"Noh Play. Biwa and Chanting"
Baren Reiter Musicaphon - BM 30 L 2017
THE NO PLAY "HAGOROMO" |
Commentary by Hans Eckardt
The No is a choral drama of a lyric nature. It originated from Japanese song-dances of the 14th century, and was given its final shape by two artists of genius, Kwan'ami Kiyotsugu (1333-1384) and his son Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443). The No has been maintained in this form, practically unchanged, to the present day. Zeami combined in himself the activities of poet, musician, dancer, producer and theorist. His writings on aesthetics (The Twenty-Three Treatises of Zeami), rediscovered at the beginning of our century, enable us, so long afterwards, to understand the spiritual essence of the No play and to view it against the background of its time.
The No as a choral drama consists of recitations and alternate singing between the main actors, usually two, and a chorus. The Shite (performer) is the principal actor, and the Waki (side) the second main actor. At the centre of all No plays there is a non-realistic symbolic dance, a source of mystic power.
A synthesis of several expressions of Japanese art and undoubtedly the finest flowering of all Japanese culture, the No can be interpreted only in the light of Zen Buddhism. Zen rejects the significance attached to the external world and its illusory appearances. It favours the discipline imposed by the greatest simplicity in living. Zen teaches the way to inner serenity, meditation, and mental control. As a result, stage and language, style and atmosphere, song and dance, as well as the masks, fans and the music of No, all come under the spell of Zen.
In art influenced by Zen, communication is made by suggestion rather than by full expression. The material actually presented is reduced to a minimum in order to allow the imagination free play.
An essential feature of No, as of the ink paintings of Sesshu, (1420-1506), is a dreamy self-abandonment to mysterious moods, the unfinished, and to that which is intentionally left incomplete.
The stage (butai) of the No theatre, made of cypress wood, is of the utmost simplicity. A concave roof is supported on four wooden pillars which are placed at the corners of the square stage whose sides measure 19 feet. The backstage (koza), about nine feet deep, is closed off by a partition on which a pine tree is painted. The stage is open on three sides, and there are no wings. Apart from a few requisites of symbolic significance there are no stage properties. On the right side beyond the four main pillars is the place for the chorus which consists of eight to twelve singers, who sit in the Japanese fashion on the ground in two rows, one behind the other. The chorus takes no part in the action; its role is to accompany with lyric songs, and to take over the words of the principal actor during the dance in order to relieve him. To the left of the stage is the hashigakari or passageway, which is about six feet broad. Its length, although not prescribed, usually varies between 30 and 36 feet. This passageway leads from the backstage diagonally to the greenroom, known as the "mirror-room" (kagami-no-ma), from which it is closed off by a curtain (age-maku). The actor makes his entry from the mirror-room where, in front of a large mirror, he becomes absorbed in the spirit of his role before going on stage. As well as providing a means of entry for the actors, the passageway serves a functional purpose in the drama itself. Some of the most attractive scenes take place on the passageway, which symbolically separates the world of gods and spirits from the transient, earthly world of men.
The external economy and simplicity of the stage and of the No play in general correspond to the somewhat abstract nature of the inner formal principle which they are designed to express. So the masks - the Shite almost invariably wears one- represent certain basic types which efface any individual expression. The magnificent robes of silk and brocade might appear to contradict the plainness of the No style. This splendour is, however, equally a symbol of the unreal; it intensifies the impression of the impersonal, the mystical; it avoids naturalistic imitation. In a similar way the fan is used symbolically to represent various objects such as an axe, pail, drinking cup and fishing-net.
The four instruments which accompany the singing are the No cross-flute of bamboo (nokwan) and three drums. Of these drums two are hand-drums shaped like an hourglass, the ko-tsuzumi placed on the shoulder which produces many different tone-colours through varying the tension of the lacing, and the o-tsuzumi held at the left thigh and struck with thimbles worn on the fingers, which has a sharp, hard tone quality; the third, the taiko, is a barrel-drum played with wooden sticks and used only to accompany the appearance of gods and spirits.
The drums provide a framework for the metre of the text, and set the rhythm for the dance. The mysterious-sounding calls (kakegoe) of the drummers, used to announce internal changes in the rhythmic pattern, fulfill a function comparable to that of a conductor and also help to create the unreal atmosphere which contributes to the enchantment of sound of a No play. The only melodic instrument is the No flute which plays certain traditional melodic phrases. The musicians sit between the two pillars at the back of the stage with the actors in front of them.
