A way a lone
Quartet for Strings No. 1 (1980; 13:09 min.)

Toru Takemitsu's A way a lone
A way a lone is a string quartet inspired by Finnegans Wake. Based on a theme derived from the three keys found is the word SEA (The German B-flat: Es, E, and A), the quartet is structured around a series of free variations, and combines musical influences ranging from jazz to serialism. It is the first of four works Takemitsu wrote involving the Wake, all of which revolve around the river/sea symbolism present in the first and last paragraphs. As such, A way a lone can be seen as the keystone of a suite, the first presentation of themes and ideas that are be re-visioned and elaborated over three additional works.
Slow-moving, but never tepid or complacent, the music in A way a lone is allowed to develop freely, flowing through the quartet in dark harmonies, pungent surges and unusual changes in direction. The instruments of the quartet function as a unified whole, and like much of Takemitsu's music, the music emerges as an organic entity, as if the wood, gut, and nerves of the quartet were giving voice to the subterranean language of the earth itself. Like a wanderer entering a dark forest, it can appear eerie and beautiful, alien and familiar, disturbing and tranquil -- the contradictions seem to arise only when the listener approaches with a set of assumptions and expectations. As with Finnegans Wake, the uniqueness of the work demands apprehension on its own terms, but the pleasure derived from meeting the challenge is very rewarding.
As mentioned on the Takemitsu general page, I think Takemitsu is one of the most naturally "Wakean" composers to have worked with the text, and it is difficult to describe his music without resorting to either dry chord-counting or semi-mystical babble. Rather than merely emulate the river symbolism of the book, A way a lone seems to draw from the same primal sources that called to Joyce himself. And while Joyce felt the need to break down multiple languages into one swirling form, Takemitsu has done something very similar to music, and his distinctive alloy of structures and styles comes close to defying classification. Joyce's Wake and Takemitsu's music: in the end, they both have the same mysterious, almost unconscious allure, existing on the elusive threshold where the familiar and the unfamiliar seem to be aspects of the same thing -- vast, many-layered, and ultimately numinous, like a universal language spoken only in dreams.


Like Takemitsu's other Joyce works, inspiration for this piece comes from the "final & first" passage of Finnegans Wake, 620.11 to 620.15, which I reprint below, with the relevant text highlighted in red:

FW 620.11-15
I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes,
tid. There's where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush
to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us
then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till
thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a
long the

FW 3.1-3
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend
of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to
Howth Castle and Environs.

Notes from the BIS CD

A very apparent trait in the selection of works on this CD is the literary inspiration from Western and Japanese writers alike. The title of A way a lone for string quartet was borrowed from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, a work that also inspired Takemitsu in several other compositions. The section from the book reads 'The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the' This open enigmatic section is the end of the novel and leads back to the beginning, 'riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.' Finnegans Wake fits well with Takemitsu's aesthetics, as when he describes his perception of the ending of the piece: 'At the end of the performance it should not seem that a musical composition has come to an end. After all, which is more fun, a trip that has been planned meticulously, or one taken on the spur of the moment?' Consequently, he also used the first word of the novel, 'riverrun,' as the title of a piece.
A way a lone was composed in 1980 for the Tokyo String Quartet's tenth anniversary. This quartet premièred the work in New York in 1981. The composer himself has not commented much about this piece, except to note that it is dominated by the intervals of a minor second and a fourth. Takemitsu refers to them as the 'Intervals of the SEA,' E flat (Es in German)-E-A. In A way a lone Takemitsu integrates influences from some of his favorite composers of the twentieth century. The short, well-balanced phrases have some similarity to the music of Webern; the treatment of the string quartet, utilizing its full timbral potential, is reminiscent of Alban Berg; and the warm and elaborate harmony is a development of Claude Debussy's. Yet, the music is very personal and perhaps, in Takemitsu's juxtaposition of short contrasting phrases, garden-like.
--Copyright 1998 by Per F. Bronman

CD Information

There are several versions of A way a lone currently available on CD, but only two are readily accessible in the States. The earlier was recorded by the Ensemble Kaï and released on Bis (Swe) - #920. It is the final work on an all-Takemitsu disc called Chamber Music, a wonderful collection of pieces scored for strings and piano. A more recent recording of A way a lone is found on Direction, a CD featuring Japanese works performed by the New Arts String Quartet. Put out by Japanese Camerata, Directions contains three other Japanese string quartets by Toshi Ichiyanagi, Toshiro Saruya, and Joji Yuasa. Both quartets do the piece justice; but my personal pick woul be the BIS recording by the Kaï. While the New Arts Quartet brings a higher level of clarity to the music, the Kaï seem to give themselves more fully to its dreamlinke nature, and play the work with more drama and warmth.
Other recordings include the Arditti Quartet's release on Fontec (CD; FOCD3254) and the Tokyo String Quartet's recording on RCA (CD; BVCC640), which was nominated for a 1994 Grammy Award. In 1982 K. Suzumi, J. Isono, T. Shirao, & N. Yamazaki recorded it for an RCA LP called Waterscape (LP; RCL-8342) which was later released on CD as BVCC2523.
You may listen to sound samples and/or purchase Toru Takemitsu CDs online from Amazon.com below:

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

More Takemitsu

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.

--A. Ruch
15 December 2000
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