Listening to Takemitsu & Debussy: One Year After Japans' 2011 Cataclysm

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Last night I once again listened to a wonderful cd called  Air:  Music for Harp, Flute, and Strings, with Music by Takemitsu and Debussy (Telarc CD  80694, 2008).    Debussy (1862-1918) was smitten first by eastern music with the arrival, in Paris in 1889, of a  Javanese Gamelan orchestra.  He was enamored of the exotic clamor of the clanging gongs.  Later he discovered Balinese music at the Paris World Fair in 1900.  He also heard Japanese music and loved that too.  Debussy wanted to break the shackles of the Western European musical tradition, and found in Eastern music a way to create new sounds and imaginings.

When I was finishing up my undergraduate work at USC, I listened to Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp for an entire week, putting the needle back to the beginning of the lp about 100 times.  The music brought me such beauty.  It was an old Westminister mono recording.  I also devoured all of Debussy’s other music.

Debussy loved the sea, its beauty and primal power.  His magnificent work La Mer (The Sea) is testimony of that.  For his part, Toru Takemitsu, the great Japanese composer (1930-1996) listed Debussy as his greatest Western influence.  They both loved the oceans and seas, and much of their music evokes water sounds and impressionistic experiences of it.  Japanese music is well known for imitating the sounds of nature:  of water, bamboo blocks creating forest sounds, wind, and the like.

Toru Takemitsu’s music might be considered far out or even creepy by listeners who only like Mozart or Bach.  Like Debussy, he breaks many boundaries in music, and is unafraid to visit realms of sonic discomfort.  I love both composers–just as I love Bartok or late Scriabin–for this very reason.  Their music is impressionistic, a sonic analogue to the paintings of Monet or Rothko.  Your mind is free to dream and wander.  This  is the music that dreams are made of.

On the eve of the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan one year ago, March 11th, 2011, I listened last night once again to the Debussy / Takemitsu recording.   I was struck in particular to one of the selections, Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea II, for alto flute, harp, and string orchestra.  The first movement is called “The Night”.  It is both beautiful and haunting. It reminds one of the power of nature, its beauty, serenity,  and and also its terrible power and violence.

I cannot recommend this cd highly enough.  It is still available from