Some Takemitsu Quotes

– When sounds are possessed by ideas instead of having their own identity, music suffers.

– Too often these days creativity is nothing but the invention of methods. When aesthetics becomes so sharp and distinguished, art becomes weak.

– 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.)

– Just as one cannot plan his life, neither can he plan music.

– Today’s image of classical music is a narrow and self-satisfied one in which the division between composer and performer is not questioned.

– The Noh (能劇) mask does not give character, but by covering the natural face that might show emotion, it creates in the actor an even purer internal expression.

– In the past I have not tried to explain my own work in detail. Explanation is not necessary, since the music is there and speaks for itself. Program notes place emphasis on reading and may interfere with the actual hearing of music. Too much explanation may even change the direction of the music and occasionally even inhibit the evocative powers of music.


(On differences between Japanese and Chinese music: )

– That simple term “East” covers a variety of differences. Although Chinese and Indian music have traditional instruments related to the Japanese shamisen, koto, shakuhachi and biwa, the expressive character of these musics is completely different. Traditional Japanese music originally came from China and the Korean peninsula or through the Southern route. There was no indigenous Japanese music, but what was imported from abroad was Japanized over a long time.

– [Japanese music] focused on the quality of individual instrumental sounds. This may be compared to the way the Japanese try to reveal the natural quality of a material while the Chinese apply artificial craftsmanship to embroidery or sculpture.

New York City in November was extremely dry. …One of the shakuhachi split. The biwa was also affected…these were simply physical conditions, but we certainly felt the difficulties in exporting Japanese music. …but I began wondering what those limitations might mean to art. …Gradually I came to realize that the shortcomings I saw in the biwa and shakuhachi are at the same time very important elements in Japanese music.

Passing through India it was called the vina, in China the pipa, in Japan the biwa. The vina and pipa are closer to European instruments and are made for easier performance; they are designed to play more precise intervals. Like the guitar, the pipa has a large number of frets, by pressing the string against a fret the performer produces a fixed pitch. For some unknown reason there are fewer frets on the biwa, and the strings are stretched more loosely. On the biwa the different pitches result from stopping these loose strings between the frets. Accordingly, three to four different pitches can be produced between two frets. Fret exist to make precise and predictable pitches possible but the Japanese biwa ignores that. As a result, the biwa is not predictable. Fast passages are nearly impossible, and performances tend to emphasize subtle variation and decay in sounds. …Similar things could be said of the shakuhachi. Its sound is dark and desolate if compared to chinese flute which is lighter and brighter. (I guess he means xiao – the vertical chinese flute).

Speaking from my own intuition, rather than from a simple-minded resolution to blend Western and Japanese elements, I choose to confront those contradictions, even intensify them. …This is my act of expression.

(All of the above are quoted from the book “Confronting Silence”, a translation of selected writings by Toru Takemitsu)

(I think that’s what marks the big difference between development of Japanese and Chinese music in the 20th century. The Japanese know what is the essence of their music and they preserve it. Chinese doubts the value of their own music and tries to change it to adapt to western standard: equal-tempered, ability to play chromatic notes, a family of high and low instruments, functional harmony, etc.)