Air (1995) by Toru Takemitsu
for flute

Takemitsu's last composition, Air for solo flute (1995), was dedicated to the great Swiss flutist Aurèle Nicolet on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Joining the choir of great musicians to leave us in 2016, Nicolet passed away just after his 90th birthday at the beginning of the year.

The work opens with an impressionistic, introductory passage emphasizing the pitch A like a recitation tone. A clearly articulated four-note motif is then played twice in the high register, the second echoing the first. This principle motif recurs throughout the piece in various guises. The opening is repeated, now with descending whole-tone scales, and the motif is presented again, but opened up through arpeggiation. The mood soon becomes more introverted, with little sighing figures and an occasional flighty gesture.

The motif is stated again, but the order of the notes has changed. A series of ascending melodic arcs follow, and the motif is extended and then fragmented. The motif is then presented with the pitches all in ascending order. The music becomes more active, including flutter-tonguing and insistent marcato accents as the music descends through two octaves. Unlike his other works for flute, which frequently employ all manner of extended techniques, Takemitsu limits the use of extended techniques in this piece to flutter-tongue and a few "bent" notes.

The motif is stated again, this time quite emphatically. The notes become longer and more sustained. An extended lyricism pervades the work until we hear the final statement of the motif repeated boldly twice at the end, each at an equal dynamic level. It is as if the distant echo of the opening motif were a second voice that has found its way to the fore.

— B. B.    

[from program for January 30, 2017 concert]