Today is the third day of official mourning in France. The attacks in Paris initially left me speechless. As a journalist I have covered terrorism for many years. I travelled across Afghanistan, Africa and South East Asia to understand how the world fights Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya. At some point, I decided to quit that dangerous game. Now, terrorism has caught up with me. The train to Paris takes barely two hours. The Islamic State has struck in the heart of Europe, the City of Light. I would not have thought this group of fanatics able to mount simultaneous attacks of such violence in Europe.
Longing for peace
I am not afraid. I am horrified, but I feel no anger. I feel sorrow, sadness and a deep longing for peace. For those of my readers who feel the same, I open the door to a distraction from our journey through the world of classical music. The door leads us over a little side path into a Japanese garden, shrouded in the morning mist of autumn.
Once you have entered the garden, you will be greeted by a Shakuhachi flute player. He will seem both far away and close by and he will lure you deeper into the Realm of Green. You will feel the cool air and the moisture. You will hear water dripping from the leaves. You will hear animals, but you will not see them. There will be drums and bells, monks chanting… and in the end, you will realize that all this has existed in your imagination only.
Music from the Imperial Court
The Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu has composed in 1973 this wonderful piece for a traditional Gagaku orchestra called “In an Autumn Garden”. I find it helpful for stimulating self-reflection, and at the same time, it helps me to calm down and find an inner peace.
Gagaku is the oldest classical music in Japan and was played for centuries at the imperial court in Kyoto. “Gagaku” means “elegant music” and elegant it is! It was introduced from China and the Korean Peninsula, along with Buddhism. Winds, strings and percussionist are the typical instruments for this music, which is very far away from the music we deem classical. But then again Takemitsu was a Japanese composer, who would not negate his origin nor the rich musical tradition of Japan, even though he studied Europe’s composers and followed their path in many of his pieces.
Debussy and Messiaen
Takemitsu (1930-1993) was mainly self-taught. He first came into contact with Western music during his military service, when he heard the French chanson “Parlez-moi d’amour”. He deepened his study of Western music while working at an US military base in Japan and listening to the American Forces Network radio broadcasts. With other artists he founded in 1951 an experimental cross-media workshop, composed a piece for piano, his “Chamber Concerto” for wind instruments and pieces with electronic music. Until his death, he wrote ballets and incidental music, songs, film scores and TV music.
His musical language is derived from Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen and John Cage and he had developed a keen interested for György Ligetis’s compositions. “In an Autumn Garden” for instance reminds me a lot of Messiaen’s “Chronochromie” (1960) depicting the sounds heard in the mountains, that I have discussed in an earlier post. Upon the death of Messiaen, Takemitsu said, that Messiaen taught him “the concept and experience of color and the form of time” set to music.
The album that features the piece “In an Autumn Garden” offers you several more works similar in style and equal in beauty. “Voyage”, written for three biwas (traditional Japanese lutes), is very nice and “Autumn” (1979), an orchestral piece of six movements based upon “In an Autumn garden” is really worth listening to. I hope that Takemitsu’s music can give your mind a little rest and perhaps a little consolation.
© Charles Thibo