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Three Film Scores

Tōru Takemitsu

Born in Tokyo, October 8, 1930; died there, February 20, 1996

Tōru Takemitsu was largely self-taught as a composer, except for some private lessons with Yasuji Kiyose and Fumio Hayasaka. His early compositions embraced the newest developments in Western music of the post-War era, including unconventional instrumentation, chance music, and mixed media. He said that it was only through his study of modern Western music that he recognized his own Japanese traditions. Rather than simply injecting Japanese traditions into Western music or blending the two forms, however, he strove to create an individualized art that illuminates the human condition. His resulting style proved irresistible to commissioning groups and audiences internationally.


Takemitsu became recognized worldwide through his Requiem for strings (1957), which Stravinsky declared a masterpiece. In 1970 he designed the Space Theater for Expo ’70 in Osaka. He taught at Yale University (1975) and the University of California at San Diego (1981) and lectured at Harvard, Boston, and Yale Universities in 1983. He organized the annual Music Today festival in Tokyo beginning in 1973 and later served as composer-in-residence for the Colorado Music Festival and Britain’s Aldeburgh Festival. Recipient of numerous awards and honors, he composed over thirty-five works for orchestra, over fifty pieces for a wide variety of smaller instrumental combinations, and some ninety(!) film scores.


In 1994 Takemitsu arranged excerpts from three of his film scores into a three-movement work for string orchestra. Three Film Scores was first performed by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by William Boughton, on March 9, 1995, at the CineMusic Festival, Gstaad. The first movement, Music of Training and Rain, was extracted from the music for the 1959 documentary Jose Torres, about the legendary Puerto Rican boxer. Takemitsu purposely adopted a “Latin” style for the film score and the present movement is marked “Jazzy, blues-like.”        Constructed primarily of short, chordal, syncopated phrases, the movement unfolds in a series of five sections, through which a recurring phrase makes further subdivisions. A dramatic effect is created by the muted entrance of the final section after a grand pause. 


The second movement, Funeral Music, was excerpted from the 1989 black and white film Black Rain, named for the radioactive ash that fell after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Based on a 1969 novel, the film deals with survivors five years after the bombing as they face a future of shunning and death. In contrast to the somewhat conventional jazz harmonies of the opening movement, Takemitsu here paints pathos with more of an avant-garde palette. From a quiet opening the first phrase immediately comes to a dramatic peak, as does the second.       Slow sections alternate with faster sections, with occasional accelerations in which the texture thickens by the division of each string part into multiple parts. In the second half, tremolos, harmonics, and playing sul ponticello (on the bridge) add to the eerie atmosphere. 


The last movement, Waltz, was originally part of the score for Face of Another, a 1966 film about the scarred victim of a factory fire, whose personality changes when a psychotherapist gives him a lifelike mask. Woven into the story is a subplot involving the incest and suicide of a woman disfigured by the Hiroshima bombing. Written for a scene in a beer hall, Takemitsu’s Waltz—replete with key signature (C minor)—bows to German tradition with its afterbeat accompaniment and form—waltz-trio-waltz. Not only does the master composer evoke nineteenth-century harmonies, but he orchestrates the movement in the Austro-German waltz style. 

—©Jane Vial Jaffe


Scored for strings

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