Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)
Composed in 1966.
Japanese in birth and sensibility, and Western in his compositional techniques and instrumental sonorities, Toru Takemitsu belied Kipling’s old adage that East and West would never meet by creating music that sings of universal human experience. Takemitsu sought in his many works to transmute dreams, water, trees, gardens, sky, birds, wind, the flickering images of film, the quiverings of the human heart, the resonance of a printed word into patterns of sounds and silence that would penetrate to the quiet, inner place where the spirit dwells. “When one life calls out to another,” he wrote, “sounds are born. Silence bordered with a necklace of sounds, which become scales. Little by little, the strands of scales are bundled into a sheath of light, rising into the sky, or gushing out, splashing, like the body of a river finding liberation as it reaches the sea. They fill the universe: enormous, soundless sounds.” Though Takemitsu’s music is meticulously structured and unified through the conventional European practice of transformation of thematic motives, it gives the feeling of spontaneity and freedom and space, of being released from the earth, of being at once substantial and equivocal. He was preoccupied with timbre and texture rather than with traditional rhythmic and harmonic organization, with the aural point hovering between sound and silence, with discovering music that seems to issue from the very air and earth, with giving, he said, “a proper meaning to the ‘streams of sounds’ that penetrate the world which surrounds us.” His creative voice — quiet/disturbing, joyous/sad, universal/personal — is unique in modern music, a manifestation of a world brought closer together by diversity, and expanded by individuality.
Takemitsu was born in Tokyo on October 8, 1930. He studied intermittently for a few years with Yasuji Kiyose (1900-1981), a student of Alexander Tcherepnin, but was largely self-taught, a circumstance that helps account for his highly individual style. A performance of his piano piece Futatsu no rento (“Lento for Two”) on a contemporary music series in 1950 brought him to the attention of the composer Jogi Yuasa and the conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama, with whom he founded the Jikken Kobo (“Experimental Workshop”) for collaborations in mixed media combining traditional Japanese idioms with modernistic techniques. His Requiem for Strings of 1957, inspired by the death of his friend and fellow composer Fumio Hayasaka, drew praise from Stravinsky and brought Takemitsu his first recognition abroad. He won international fame with his 1967 November Steps for biwa (a traditional Japanese lute-like instrument), shakuhachi (a flute) and orchestra, commissioned for the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic. Takemitsu thereafter came to be regarded among the world’s leading composers: designer and director of the spherical Space Theater in the Steel Pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka; guest lecturer at the University of California at San Diego, Columbia, Harvard, Yale and Boston University; composer-in-residence at the Tanglewood, Colorado, Avignon, Stockholm, Canberra, Aldeburgh, Berliner Festwochen and other leading festivals; recipient of many prestigious awards in his native Japan as well as from the Akademie der Künste of the German Democratic Republic, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the French government (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and membership in the Académie des Beaux-Arts). His other distinctions include the UNESCO/IMC Music Prize (1991), the Grawemeyer Award (1994) and the Glenn Gould Prize (1996). Toru Takemitsu died in Tokyo on February 20, 1996.
Takemitsu devoted more of his career to films than any other classical composer of comparable stature, writing 93 scores between 1956 and his death forty years later. He was called upon by some of Japan’s most respected directors — Kurosawa, Teshigahara, Imamura, Shinoda, Oshima — to complement their images and stories with evocative music, and he collaborated closely with them from a film’s first unedited rushes to develop an appropriate sound world for each project. His music for films was honored with awards from the Mainichi Music Festival (for Seppuku, 1962) and the Los Angeles Film Critics (Ran, 1987).
Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another (1966) is a surreal tale in which a scientist is terribly scarred in a laboratory fire. A doctor fits him with a life-like new face, and the scientist takes on another identity with his changed appearance. He tests out both by trying to seduce his own wife. For a scene in a beer hall, Takemitsu provided a voluptuous waltz with a caustic Kurt Weill-like edge.
Avner Dorman (b. 1975)
Composed in 2018
Premiered March 13, 2019 in Cleveland.
