Composer’s Notes

Michio Miyagi


Haru no Umi / 春の海 / The Sea of Spring

Michio Miyagi 宮城道雄 / 1929

Haru no Umi’ is one of Miyagi Michio’s best known works, frequently heard in Japan at New Year. Composed in December 1929 as a duet for koto and shakuhachi, it depicts impressions experienced on a springtime boat trip on the Inland Sea of Japan. Miyagi Michio(1894-1956) is considered to be the father of ‘shin nihon ongaku’ (new Japanese music).

Form: koto, shakuhachi

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

Matsuri no Taiko / 祭りの太鼓 / Festival Drums

Michio Miyagi 宮城道雄 / 1947

The composer, Michio Miyagi, started the New Music Tradition in the 1920’s. This tradition came about with the Meiji Restoration which opened the passageway for an encounter between Japanese and Western music. It was the koto that became the favored instrument for experimentation. The first recital of his own works was not accepted amongst Japanese musicians but was considered a sensation in the circle of Western music. This gave Miyagi the assurance to continue exploring Western elements.

Form : koto

Mizu no Hentai / 水の変態 / Metamorphosis of Water

Michio Miyagi 宮城道雄 / 1908

During the summer when he was aged 13, Michio moved to Incheon in Korea. He supported his family by teaching koto in daytime and Shakuhachi in the evening. At 14 he composed his first work “Mizu no Hentai”. With this composition, Michio became recognized by Hirobumi Itoh who promised to bring Michio to Tokyo and support him. Soon after, however, Itoh was assassinated so that the promise to Michio could never be carried out.
Miyagi’s first extant composition, written shortly before his fifteenth birthday in 1909, is “Mizu no Hentai” (Transformations of Water). Miyagi was inspired to write this piece after hearing his brother recite a school textbook poem by the same name which described seven states of water; mist, clouds, rain, snow, hail, dew, and frost. The form of “Mizu no Hentai”, with its alternating vocal and instrumental sections, is unlike any used in koto music until that time. While no new playing techniques are found, they are used at exceptional tempo and in unprecedented patterns, and the left hand is used extensively to play multiple pitches simultaneously. In his writings, Miyagi said that he wanted to write a new style of koto music because “Most of the –compositional- forms used in koto music were created long ago, and besides it is monotonous. I wanted to create music where two or three notes were played at a time, more complicated things like in Western music.”
“Mizu no Hentai” was first performed at a concert in Seoul about two months after it was composed. Miyagi himself added a kaede, or part for a second player, around 1917. While the original solo version of “Mizu no Hentai” is a technical masterpiece, it becomes even more so when played with the kaede as a duet. When listening to the two parts performed together it is virtually impossible to tell which player is playing which line. Both the solo and duet versions of “Mizu no Hentai” are widely performed today and the work has become a standard of the koto repertoire.

Form: two kotos

Yachiyojishi Henkyoku / 八千代獅子編曲

Michio Miyagi (Kengyo Fujinaga arr.) 宮城道雄編曲 (藤永検校)

This piece from the classical repertoire was originally composed for the shakuhachi, and later arranged for the koto, shakuhachi, shamisen, and other instruments. The melodies of Yachio Jishi are so well-known in Japan that they often occur in Kabuki theatre as well as popular genres to evoke certain desired emotions. [The East-West Center Arts program notes]

Form: kokyu, two kotos, shamisen, fue, tsuzumi, 17-string koto, shakuhachi