It is now October and autumn is upon us, which means it’s time for some autumnal music. Autumn, like any subject, means many things to many artists, but it seems to have meant something in particular to Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, who at the end of his life explored autumn extensively in his music:
Those steps got longer. Attuned to nature and consequently the seasons, Takemitsu became increasingly autumnal, the season he most turned to in his music. In 1973 he wrote “In an Autumn Garden” for the ancient court gagaku orchestra and “Autumn,” a second work for shakuhachi and biwa soloists with orchestra. His last pieces included “A String Around Autumn” (a beautiful, melancholic viola concerto), “Ceremonial: An Autumn Ode” and the most beguiling arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” you’ll ever hear.
In Japan, autumn is a season that echoes both loneliness and gatherings, so exquisitely exhibited in Yasujiro Ozu’s late autumn-themed films. You can’t appreciate one aspect without the other. The cultural journey that began for Takemitsu in “November Steps” led to something far beyond fusion and not exactly integration. He transcended the whole concept of East and West, his oneness being the oneness of our physical reality in which an electron can be both a particle and a wave at the same time. His last solo piano piece, written for Peter Serkin, is “The Ocean Has No East & West.”
I’ve featured Takemitsu’s autumnal music before, and I haven’t come close to exhausting his output on that theme. Here, for another example, is the wonderfully minimalist and meditative Ceremonial: An Autumn Ode.