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Toru Takemitsu

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Toru Takemitsu


Tōru Takemitsu (8 October 1930, Tokyo, Japan – 20 February 1996, Tokyo, Japan) was a Japanese composer and writer on aesthetics and music theory.

Though largely self-taught, Takemitsu is acknowledged for his skill in the subtle manipulation of instrumental and orchestral timbre, drawing from a wide range of influences, including jazz, popular music, avant-garde procedures and traditional Japanese music, in a harmonic idiom largely derived from the music of Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen.

He expressed his unusual stance toward compositional theory early on, his lack of respect for the "trite rules of music, rules that are [...] stifled by formulas and calculations"; for Takemitsu it was of far greater importance that "sounds have the freedom to breathe. [...] Just as one cannot plan his life, neither can he plan music". Takemitsu's sensitivity to instrumental and orchestral timbre can be heard throughout his work, and is often made apparent by the unusual instrumental combinations he specified.

Takemitsu noted his initial aversion to Japanese (and all non-Western) traditional musical forms in his own words: "There may be folk music with strength and beauty, but I cannot be completely honest in this kind of music. I want a more active relationship to the present. (Folk music in a "contemporary style" is nothing but a deception)". His dislike for the music traditions of his own country in particular were intensified by his experiences of the war, during which Japanese music became associated with militaristic and nationalistic cultural ideals. Nevertheless, Takemitsu incorporated some idiomatic elements of Japanese music in his very earliest works, perhaps unconsciously. Later, Takemitsu embraced the musical traditions of the Japanese culture and incorporated them in his music along side Western musical ideas.

Japanese musical characteristics often found in Takemitsu's music include the characteristic bends of the Shakuhachi notated in Western notation and use of pentatonic scales. In Garden Rain (1974, for brass ensemble), the limited and pitch-specific harmonic vocabulary of the Japanese mouth organ, the shō and its specific timbres, are clearly emulated in Takemitsu's writing for brass instruments.

Works for Winds