Considered in its historical setting the chanting in a No play occupies in Japanese music a position somewhat similar to that occupied in European music by Gregorian chant. The No style of singing is unmistakable and unique in the history of music. The intense concentration of Zen, the meditative power and the enchantment thereby created, are typically Japanese.
The songs of the No plays make use of forms of Buddhist choral music and various styles of liturgical chant, and sometimes - in the dance-sections - adaptations of secular songs which were formerly well-known.
The vocal sections of No, which are interrupted by long recitatives, are all based on nine melodic patterns which are the same for all No plays and constantly recur. They have the following names: shidai, issei, uta, sashi, kuri, kuse, rongi, waka and kiri.
All these patterns are built up from a rigid metrical scheme, the so-called" chain" (kusari). This scheme consists of twelve syllables divided into seven plus five, and is fitted into a strict rhythmic grouping containing eight main beats (yatsubyoshi).
The tonal material of the No plays is pentatonic without semitones; in the lower register it is made up simply from a succession of fourths.
The notation for the sung parts is provided by 34 signs which resemble neumes. When each syllable is accompanied by a sign known as goma-ten (lit. "sesame-seed point"), they are of equal length. Longer notes or syncopations are indicated by signs representing double or triple note-lengths. The relative pitch level, marked as high, medium or low, is also given; absolute pitch is not indicated. There is also a kind of key to the neumes; according to whether the part is marked "strong" (tsuyoku) or "weak" (yowaku) different readings are implied, that is, other intervals are to be sung which cannot be read from the signs themselves. In each case the singer must recognize and interpret the steps of the intervals from the voice register, the signs of the particular tonal pattern, and a knowledge of the formal type. The notation for the singing in a No play is a typical example of that found in fixed melodic patterns.
THE NO REPERTOIRE
A complete No programme usually consists of five plays arranged in a definite order, one being taken from each of the following groups: 1. Introductory plays; 2. Shura-mono, plays dealing with warriors, heroes and the spirits associated with them; 3. Kazura-mono, plays about women, lovers, spirits inhabiting flowers and trees, and supernatural fairies, "Hagoromo" belongs to this group; 4. Plays depicting madness (Monogurui-mono) or the revenge of offended spirits and plays on other themes; 5. Kiri-mono, plays in which supernatural beings, spirits and demons are again represented.
The five No plays which make up a programme may be interrupted by comic interludes (No-Kyogen), medieval farces in the colloquial dialect of the period.
Of the six hundred classical No plays about two hundred are in the current repertory of the five classical No schools.
"HAGOROMO", (THE ROBE OF FEATHERS)
The No play recorded here is one of the most popular and frequently performed. It belongs to the third group of plays described above, and is one of many versions of the widely-known fairy-tale about the swan maiden.
A heavenly being comes to bathe on the beach of Mio near Suruga, famous for its beautiful scenery and pine trees. The fairy undresses and hangs her feather-robe on a branch of a pine tree. It is found by the fisherman Hakuryo. He will not give it back to the fairy, who explains that without it she cannot return to the heavenly regions. Finally he agrees to hand over the dress on condition that she perform for him the dance of the heavenly ones. Thus the dance is given a central place in the drama composed and arranged for the No stage by Zeami.
PERSONS OF "HAGOROMO"
The fisherman Hakuryo (Waki)
Two other fishermen (Waki-zure - The second actor's assistant.)
The heavenly being (Shite)
THE OPENING SONG FROM "HAGOROMO"
The music is sung on an issei (one of the nine melodic patterns) which is marked tsuyoku. It is sung by the Waki.
Over the bay of Mio
a fresh breeze is blowing,
voices of boatmen
are heard ringing out
above the waves.
CHANTING ACCOMPANIED ON THE BIWA (JAPANESE SHORT LUTE) "ISHIDOMARU" |
Commentary by Detlef Foljanty
The biwa, which has been closely associated with the growth of vocal music in narrative style, such as is found in the Japanese epics, is an instrument of the lute family. It is thought to have originated in the Sassanian kingdom in Persia and reached China, where it is known as p'i-p'a, by way of East Turkestan. It was introduced into Japan from China, during the period of its close contact with the culture of the T'ang dynasty, in the 7th and 8th centuries.
