Monday, 4 January 2010

Toru Takemitsu - Waterscape Cycle

(image from mem'ry)

With the help of Abelian's magnificent post of the second installment in the Complete Takemitsu Edition, I was able to compile the pieces in the so-called Waterscape cycle as described in Peter Burt's The Music of Toru Takemitsu (cf. 177). Additionally, I've included those from James Siddons' list "Works in the Waterscape Series" (in Toru Takemitsu: A Bio-Bibliography, p. 28). Siddons also details to some degree the development of this cycle and the S-E-A motif as the unifying feature of the works it encompasses:

"Takemitsu grouped many of his instrumental compositions into thematic series. Most of the themes come from literature or nature, and some compositions are included in two series. [...] The musical meaning of such themes for Takemitsu is not the verbatim portrayal of rain drops or tree leaves on a primary level as visual images; rather, Takemitsu deals with some aspect of the theme-item that makes an emotional, or intellectual, or sensual impression on the viewer-listener. [...]

A unifying theme in the rain series is the image of the rain running into rivers, which in turn empty into the ocean, creating, in Takemitsu’s own English expression, “a sea of tonality.” The image of flowing water in these works goes back to an idea Takemitsu got while in a subway train in Tokyo in 1948. The roar of passing trains caused Takemitsu to think of sound as a flowing continuum, like flowing water; his Japanese term for this is “oto no nagare" [literally "stream of sound"]. This concept appeared in Takemitsu’s creative work in 1960 when he wrote in a program note for W148 Water Music, “When I see and listen to flowing water [it reminds me of an old Japanese word, Tao [‘the Path’]…. I may have received some influence from Voltaire’s thought. My image of Tao (road) is not a continuous road but many disconnected dots. Listeners will experience a feeling of stillness, motion, time and space. These spaces and times are not the same as those in physics. They are rhythm of nature and time of mind.]”; but it took on more importance in 1983 when this program note appeared in the score of W98 Rain Coming: “It is the composer’s intention to create a series of works which, like their subject [rain], pass through various metamorphoses, culminating in a sea of tonality.” Thus the works in the rain series are preludes to those in the waterscape series, about rivers and the ocean [...]. Another observation about Takemitsu’s theme-ideas that may be made in the foregoing quotations is his interest in how things change over time. The phrases “gradation in coloration” and “pass through various metamorphoses” indicate this interest in mutability, as does the program note for W112 Seasons that explains that the work is not about the four seasons themselves but the change of seasons between them. Many other examples of Takemitsu’s interest in change, mutability, borders [...], and time/space relations are found in his titles, program notes, and essays on his compositions.

About 1980, the “sea of tonality” in the waterscape works was defined by Takemitsu as the three-note ascending motif Eb-E-A (conjunct semitone and perfect fourth); when the E-flat is read in the German pronunciation, ‘Es,’ the English word ‘sea’ results. Takemitsu extended his sea motif upward: (two major thirds and a minor third above the A of ‘sea’). “Into that sea of vibrations,” wrote Takemitsu of W52 Far Calls. Coming, far!, “pours the solo violin.”

An important companion theme within the waterscape works is the imagery of the novel “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce. When Takemitsu turned his attention to the novel in the early 1970s, its themes of life, death, and time flowing like a river into the ocean were consonant with his already-developing ideas of “oto no nagare,” and thus the novel easily slipped into an influential position in Takemitsu’s creative thought. The most easily seen aspect of this influence is the several titles that are words or phrases from this novel: W21 A way a lone (and W22), W52 Far Calls. Coming, far!, W107 riverrun (the opening word of the novel, uncapitalized), and possibly W54 For Away." (quoted from Siddons' Toru Takemitsu: A Bio-Bibliography, p. 14f)

As a prelude to the following, you might want to listen to "Water Music," a link to which one of my readers kindly left in the comments.

