About this Recording
9.70197 - Piano Recital: Oshima-Ryan, Yumiko - TAKEMITSU, Toru / MAMIYA, Michio / HOMMA, Masao / MIYOSHI, Akira (From Afar: Contemporary Japanese Piano Music)

Contemporary Japanese Music
Michio Mamiya • Masao Honma • Akira Miyoshi • Toru Takemitsu


Despite widespread interest in Japanese music, most of the attention has focused on traditional instruments such as the koto, shakuhachi, and taiko, or on traditional forms such as Gagaku or Shomyo, while contemporary Japanese compositions are very rarely heard, published, or recorded in the United States. This CD features some of the best of contemporary Japanese solo works for piano. These works explore the interaction of “Japanese sensibility” with contemporary compositional technique and with Western musical traditions.

When I first started playing these pieces, something in them spoke quietly to my soul. The more I played them, the more I listened to that voice. I grew up in Japan playing Bach, Beethoven, Chopin…not paying much attention to the composers around me. Now, far away in another country, these works have found me. Their beauty takes me back but at the same time takes me forward to a new, richer identity.” – Yumiko Oshima-Ryan

Michio Mamiya (b. 1929): Three Preludes

Three Preludes (1977–1978) were published as the first three pieces of “ix Preludes for Piano. Mamiya was interested in developing modern forms from traditional Japanese music and he incorporated many different kinds of rhythms found in Japanese folk-music. As a pianist, he found fascinating ways to express folklore energy and sensitivity through the keyboard. Each prelude, and its title, was derived from visual images as remembered from Mamiya’s life in the country.

Children in the Sunset

“Small black silhouettes of children in the bright red sunset, running home. The sound of children’s singing games are echoing in the mountains.”

The Day of Deer Dance

The Deer Dance (Shi-shi-odori) is performed by local villagers on Matsuri, festival days, at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Two dancers wear a colourful deer costume and dance to the sound of a shinobue, a bamboo flute, which is accompanied by a daibyoshi (large drum) at the climax of the dance.

“In colourful costumes with antlers on top, young men hurrying to the woods where the shrine is. Children are running after them. From the woods softly, the sound of flute and drums are already emerging.”

Lullaby of Hikage-Dori (Shadow Street)

The two themes in this quiet piece present a lullaby mingling with the sound of a breeze.

“In my childhood, on my mother’s back…The child is looking up at the treetops moving slowly against the blue sky. The child is listening to the whisper of the wind and a lullaby from his mother.”

Masao Homma (b. 1930 ): Cross-Mode for Piano

Cross-Mode for Piano (1978) explores the “crossing points” between not only the east and west but also “modern” and “traditional”. Homma’s compositional technique, based on “western musical training”, creates unique pieces by keeping the “Japanese sensitivity” at the core of his works. In Cross-Mode this sensitivity appears in two primary elements: melodies found in the Minyo (Japanese folk-songs) and rhythms, such as Jo-ha-kyu (accelerating free rhythm towards climax) often found in Noh music.

Akira Miyoshi (b. 1933): En Vers

En Vers (1980) (In Verse) was commissioned for the First International Music Competition of Japan. It was given its première by the French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in Tokyo in 1980. In En Vers one finds tension between the compositional style suggested by European atonal music and the “subconscious” effect of Japanese traditional music. Miyoshi expressed this tension in describing En Vers as a “Japanese piece composed in the Western style”. Miyoshi often uses a technique which he called “transfiguration of a motif” which combines ascending and descending half steps, a melodic progression found in Japanese traditional music. At the beginning of the piece three motifs are exposed. Miyoshi thought that these “verses” rhyme in the way they develop, break up, repeat, and correspond to each other throughout the piece.

Toru Takemitsu (1930- 996): La pause ininterrompue • Litany

Although Takemitsu does not use specific folk elements or the form of traditional Japanese music, the concept of “ma” is at the core of his music. “Ma” literally means “in between” but it has a special significance in Japanese culture: it speaks of an absence in positive terms. “Ma” has both spatial and temporal meanings. Spatially, “Ma” implies a gap or an ‘in-between-ness’ which in music could appear as space between phrases or sections. Takemitsu’s composition invites the performer and the listener to fill this gap with their own musical imagination and find relationships between phrases. The term “Ma” also has a temporal dimension, commonly translated as “timing”. Takemitsu’s music often constructs a free and expressive kind of rhythm. The performer’s sense of timing becomes crucial in making the rhythm apparent. To fully appreciate these two compositions, one should listen to Takemitsu’s expressive silence.

La pause ininterrompue (Uninterrupted Rests) was written between 1952 and 1959. The title comes from a poem by Shuzo Takiguchi who once said “as no one could live without voice or sound, one could not live without silence”. The titles of these three short pieces evoke poetic imagination:

  1. Slowly, sadly and as if to converse with
  2. Quietly and with a cruel reverberation
  3. A song of love

LitanyIn Memory of Michael Vyner (1950 – revised 1989)

Takemitsu composed Litany to mourn the death of his friend Michael Vyner. This is a revision of his earliest piano work Lento in due movimenti, written in 1950, while he was confined to his bed with tuberculosis. Later in his life, Takemitsu often expressed his desire to create intimacy with his music, not so much for the concert hall, but rather between two people, or within one’s soul.

Yumiko Oshima-Ryan

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