The biwa was one of the instruments of the Chinese music which was adopted by the Japanese court in its ceremonial music, known in Japan as Gagaku. In addition to its function in the Gagaku ensemble, the biwa was used by the court nobles as a solo instrument. Later on, in the 10th and 11th centuries, it was taken up by blind wandering Buddhist priests and mendicant monks who used it to accompany ritual formulas intended to bring prosperity, as well as recitations of tales and the news of the day.
In the 12th century, an age dominated by bitter struggles for political power, the practice arose of reciting "war-tales" to a biwa accompaniment. Material for these epics was provided by the events of the civil wars which had just come to an end. The most representative work of this kind is the Heike Monogatari, the epic of the decline of the Taira clan. This art of recitation was also the property of blind Buddhist priests who spread it throughout the land, and it survived for four centuries.
The 16th century saw the dawn of a new era in Japan which brought a change in taste, the old war-tales being superseded by new themes. The biwa was also ousted from its position as the main instrument for accompanying singing and recitation by a newcomer, the shamisen, a kind of three-stringed lute which is of lighter build and offers the player greater technical opportunities. The shamisen was the focal point of the new musical culture, that of a rich bourgeoisie in search of entertainment, whose outstanding achievement was to become the Kabuki theatre, established in the early 17th century.
From then on the biwa was relegated to an insignificant position, and its music altered under the influence of shamisen melodies. The last representatives of the biwa tradition at the present time are two schools which were founded towards the close of the 19th century. Through these the biwa temporarily acquired a new popularity. The schools are known as Satsuma biwa and Chikuzen biwa, and take their names from the provinces from which their influence has spread.
Like those of the Far East the lutes of Europe, whose golden age was in the 15th and 16th centuries, go back to the same Persian ancestor. But whereas the bodies of the European lutes are rounded, that of the Japanese biwa is flat and straight. The body tapers down to a short neck, thus giving the instrument a pear-shaped appearance. A resonating chamber is hollowed out of the body which is made from a solid piece of wood, usually mulberry. The sound-board which is glued onto the body is also of mulberry-wood. A strip of leather or lacquer is placed across the sound-board to protect it from the strokes of the plectrum. There are two crescent shaped sound-holes, one on either side of the strings, and a third under the tail-piece. The strings are attached to pegs fitting into the sides of the peg-box which lies back at right angles to the neck.
A feature of the biwa is that the strings are stopped between the frets, which produces a distinctive twanging kind of tone. The frets stand quite high so that, even when under maximum pressure, the strings do not contact the finger-board. (The biwa used in Gagaku constitutes an exception, the strings being stopped directly at the frets so that a clearly definable note is produced). By varying the pressure on the strings and also through vibrato it is possible to obtain great variety of tone production. The plectrum used to pluck the strings is unusually large; in outline it resembles an open fan. The instrument recorded here is known as Satsuma biwa. It has four strings and four frets. The number of strings and frets varies on the different instruments, and plectra of different shapes are also found.
THE MUSIC OF THE SATSUMA BIWA
Traces of earlier biwa traditions are better preserved in the Satsuma biwa style than in the Chikuzen biwa style. Not only are the themes taken from history, but also the style of performance resembles that of the Heike Monogatari. Vocal and instrumental phrases alternate and sometimes overlap, and it is not possible to speak of an accompaniment in the occidental sense of the word. During the singing the instrument is limited to single supporting notes played from time to time.
The melodies of the Satsuma biwa school are taken largely from shamisen music and have been adapted to the biwa. On this disc the Satsuma biwa style is represented by the recitation "Ishidomaru".
Shisui Enomoto: biwa and singing
In its present form "Ishidomaru" dates from about 1910. It is the result of are-working of an earlier version by Kinshin Nagata, one of the best-known masters of the biwa of the last hundred years, who included it in the repertoire of his school.
The text, which had previously been recited to a shamisen accompaniment, goes back to earlier sources.
The story tells of the fate of the young Ishidomaru who, together with his mother, leaves the southern part of the land to search for his father in the Central Provinces. The father, a former provincial governor, has renounced the world and, in search of liberation, has become a monk. Ishid6maru rediscovers his father who, however, does not reveal his identity, but leads him to a tomb which he declares to be that of his father, that is of Ishidomaru's father. This action springs from the Buddhist conception of the impermanence and senselessness of human life. The mother dies before Ishidomaru reaches her to announce the death of his father. Alone in the world, he returns to the monk who had shown him the grave alleged to be that of his father, and wanders as a pupil with him through the land without ever suspecting his identity.