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Uninterrupted Rests

The obvious influence of Messiaen's Préludes in the second part of Litany (considerably less overt than in the 1950 score) is equally to the fore in the sad Uninterrupted Rest No.1 (1952). The title is from a poem by Shuzo Takiguchi, poet, artist and critic who was probably the guru figure of Takemitsu's formative years. The two movements that were added in 1959 point the way to the period that includes Piano Distance (though, and it is a tribute to Takemitsu's peculiar alchemy, there is no sense of stylistic incongruity). That piece and Uninterrupted Rest No. 2 are, partially, experiments with a more radical 12-note language, and, partially, experiments with an unmeasured metrical notation - each bar is to last 3 seconds, note values are approximately indicated, but ultimate rhythmic responsibility rests with the performer. This was an attempt at an unfixed, more fluid notation but also reflects a certain idealistic stance of not asserting a central authorising identity, of 'removing' the author; and, Piano Distance was to be followed by two purely graphic works for piano(s) Corona and Crossing, forms of pure abstraction from which the personality has almost entirely departed.

It was to be another twelve years before Takemitsu wrote another piano solo piece, but, in that time, the piano was never out of his thoughts. From that period of intense experimentation and involvement with the mainstream of the post-war avant-garde Arc and, particularly Asterism, both for piano and orchestra, stand out as peaks of his achievement. In them, he learned how to expand and elaborate the resonances of his music into ever more fascinating explosive and eruptive piano figuration. This was, also, the time of his discovery of traditional Japanese court music - gagaku - "my impression of gagaku was that of a music that challenges measurable time".

Toru Takemitsu's music for solo piano is some of the most distinctive, distinguished and best of the second half of the 20th century, and consistently represents him at his finest. That is, already, saying a lot for his is a quite extraordinary and original oeuvre, a music that, above all, breathes differently.

To invent himself in such a way that he proved quintessentially Japanese whilst, at the same time, taking his rightful place in the hierarchy of composers of the "Western" tradition could not have been easy; there were no models - he was the first. By doing this, not only did he become the first composer from Asia, let alone Japan, to gain widespread acceptance, he taught us in the West many things about our tradition which we had, possibly, overlooked, or which we had assumed were not dominant characteristics. That he should, by his own admission, have started out from Debussy, that, although self-taught, he considered Debussy his teacher, is not surprising. Debussy was, and remains, the composer who made the most radical break with the accepted Western tradition and he did this in very large part from what he had learned from Asian culture. His 'feel' for the East was to find an eager disciple in Takemitsu's 'feel' for the West. Vibration and silence; a concentration on the 'grain' of sound, its character and length as opposed to strong metrical and rhythmic accent; everything organised around qualities of sound patterns rather than around their significance in an architectural scheme; divisions and definitions created out of a wavering flux of sound; the world of dream, water, sea, garden, rain, tree, and wind of which Takemitsu so often spoke, and which is there also in Debussy's titles - the unpredictable, fluctuating forms of nature which mirror, symbolise, are existence itself.

(c) Paul Crossley

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