Works performed by Earplay:

And then I knew 'twas Wind
Between Tides
Quatrain II
Toward the Sea III

Toru Takemitsu was born in Tokyo on October 8th, 1930. His musical language is born out of a synthesis of varied styles and influences ranging from traditional Japanese music to Western classical and avant-garde music. He came to international attention when Igor Stravinsky hailed his Requiem for Strings (1957) as a masterpiece. His success abroad was consolidated over the following decade with such scores as November Steps (1967), a commission from the New York Philharmonic for their 125th anniversary that broke new ground by including indigenous Japanese instruments within a Western symphony orchestra.

Takemitsu began composing as a teenager after serving as a conscript in the Japanese military at the end of World War II. Later in his life he recalled, "I began [writing] music attracted to music itself as one human being. Being in music I found my raison d'être as a man. After the war, music was the only thing. Choosing to be in music clarified my identity."

During the American post-war occupation of Japan, Takemitsu was employed by the U.S. Armed Forces, but then became ill. Hospitalized and bed-ridden, he took the opportunity to listen to as much Western music as he could on the U.S. Armed Forces Network. French music held a special attraction, especially the work of Debussy and Messiaen, whose influence can be detected right from his earliest scores. While deeply affected by his study of Western music, he simultaneously felt a need to distance himself from the traditional music of his native Japan. He explained much later that for him, Japanese traditional music "recalled the bitter memories of war."

One might also hear the influence of Webern in Takemitsu's use of silence, and hints of Cage's musical philosophy, though his overall style is always uniquely his own. Takemitsu believed in music as a means of ordering or contextualizing everyday sound in order to make it meaningful or comprehensible. His philosophy of "sound as life" inspired the incorporation of natural sounds in his music, as well as his desire to both juxtapose and attempt to reconcile opposing elements, such as Orient and Occident, sound and silence, and tradition and innovation.

With the formation of the Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) to promote and perform mixed-media art works, Takemitsu's career really began to take off. At the forefront of musical experimentation during the 1960s and early 1970s, he explored the use of improvisation, graphic notation, unusual combinations of instruments, and even recorded sounds in his composition. He subsequently composed in a more approachable but hardly less individual idiom that fuses an essentially Japanese ethos with Western technique. Although he wrote the scores for almost a hundred films (such as Kurosawa’s acclaimed Ran) and published twenty books, his reputation rests largely on his extensive catalog of orchestral and chamber music. He passed away in Tokyo on February 20th, 1996.

— B.C.B.

[from program for May 15, 2017 concert]