Written for CityMusic Cleveland and Sayaka Shoji
According to Buddhist traditions and some prominent Western philosophers, only when the mind is still can we see the world clearly. Being still, or finding a still mind is the goal of many meditative practices and traditions.
In my third violin concerto, titled “Still,” I looked to explore these ideas through music. In this sense the piece is quite spiritual in its conception: can one find deep silence and calm in an art form that begins with sound?
As in most concertos, the protagonist of the piece is the soloist. The violin searches for silence and calm in the notes and the phrases with which it is familiar. The piece alludes to musical styes of the past as a symbol of one’s thoughts, as these elements of history make up a great deal of our memories and reflections. The piece is constructed in one movement, which can be divided into four large parts:
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Composed in 1947.
Premiered on October 24, 1948 in London.
Poulenc established the foundation for his lifetime’s music early in his career. “I seek a musical style,” he wrote, “that is healthy, clear and robust, a style as plainly French as Stravinsky’s is Slavic.” In forming the elements of his creative language, Poulenc was a pronounced eclectic, freely borrowing from the whole range of French composers active around the turn of the century: Fauré, Ravel, Koechlin, Stravinsky, Roussel and especially Debussy, Satie and Chabrier. The resulting concoction was, however, distinctly that of Poulenc, so much so that the American composer and devoted Francophile Ned Rorem could write, “He is among the magic few. Without his art, my world would weigh less.” Poulenc’s technical strength was melody, and it is not coincidental that he was one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. Though rooted in the traditional harmonic system, his melodies are peppered with frequent, surprisingly piquant dissonances and unexpected turns of rhythmic phrase. Roger Nichols assessed, “For him the most important element of all was melody, and he found his way to a vast treasury of undiscovered tunes within an area that had, according to the most up-to-date musical maps, been surveyed, worked and exhausted.” Poulenc’s melodies may be divided into two essential styles. One was a straightforward, tuneful type based on what he and his colleagues in the group of French composers known as “Les Six” called “Parisian folklore” — the ditties of such popular entertainers as street musicians, music hall performers and circus bands. The other was a more deeply felt manner, most evident in his religious works and the masterful opera Dialogues of the Carmelites. Both melodic genres are heard in the Sinfonietta.
Poulenc’s output for orchestra without voices or soloists is tiny — the two ballets Les Biches and The Model Animals, single movements for two collaborative projects of 1954 (Matelotte Provençale, based on pieces of André Campra, and Bucolique, variations on the name of Marguerite Long), the Suite Française (after themes of the French 16th-century composer Claude Gervaise), Two Marches and an Intermezzo (to accompany the pineapple and cheese courses and conclusion of a dinner in 1937) and the Sinfonietta. The Sinfonietta, commissioned in 1947 for the tenth anniversary of the BBC Third Programme, utilizes material originally intended for an aborted string quartet of that year. (Poulenc so disliked the quartet that he threw the manuscript into a Paris sewer.) Though the Sinfonietta is scaled on the dimensions of a full Classical symphony, Poulenc chose the diminutive title to show that he regarded the piece more as entertainment than as profundity. His biographer Henri Hell noted that the work “evokes Haydn and, closer to us, Bizet’s Symphony. It has the same limpidity, the same clearness of lines, the same harmony of form.” The opening Allegro posits the duality of sonata form with a precisely rhythmic scalar motive (next-of-kin to the starkly neoclassic, “white-note” Stravinsky of Apollo) and a sweetly lyrical melody entrusted to flute and violins — or, more precisely, a whole clutch of broad melodies that are spun out across much of the movement with varying degrees of expressive intensity. The opening motive, much abbreviated, and one of the lyrical ideas return as a coda. The second movement begins with a rollicking tune grown from the Parisian music hall, an idiom that gallivants uninhibitedly through many of Poulenc’s compositions. The music becomes more expansive as it proceeds, returning briefly to the first theme to round out the movement. The warmly lyrical Andante is winsome and touchingly nostalgic, qualities Poulenc captured better than almost any other modern master. The finale is a good-natured romp that includes a couple of rousing cabaret tunes and an almost Mozartian wealth of broad melodies.
©2018 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
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