Despite his ambivalence about his own culture, some of Toru Takemitsu's most evocative work is for traditional Japanese instruments. Deutsche Grammophon released two lps of work for biwas, shakuhachi and Gagaku in the mid 70's, which were reissued as In An Autumn Garden a few years ago. These are not those recordings, but rather the complete piece for Gagaku, which was excerpted on one of the albums. This was recorded May 3 & 4, 1980. Gagaku is the Japanese Imperial Court Orchestra, whose history and repertoire dates back well over one thousand years. Many good recordings are available and come recommended.
In the late 60's the National Theater of Japan decided to commission new works for Gagaku and composers like Mayazumi took on the challenge. Takemitsu's first effort was what appears here as the fourth movement, and it was that which was recorded for DG. In contrast to traditional tonalities, Takemitsu employs Dorian Mode without a fixed tonal center. The notes for a recent performance of the work likened the harmonic results to Gamelan and noted, that certain dense polyphonic eruptions which occur, may make one think of Charles Ives. In his book, Confronting Silence, there's an excerpt from Takemitsu's diary for 1962, in which he writes about hearing a performance of Gagaku:
... my impression of gagaku was that of a music that challenges measurable time. The western method of capturing time in graphic form (using measured notation) and that of gagaku are completely different in their nature.He goes on to note its Buddhist qualities, refers to it as anachronistic and says that while he wouldn't want to promote a revival of it, he does want to consider its implications for contemporary music. More about Gagaku may be found here:
Gagaku lacks the concept of a beat in Western terms. Of course, a certain rhythm is present, woven by specific percussion instruments--namely, kakko, taiko--and the sho [mouth organ]. However, they serve only to embroider the gossamer curtain of intricate sound. The symbols suggest a rhythm, but it is certainly far removed from the human pulse. As a pattern it is static. Occasionally it shoots sharply toward heaven like an arrow, as if to show the direction of the spirit. In this arena of sound even the basic primitive character of the instruments contributes to the creation of a mysterious harmony, resembling in this way nature's own workings.
In casting around to make certain this was out of print, I found a Sony Japan issued CD, but it's credited to another ensemble, Reigakusha, so I think it can also be safely assumed to be a different recording.
[CD rip | mp3 - 320 kbps | Scans | 93.6 MB | Varese Sarabande]