01 Garden Rain, for brass ensemble (1974)
02 Waterways, for piano and orchestra (1975)
03 Waves, for clarinet, horn, two trombones and bass drum (1976)
04 Bryce, for flute, 2 harps, and 2 percussionists (1976)
05 Marginalia, for orchestra (1976)
06 Far Calls. Coming, far!, for violin & orchestra (1980)
07 A way a lone I, for string quartet (1981)
08 A way a lone II, for string orchestra (1981)
09 Toward the Sea I, for alto flute and guitar (1981) - 1. The Night
10 Toward the Sea I, for alto flute and guitar (1981) - 2. Moby Dick
11 Toward the Sea I, for alto flute and guitar (1981) - 3. Cape Cod
12 Toward the Sea II, for alto flute, harp and string orchestra (1981) - 1. The Night
13 Toward the Sea II, for alto flute, harp and string orchestra (1981) - 2. Moby Dick
14 Toward the Sea II, for alto flute, harp and string orchestra (1981) - 3. Cape Cod
15 Rain Tree, for three percussion or keyboard players (1981)
16 Rain Coming, for chamber orchestra (1982)
17 Rain Spell, for flute, clarinet, harp, piano and vibraphone (1982)
18 Rain Tree Sketch I, for piano (1982)
19 Star-Isle, for orchestra (1982)
20 Wavelength, tape (1984)*
21 The Sea Is Still, tape (1986)*
22 Rain Dreaming, for harpsichord (1986)
23 riverrun, for piano and orchestra (1987)
24 I Hear the Water Dreaming, for flute and orchestra (1987)
25 Toward the Sea III, for alto flute and harp (1989) - 1. The Night
26 Toward the Sea III, for alto flute and harp (1989) - 2. Moby Dick
27 Toward the Sea III, for alto flute and harp (1989) - 3. Cape Cod
28 Quotation of Dream - Say Sea, Take Me!, for 2 pianos and orchestra (1991)
29 Rain Tree Sketch II, for piano (1992)
30 Archipelago S., for 21 players (1993)
31 Between Tides, for violin, cello & piano (1993)

*unlocatable; if anyone has these (you're obviously one of the few lucky souls in possession of the fifth volume of said Takemitsu edition), feel free to leave a comment :-)


ido said...

Wow, thank you for this massive post. I've always enjoyed your blog very much. Would like to exchange links?

RonanM said...

What a wonderful idea - thank you! I love your gently whimsical positioning of the links...

A very happy new year

RonanM said...

…and here is a little appendix: Water Music, one of Takemitsu's musique concrete compositions from the sixties. It has a lot in common with his sound track for Kwaidan.

RonanM (

maready said...

Wow! Thanks ... I was unaware of this aspect of Takemitsu --- I know a number of his pieces, but had no idea they were part of a larger formal plan.

Thanks for 'coming back' and for doing it with a GIGANTIC SPLASH!

Happy new year

Jessica said...

Ronan, re: the "gently whimsical positioning of the links" - it's all Peter Burt's fault since he had to stress the fact that "the three letters comprising this musical tag [the s-e-a motif] also form the musically viable letters of the composer's own family name: tAkEmitSu." ;-)

Also, thank you for the link to Water Music! Added it to the post.

David: In hindsight, I'm not entirely sure anymore of how I became interested in this particular series; I must've stumbled over it while reading the above mentioned literature. Anyway, a belated thank you for the Scarlatti sonatas. I've yet to listen to all of them, but the taste that I've got so far was very delectable. Have a splendid and save new year!

Anonymous said...

Garden Rain ....And thankxx for the amazing blog.
Happy new year from brazil.

Anonymous said...

unispeaking of Takemitsu I'm looking for Volume 4 of the complete works which is the second one devoted to his soundtracks - also wouldn't mind Volume 1 and 5 too - I have 2 and 3... and can share if needed

Abelian said...

First thanks Jessica for the shoutout :)

Next many thanks to RonanM for "Water Music", I've been dying to hear this one since I picked up Burt's book last year.

Last, anonymous, an upload of the Complete Edition No.3 would be really awesome!

jessica said...

I'm so seconding Abelian's request for Volume 3! :-D

Josh said...

This blog is great, the principal headline catch my attention for a while... i love the imagine on the rain too. I hope you can posting this type of things.
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Abelian said...

Well looky here...Complete Takemitsu Edition 3 (film works) at

Mitch Kinney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitch Kinney said...

For the person who left the comment that they could share theComplete Takemitsu Edition 2: Instrumental Works - Chorale, please contact me, I'd love to get that volume. Also looking for 1 & 5. Thank you.