Composer’s Notes

Classical Koto Music

Akikaze no Kyoku / 秋風の曲 / Autumn Wind

Mitsuzaki Kengyo 光崎検校 / 1800's

This piece consists of two sections; the first, purely instrumental, in the style of classical danmono, the second a sequence of songs with koto accompaniment, in the classical kumiuta style. The text was adapted from the “Song of Everlasting Sorrow” that recounts a famous love story in 9th century China. [RIK record notes]

Form: shamisen / shamisen, koto, shakuchahi

Chidori no Kyoku / 千鳥の曲 / Song of Plovers

Yoshizawa Kengyo 吉沢検校 / 1800's

Chidori no Kyoku is one of a set of compositions for voice and the koto entitled Kokin no Kumi, in which a new tuning (and mode) for the koto, called Kokin-choshi, was introduced. Two waka poems are sung in this piece: the first waka is from the Kokin Waka Shu, a tenth century anthology of court poetry compiled by imperial command. The second one, sung after the tegoto (instrumental interlude), is from the Kinyo Shu, a twelfth century anthology.

Shionoyama / At Shionoyoma
Sashide no iso ni / Frequenting the sand spit
Sumu chidori / Plovers call out:
Kimi ga miyo woba / “You, my lord,
Yachiyo tozo naku / may you live eight thousand years!”
Awajishima / At Awaji Island
Kayo chidori no / The call of the plovers,
Naku koe ni / flying to and fro.
Ikuyo nezamenu / How often they have awakened
Suma no sekimori / the guard at Suma Pass

Form: koto

Godan-ginuta / 五段砧

Mitsuzaki Kengyo 光崎検校 / 1800's

This work originally composed for two kotos is considered the highest point of instrumental development in the sokyoku genre of the nineteenth century. The title means a composition consisting of five sections (godan) based on the rhyme pattern of kinuta. Kinuta originally means a wooden block used in former times to press and soften newly woven cloth. Kinuta as a musical piece, however, is an instrumental piece based on the rhythmic patter derived from the soft tapping sound of the fulling block. Sandwiched by two short songs (maeuta ‘introductory song’ and atouta ‘concluding song’), this highly instrumental piece virtually actually shows the tegoto-mono form. The tegoto is composed of two independent pieces, namely Sandan-jishi and Godan-kinuta.

Form: 2 kotos

Kinuta / 砧

Michio Miyagi 宮城道雄 / 1928

“Kinuta” refers to a wooden block used for fulling cloth by rhythmic beating. When Miyagi Michio was living in Korea he was fascinated by the rhythm and sounds of the kinuta, which are reflected in this composition, with the second koto creating and sustaining the rhythm that supports the melody played by the first koto, giving rise to an ongoing dialogue between the two instruments throughout the piece.

Form: two kotos

Kurokami / 黒髪 / Black Hair

Ichijuro Koideo 湖出市十郎 / 1784

Kurokami (Black Hair) belongs to the genre of hauta or short song. It first appeared in the Kabuki theater in 1784, but now is also popular as jiuta (song with shamisen accompaniment). The poem describes the feeling of a woman longing for her lost lover. The black hair at the beginning contrasts with the white snow (white hair) at the end, so the poem can also be taken as a metaphor of aging life. [Robin Hartshorne record notes]

Midare / みだれ / Disorder

Yatsuhashi Kengyo 八橋検校 / 1700's

The title is an abbreviation of Midare rinzetsu. Rinzetsu, as a term of gagaku, refers to exceptional and extraordiry performance practices. Although this piece belongs to the category of danmono (purely instrumental pieces divided in sections) like Rokudan and Hatidan, the size and structures of its sections are not regular. Although there are different opinions, Yatuhasi kengyo (1614-1685) is generally considered to the composer of this work. -Notes by Kikkawa Eisi, translated by Miri Park

Form: koto

Rokudan no Shirabe / 六段の調べ / Music of Six Steps

Composer unknown / 1700's

Rokudan-no-shirabe is a representative style of koto music composed by Yatsuhashi Kengyo (Kengyo is an honorary title given to blind koto masters) who died in 1685. Yatsuhashi was an epic figure in the history of the koto, and his compositions have been widely handed down. This piece is an “absolute” music consisting of six sections of 52 beats. Though this piece was originally composed for the koto, it later became fashionable to play it on the shamisen (three-stringed guitar-like instrument). The popularity of Rokudan was such that succeeding composers often adapted the melody.

Form: koto

Yuki / ゆき

Minezaki Koto 峰崎勾当 / 1800's

Composed by Minezaki Koto (Koto is another honorific title for musicians), who was active around 1800 in Osaka. Its song text describes sorrow of a woman on a cold evening. The instrumental interlude depicts the sound of temple bell on a snowy evening. Its melody has been quoted not only in the original genre but also in other genres including kabuki and bunraku, mainly for depicting snow. [Pan-Asian Music Festival program notes]

Zangetsu / 残月 / Fading Moon

Minezaki Koto 峰崎勾当 / Written in the Kansei period (1789-1801)

Written in the Kansei period (1789-1801). Originally composed for the Buddhist memorial service of one of Minezaki’s student* named Matsuya. The piece consists of a short prelude, first song, tegoto in five dan, chirashi and second song. Originally written with shamisen accompaniment only, Minezaki later added the koto part himself. [RIK record notes] *Minezaki’s student, she was the daughter of a wealthy merchant, the name whose shop, Matsuya, is echoed in the song. the tegotomono style (a repertoire of pieces for displaying instrumental techniques) from the Ikuta Ryu school is considered to be one of the greatest achievements in the tegotomono form, is often performed at memorial concerts.

Form: shamisen / shamisen, koto, shakuchahi