Tone Poem Tuesday

Continuing a series of autumnal or autumnally-inspired works, we have quite an avant-garde work today. It’s amazing how new and striking this piece sounds in my ears, given that it is over 55 years old, having been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1967.

Toru Takemitsu was a Japanese composer who was very modern in his sound, and who incorporated many 20th century compositional techniques in addition to his Japanese aesthetic. Takemitsu also evolved greatly throughout his highly prolific career. I’ve only heard a small portion of Takemitsu’s work, never enough, for he was a fascinating musical voice.

November Steps is a work for traditional Japanese instruments and full orchestra. At this point in his career Takemitsu had not done much for traditional Japanese instruments, finding in such music stark reminders of the horror of World War II. He eventually relaxed this stance, but at first–with November Steps being one of the very first such works by him–he was convinced that the Japanese and the Western musical traditions were too starkly opposed to be truly integrated. Hence his juxtaposition of the Japanese and the Western in the pages of November Steps.

November Steps is not a warm work, but it is an introspective one suggestive of the kinds of cold winds that can slice through the November skies which are more gray than blue, once all but the most stubborn of the leaves have fallen and all that remains is the coming of the snow. It is also not a work where Western formalism is taken into account much at all. Takemitsu composes a kind of stream-of-consciousness work here, a sequence of moods more than a formal examination of musical ideas.

Here is November Steps by Toru Takemitsu.


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