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Japan - Music of the Shakuhachi

Japan - Music of the Shakuhachi

Yamaguchi Goro
Japan Victor Corporation - VICG-5357

Track Title Kanji Length Shakuhachi Shamisen Koto
1   Sokaku Reibo 巣鶴鈴慕 20'54 Yamaguchi Goro

Also known as Tsuru no sugomori (The Nesting Crane), this is one of several pieces bearing this title. The origins of the piece as recounted within the Kinko school are associated with a monk named Zansui from the Ichigatsu-ji temple in the province of Shimosa who is said to have been taught it by a monk named Ryoan at the Kyuko-an temple in Uji near Kyoto. Zansui is said then to have transmitted the piece to Kurosawa Kinko. Consisting of twelve sections (dan), this programmatic piece describes the growth of a crane from birth until it leaves its nest and its mother dies. A relatively strong sense of metre is a noteworthy feature of this piece. The music is interlarded with imitative sound effects and unusual techniques which demand a high level of technical proficiency. A distinctive melody is repeated on many occasions, giving the music a more evocative effect than most honkyoku, which tend to be in a more abstract and conceptual vein. Together with Shika no tone, this is one of the most well-known pieces in the repertoire.

The following story is told about the background to the piece. One cold winter, a mother crane is unable to find any food to give to her chicks. Ready to sacrifice herself for her offspring, she feeds them on the meat from her own stomach. The chicks regain their strength and fly off , but the mother quietly expires. In Japan, the crane is regarded as a symbol of good fortune. A religious message seems to be contained in the expression of deep affection between the mother crane and her chicks. But irrespective of the religious background to the piece, the music is of wonderful perfection, giving expression as it does to the subtle variations in tonal colour and wide variety of techniques of which the shakuhachi is capable. The piece is performed here by Yamaguchi Goro, the sole exponent of the Kinko school today who has been honoured with the title of Living National Treasure. Yamaguchi presents a superb performance characterised by subtlety and profound artistry within a mood of utter calm and collectedness.
2   San'an 産安 07'10 Yokoyama Katsuya

San'an is one of the pieces belonging to the group known as Sanya which forms a part of the classical honkyoku associated with the Fuke sect. The origins of the word sanya, which can be written with several combinations of Chinese characters, are not altogether clear. The etymologies variously attributed to the word include, first, the Sanskrit word samaja meaning 'gathering'; second, the Japanese Buddhist term sanmai (Sanskrit, samadhi), meaning concentration of the mind on a single object; third, the three (san) 'undulations' (ya) which appear in the pieces; and fourth, a place name. Another theory assumes that the pieces are intended to presage safe childbirth. These pieces are thought originally to have been performed at ceremonies of the Fuke sect. With their subtle and complex ornamentation, they are considered to be amongst the most technically demanding in the repertoire.

San'an is an improvisational arrangement made by Wadatsumidoso of an earlier piece entitled Jinbo sanya which was itself an arrangement by Jinbo Masanosuke, a komuso master of the Meiji era, of a version of Sanya transmitted in northeastern Japan. The pieces composed and arranged by Wadatsumidoso are known as dokyoku. Three of these belong within the sanya category, and each has its own distinctive features.

San'an is the most brilliant of the three. Subtle, technically difficult ornamentation is featured throughout, and the fingerings are also of considerable complexity. In accordance with one of the theories concerning the etymology of the genre, a distinctive passage in the upper register appears three times. Yokoyama Katsuya, whose rendition of the piece is featured here, learnt the piece directly from Watatsumidoso. He performs it on a long shakuhachi measuring two shaku and two sun (60.7 centimeters), whose sound, imbued with the spirit of Zen Buddhism, creates a powerful religious impact.
3   Kogarashi 木枯 07'34 Yamamoto Hozan

This piece was composed in November 1923 by Nakao Tozan, who founded the Tozan school in Osaka in 1896. Tozan created pieces totally different in nature from earlier shakuhachi music, with its pervasively religious atmosphere, in a style considered to be more appropriate to the age. These became established as the honkyoku of the Tozan school. The distinguishing features of this new repertoire was the incorporation of influence from Western music in connection with form, harmony and metre, and the prominence of ensemble works in addition to pieces of the standard unaccompanied type.

Kogarashi (The Chill Winter Wind) is one of these Tozan school honkyoku and was composed by Nakao Tozan the year after he moved to Tokyo. Standing in Shiba Park, which had been totally destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake two months before he wrote the piece, Tozan felt the chill wind marking the advent of winter blow through his body. He composed this piece to express in an improvisational manner the feelings of inconsolable desolation which welled up in his breast on that occasion. This is one of the few pieces in the repertoire of the Tozan school intended for unaccompanied performance, and allows the performer considerable freedom of interpretation. The graphic and lyrical expression which is an important feature of Tozan school honkyoku appears here in the representation of desolation and chill as falling leaves scatter at the mercy of the piercingly cold wind. This scene is depicted through the medium of accessible melodies which make this one of the foremost pieces in the Tozan school honkyoku repertoire.

The formal development of the piece follows the four-part principle of development employed in Chinese poetry. After beginning slowly, the music gradually speeds up with frequent changes of tempo and variation of tonal colour. A model performance is here presented by Yamamoto Hozan, a Tozan school performer of consummate musicianship and technical proficiency.
4   Shika no Tône (Kinko Ryû) 鹿の遠音 11'09 Yokoyama Katsuya

According to legend, Kurosawa Kinko, founder of the Kinko school, was taught this piece by a komuso priest named Ikkei in Nagasaki. The piece is interpreted as a representation either of two deer calling to one another to stress their territorial rights or of a male and a female deer responding to one another's calls deep in the autumnal mountains. The music is thus programmatic in content, its main elements being a mood of loneliness suggested by the image of an isolated mountain village in autumn and the imitation of the cries of deer.

As with Sokaku reibo, the first piece on this disc, this is a large-scale piece making extensive use of melodic repetition. But at the same time it is full of variety and technical difficulty, such features ensuring that the music never seems excessively long. As one of the finest pieces in the repertoire, Shika no tone is the most widely known of the shakuhachi honkyoku. It is generally performed as a duet in which the performers play in alternation. In this respect, it is an exceptional piece in the Kinko school honkyoku repertoire, which consists almost entirely of pieces for the unaccompanied instrument. The inclusion of many elements whose interpretation is entrusted to the individual performer is a feature of the honkyoku as such. This means that no two performances of the piece, even when given by the same players, are the same, with subtle differences appearing in the manner of response and the combination of phrases. A sense of breadth and spatial perspective is generated by variations in dynamics and the use of pauses between intensely interpreted phrases. Perfect coordination between the two players is the essential requirement of a successful performance of this technically demanding piece. The present performance is one of astonishing intensity in which the personalities of the two players confront one another head-on.

The International Shakuhachi Society - 2018