International Shakuhachi Society Logo

The International Shakuhachi Society

Art of the Japanese Bamboo Flute and Koto

Art of the Japanese Bamboo Flute and Koto

Richard Stagg
ARC Music Int. - EUCD 1248
1993

Track Title Kanji Length Shakuhachi Shamisen Koto
1   Hachidan no Shirabe 八段の調 08'19 Richard Stagg
Hasegawa Aiko
HACHIDAN is a piece for solo koto. The title means "eight steps". The piece belongs to the group of compositions known as danmono, literally "step-type", the steps referring to sections of the overall form. Each section, or "dan" has a specific number of bars, usually 26. The lowest two strings, tuned a fifth apart, are frequently sounded together, providing a kind of intermittent drone to accompany the melody above. The name Kengyo is in fact a title, the highest-ranking of its kind, conferred upon blind artists, amongst whom koto-players were numbered, as well as acupuncturists, masseurs and shamisen-players. The opening section contains slow syncopations in which the silences are as accurately measured as the sounded beats, and which set in train a long and very gradual increase in speed which reaches its maximum near the end.
2   Zangetsu 残月 21'16 Richard Stagg Sato Kikuko Hasegawa Aiko
ZANGETSU is a trio for koto with voice, shamisen with voice, and shakuhachi. The title means "The Moon at Dawn" and the piece was composed as a lament upon the death of a young pupil of the composer. She was the daughter of a wealthy Osaka merchant, and the poem alludes to the name of his shop "Matsuya".

Hidden among the pines
On the spreading shore,
The moon's beams
So early in the dawn
Are awakening, filling with light
The moon's heavenly palace
Where you now belong
Your fond memory
Will keep returning
In the dimness
Of the hazy moon
As the months
Run their course.

The piece is often performed at memorial concerts. In the style typical of this jiuta piece ("local song") which features tegotomono (purely instrumental interludes) the instruction and maeuta (opening song) feature an extremely slow tempo, which is here sustained for an unusually long time, to give dramatic weight to the subject. The voices of both string-players are heard at different points. The performance on this recording consists of a single take.
3   Shika no Tône (Kinko Ryû) 鹿の遠音 09'04 Richard Stagg

The third piece in the album, SHIKA NO TONE for solo shakuhachi, belongs to the Edo Period honkyoku, a style of composition unique to the shakuhachi which was performed by wandering monks and ronin (ex-samurai). It is sometimes performed as a duet, since it represents the calling of deer to one another across the forest. The notes were first written down by Kurosawa Kinko in the late Eighteenth Century , but before this event the history of the piece is obscure. It has been suggested that it was used as a test-piece or musical password for identifying bogus shakuhachi-players (i.e. those who, underneath their basket-hats were little more than spies or informers working for the shogunate). It exploits a wide variety of features of shakuhachi-technique, including glissandi, head-vibrato and muraiki (a rushing wind-sound).
4   Yaegoromo 八重衣 27'20 Richard Stagg

The original version of YAEGOROMO, the fourth piece in the album, was for shamisen and voice and was created by Ishikawa Koto who was active in Kyoto in the early Nineteenth Century .In spite of being the longest composition known in the sankyoku repertoire, it did not become well-known until it had had a koto-part added by Yaezaki Kengyo, also of Kyoto, who received very active encouragement from Miyahara Kengyo of Kyushu in its completion. Sankyoku is the genre of composition which uses the trio of players above, and their voices, and has its existence purely as a piece of music without being intended for courtly proceedings, drama or festivals. It became widespread first of all in the places of entertainment in the cities and later in the nobles' houses, thus occupying the position of "chamber-music" in Japanese culture. The shakuhachi-part of Yaegoromo would have been added later still, and accurately-notated rhythms were a luxury not yet granted to the contemporary performers of these pieces. The difficulties of obtaining an accurate performance would have been formidable indeed. The shamisen-part was notoriously difficult because of the use of hon-choshi tuning throughout. Pictorial references to the poem can be heard, in particular the rhythmic cloth-beating during one of the instrumental tegoto, and also the sounds of insects by means of hajiki and bachikeshi on the shamisen (plucking the string with the left hand whilst damping it with the hard edge of the plectrum). The poem dates from the Thirteenth Century and is a collection of five waka (31-syllable poems) from Ogura hyakunin-isshu anthology The word koromo (“robe") links the five poems, which also embrace the four seasons.

To serve thee
I venture into the fields
Gathering the spring harvest.
On the tumbling sleeves of my robe
The snow is falling.
Spring
Has almost turned to summer
As the whiteness
Of the drying robes
Mantles the holy mountain of Kagu.
How fiercely the autumn wind blows
Around Mount Yoshino!
In the chill
Of the village
The thudding of the cloth-beaters.
By the edge of a rice-field in autumn
A hut of rough thatch is one's shelter.
Wet through
Are the robe's sleeves
With the dew of the night.
A grasshopper chirps through the cold
Of the frosty night.
On this rope-matting
With only my sleeves for company
Must I lie alone?
5   Yamaji 山路 08'19 Richard Stagg
Sato Kikuko
The final piece in the selection is entitled YAMAJI, a duet for koto and shakuhachi, composed in 1980 by Kozo Masuda. Although born in Korea his musical training was in Japan under Saburo Takada and Jo Shimaoki at Kunitachi Music Academy where he now holds a Professorship. He completed his studies at the Paris Conservatory. Yamaji was initially written for the famous artists Katsuya Yokoyama and Tadao Sawai and presents a rhapsodic, pastoral view of the Japanese countryside couched in, to modern ears, almost Debussyan language. Such a linkage becomes more obvious if we consider the extent to which Debussy and those of his generation were trying to absorb Chinese atmosphere into their music. If the scales and the mood here are Chinese, the treatment, as the piece develops is less easily classified. One must remember that the shakuhachi's basic scale consisting of D F G A C D and corresponding in fact to the common pentatonic scale associated with China, has to be constantly modified by the player in order to create the scale typical of sankyoku music, i.e. G Ab C D F ascending and G Eb D C A –descending, plus its transpositions. This chromatic aspects of both instruments is used, in the central section, to create the dramatic tension as, the imaginary climber, having surveyed the serene views from the foothills, now gets down to the serious business of the ascent of the mountain, complete with waterfalls, rainbows, dangerous overhangs, heat and breathlessness. When he finally gains the summit the serenity of the pentatonic section returns, this time bathed in delicate arpeggios from the koto. The climber's feelings are overwhelmed by the softness of the air and the beauty of the view.

The International Shakuhachi Society - 2018