Romance (1948-1949) by Toru Takemitsu
for piano

Romance (1949) was composed when Takemitsu was only nineteen and is his earliest surviving piano work. Marked Adagio sostenuto, nobile e funebre, this short piece might initially sound as if it had been written by a French Impressionist dabbling with Eastern exoticism. Rather, quite the opposite, it is an Eastern composer dabbling with French Impressionism. Though that is far too trite. Listening with a more sensitive ear, we hear Japanese music expressing itself beautifully in a Western paradigm, and it may be partly this quiet tension that captures one's interest.

The phrasing follows more the breath than the heartbeat. The melodic-harmonic world is born out of a minor pentatonic (though not limited to it): C, D, E-flat, G, A that you might hear in music for shakuhachi flute. Quartal harmonies are also formed from this pentatonic collection; for example the chord consisting of C, G, (C-sharp,) D, A, E-flat (in ascending order) near the end of the piece. Harmonic tension is also created by the use of two and three note groups of semitones within quartal harmonies (perhaps derived from the D/E-flat relationship in the mode).

A somber, forlorn character of the music is sustained through most of the piece. The eruption of a marcato, fortissimo section approaching the end of the piece breaks the calm and exposes the intensity of the underlying tension that had been present since the beginning. This section concludes with a stark "anti-climax", octave As played piano subito in both hands at the extreme ends of the keyboard. Romance then ends with a varied reprise of the opening fades away with a quietly tolling quartal/semitonal sonority [A B-flat E-flat D].

— B. B.    

[from program for January 30, 2017 concert]