Toru Takemitsu

String Quartet No. 1, "A way a lone"
Far calls. Coming, far!
A way a lone II, for String Orchestra

Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)
Toru Takemitsu was one of Japan's greatest composers and a seminal figure in modern composition. Championed by Igor Stravinsky and central to the development of East/West music, he forged a style all his own; a dark and mysterious blend of Eastern and Western music and instrumentation, influenced by the likes of Debussy, Messiaen, serialism, and Japanese traditional music. Winner of numerous major awards and commissions, Takemitsu was also well known in Japan as a film composer, and has scored nearly a hundred films, including works by Akira Kurosawa, Hiroshi Teshigahara and Shohei Imamura. Takemitsu is today the inspiration for a new generation of composers such as Tan Dun, artists searching for a fresh language that utilizes both Western ritual and Eastern tradition.
Of all the "Joycean" composers who created works based on Finnegans Wake, I think Takemitsu is the one whose music comes closest to the very essence of the Wake itself. For Takemitsu, who ironically admitted to knowing more about the idea of Finnegans Wake than the actual text of the novel, the book was not merely a source of intriguing lyrics or an experimental work to be set to avant garde music. While these may certainly be interesting in themselves, I feel that Takemitsu was drawn to the Wake because of a kinship in creative spirit -- there is something very Wakean in all of Takemitsu's music, whether or not a particular piece bears a title or motif pulled from its pages. There is a certain mystery to his music, and it's hard to describe without sounding a bit elusive, if not outwardly mystical. To hear Takemitsu is to be immersed in a new world, a world where the strange can seem hauntingly familiar, the familiar made strangely distant, and everything seems touched with a luminous beauty. His music is bathed in a constant sense of timeless presence, where silence is just as important as sound and things evolve unhurriedly along organic pathways. A feeling of twilight pervades his music, as does an undefinable sense of connectivity and rhythm; like the cycles of life in Finnegans Wake, Takemitsu's music flows through the world beneath the surface of flesh, plant, water and stone, uncoiling and shimmering through a dreamlike place where root and nerve, rock and bone, river and blood are all bound by the same timeless order.
The following four works are all related, based on a complex musical pun derived from the first and last paragraphs of Finnegans Wake. As such, the commentaries for each piece are related, and there is something of a general summary on the final riverrun page.

String Quartet No. 1, "A way a lone" -- (1980) A string quartet inspired by Finnegans Wake.

Far calls. Coming, far! -- (1980) For violin and orchestra.

A way a lone II, for String Orchestra -- (1981) An orchestral elaboration of the above quartet.

riverrun -- (1989) For piano and orchestra. This page also has the most comprehensive notes on Takemitsu, and discusses the four pieces as a whole.

"Most modern composers erect walls of sound, each with a mortar of his own ingenious making. But who inhabits all those rooms?"
--Toru Takemitsu

Links/CDs/Sound Samples

There is a small Takemitsu Mailing List. Send to a request to:, with the command help takemitsu-ml in the body.

Treeline is a Takemitsu educational project sponsored by the London Sinfonietta.

Here's a small Web page on Takemitsu in English, with a fairly complete list of works.

Ashida's Page contains some of the composer's essays, and some images of his hometown.

ACP Takemitsu Profile has a few interesting tidbits, and the Resource Center for Japanese Music has notes on his compositions.

Atlantic Records maintains a small page on Takemitsu with an emphasis on his film scores.

Grace Notes May 22 has a small but interesting piece on Takemitsu's history and his exposure to Japanese music.

Takemitsu was posthumously awarded the 1996 Glenn Gould Prize.

You may listen to sound samples and/or purchase Toru Takemitsu CDs online from below:

String Quartet No. 1, "A way a lone"

Takemitsu: Chamber Music / Ensemble Kaï
Toru Takemitsu(Composer), Ensemble Kaï (Orchestra) / Audio CD / Released 1998

Direction - Ichiyanagi, Takemitsu, et al / New Arts Quartet
Toshi Ichiyanagi(Composer), et al / Audio CD / Released 1999

Far calls. Coming, far!

Takemitsu: Visions, November Steps, etc / Wakasugi, Tokyo
Toru Takemitsu (Composer), et al / Audio CD / Released 1994

Iwaki conducts Takemitsu
Toru Takemitsu (Composer), et al / Audio CD / Released 2000

A way a lone II

Music of Takemitsu / Rudolf Werthen, I Fiamminghi
Toru Takemitsu(Composer), et al / Audio CD / Released 1998

Takemitsu: Autumn, A Way a Lone II, etc / Numajiri, et al
Toru Takemitsu(Composer), et al / Audio CD / Released 1997


--A. Ruch
15 December 2000
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