Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996)

Tōru Takemitsu (武満 徹) was the most important Japanese composer of the 20th Century. He was largely self-taught as a composer, but studied Western classical music through radio broadcasts, which he heard while working for the U.S. Armed Forces after World War II. Takemitsu combined the impressionism of Debussy, the avant-garde experimentalism of Anton Webern, John Cage, and Edgard Varèse, and the exotic harmonic language of Olivier Messiaen with the traditional music of Japan to create a rich musical vocabulary. Although his earlier works were more experimental in nature, his style gradually shifted to encompass what he like to call a “sea of tonality”.

Some of his early works include the impressionistic Uninterrupted Rest for piano and some musique concrète pieces for such as Vocalism AI (Love) and Water Music, which consists solely of tape manipulations of the sound of a falling water droplet. After a meeting with Stravinsky in Japan in the late 50’s, he received commissions from Aaron Copland & the Koussevitsky Foundation, as well as the the New York Philharmonic, for whom he composed November Steps, for biwa, shakuhachi, (traditional Japanese instruments), and orchestra. He also composed many works for the members of the chamber ensemble Tashi, including the Quatrains I & II. His orchestral work A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden shows the clear influence of both John Cage and traditional Japanese music.

Takemitsu composed many works for orchestra, choir, soloists, chamber music, and over 100 film scores, including Kurosawa’s epic movie, Ran. In addition to composing, Takemitsu was known as a master chef and often appeared on Japanese cooking shows on television. He also wrote a mystery novel. Takemitsu died from pneumonia, a complication that developed while he was being treated for cancer.

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Tōru Takemitsu: Music For The Movies

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