the guitar.

Velvet Waltz gives the harmonica freedom to indulge in a memorable quasi-Parisian melody, with the guitar offering persuasive accompaniment.

Minoru Miki, born in Tokushima, Japan in 1930, graduated in music from the Tokyo University of the Arts (formerly the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music) in 1955. In the 1960s Miki began exploring traditional Japanese instruments. From this Pro Musica Nipponia developed, founded by Miki, which toured extensively in many countries. Many works written during this time were created in close collaboration with leading performing Japanese artists. In the 1970s Miri created his cycle of nine operas based on Japanese historical and literary themes. He scored many films including In the Realm of the Senses (L’Empire des sens). Of the many awards he received, the Order of the Rising Sun (2000) was the most prestigious.

In the Realm of the Senses was a French-Japanese art film directed by Nagisa Oshima. The film is about an intense sexual relationship between a hotel owner, Kichizo Ishida and a former prostitute, Sada Abe. They become madly obsessive to the point where Sada strangles Ishida while making love and she mutilates his body. The film was subsequently extensively censored or banned in a number of countries. The musical theme of the film begins in this arrangement with the guitar imitating the koto, the Japanese traditional long zither, before embarking on the intricacies of this evocative and passionate melody. In the early 1980s Leo Brouwer prepared his arrangement from the original koto score, which Shin-ichi Fukuda edited for publication by Gendai Guitar.

Graham Wade


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