[home] [Takemitsu page]

Quotes from essays by Takemitsu Toru

This page provides some of Takemitsu's thoughts and philosophy by quotes from his essays. All the quotations were taken from the book entitled Toki no Entei and were translated from the Japanese by me. That book came out after the publication of Confronting Silence which was translated from the Japanese. However, the essays I quote from here are not found in Confronting Silence.

Now let's approach his ideas. I think the next three topics will show clearly how he thought:

  1. Nature and human beings
  2. Music and culture
  3. Silence

1.Nature and human beings

I am very happy to have friends whom I feel close even if they are in the distance. Why do I sometimes try to express deep impression after nature has moved me? Because I think of human beings as reflected behind scenes, instead of the scenes themselves. That's all in my music.
In fact, Takemitsu composed music specially for those who understood his music and for his friends or families whom he wished to hear his music. Whenever he wrote chamber music, players he knew and who knew him were on his mind. Such behavior was based on the following idea:
Nationalism prevents us from solving numerous problems that the world today has. Conflicts and wars are repeated. To find a way out of this, each of us try to live lives that don't depend on politics or military activities.
His idea on nature is very unique as seen below.
Ohtake Shinro, a painter wrote: "I've never wanted to walk through nature by myself. It is more stimulating for me to walk through downtowns filled with noise, lust, and snobbery. Unfortunately, I've never asked for peace of mind in murmur of a brook. Nature is too perfect to interest me." Although I praise nature, which enlightens and stimulates me too much, I think there is not much difference between "nature" I mean and "nature" he refers to. Such nature is reflected by each of us, and we can reflect ourselves openly in it. It is not static like "murmur of a brook". I really respect severe nature that snarls at our impertinent thought or selfish desire. Note that such nature doesn't always appear as outward, visible manifestations. The wind that purifies your spirit may be a hot one, or a cold one that freezes your body.
And the above ideas are connected with his music as seen below.
A sound is undoubtedly a living thing. It is like nature that has no individual. As transformation of the wind or water are complicated, a sound becomes rich or even poor. That depends on how deep our sensitivities accept sound. We composers should not assume arrogant attitudes toward sound, because we write music in collaboration with sounds. What matter is how we can make the artificial act of writing music really natural.
The above-mentioned "artificial act of writing music" is paraphrased in the following review on works of young composers:
Every time notes are added to music, contrary to their expectations, their will to tell hides. Elaborate patchworks of sound are killing the breath of music. There is not anything like space between the lines that will give audience omens or an expectation of what is to follow. There are not anywhere guides that enable audience to go on imaginary trips they have never experienced. There is only sound fetishism. By "the artificial act of writing music" what I've mentioned before, I meant my observation of excessive artificiality in contemporary music.
By Now you might have gathered that Takemitsu's music is close to Debussy's and far from Ravel's.

2.Music and Culture

I feel embarrassed whenever I am said in foreign countries: "why do you write Western music though you are a Japanese?" Such questions are similar to those made by Japanese who say: "Foreigners cannot understand Noh play." Some Japanese, however, don't understand Noh playing! Furthermore, lots of French don't understand Debussy. What matters what is to "understand". For example, listening to music of Brahms, a German and I may understand it differently, but we are each moved in our own way. Even in the information society, there are many misunderstandings between the Japanese and foreign people, but we need not take that negatively. We should see the differences each other as natural and to be bridged by people of good intent.
Of course I cannot be so indifferent to the traditional culture of our country, as a composer. But I recognize myself as one citizen in the world music scene rather than a Japanese composer. I try to think of problems today through the representation form of music.
Now I will quote from Takemitsu's review on works of young composers again.
In many of their works Japanese traditional instruments are in use. I understand their demanding firm identity in music by the use = of these instruments. But when confronted by such attitudes, I felt impatient: I felt as if I was wandering around a dead end. It is otherness rather than identity that we have to find in ourselves now. If not, why are we write Western music? If we see "Japan", we should do that from relative standpoints. We should see Brahms or Wagner from a relative standpoint, as well. Fortunately, we can do that.
Above-mentioned "relative standpoint" is paraphrased in an another essay as seen below:
It is natural that we try to admire and to protect the unique culture our people have developed. So we too should have understanding and admiration for other cultures. What is needed most for us is eyes with which we can see each culture or each tradition from relative standpoint. And we should be proud that each way of life can change the fate of this planet in any way.
And the above ideas are connected with his music in the following way:
We have to spend much time in understanding each culture. And it seems to take almost infinite time. Therefore, rather than solve the contradiction I have in my mind, I would like to spend a long time in making it bigger, and to raise it until it becomes my personal way of representation.
As far as I know the above idea is represented clearly in such works as "Eclipse", "November Steps", and "Distance" for oboe and sho.

3. Silence

Takemitsu loved movies and wrote many pieces for them. His attitude toward film music is related to "silence".
I sometimes hear music from silence rush. It is not good to decorate images with too much music when the images themselves have sufficient content to awake audience's imaginations intensively. I insert music just for the audience to hear the pure sounds which exist naturally in the movie. I think it is more important to eliminate music from movies rather than to add music to movies.
Sounds will be generated from silence. A sound always confronts silence.... You will read more in the book, entitled Confronting Silence.
Author: ASHIDA, Naoyuki <ashida@gavo.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp>
Location of this page: http://www.gavo.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~ashida/tt/essays.html