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Traditional Japanese Music

From the 6th -10th c., Japan sent envoys to the Tang Court in China to study poetry, politics, architecture, Buddhism, and music
At the Tang Court, Japanese musicians encountered music from India, Korea, SE Asia, and West Asia

During the Edo Period (1600-1867), Japan closed to foreign contact

Instruments like koto were popularized beyond the courts Popular theater forms like kabuki and bunraku developed

Traditional Japanese music, called hogaku, includes instruments and musical principles imported from China and Korea during the 6th 7th centuries. Music imported from the West is called ongaku.

During the Meiji Period (1868-1911), Japanese leaders pursued Western models of government, education, and economics
Western music education adopted Western instruments (piano) and genres (jazz, classical) popular

Gagaku: Imperial Court Music

Gagaku refers to the instruments and music imported from China during the 6th -7th c.
Influenced by Korea, SE Asian West Asian contacts via Tang Dynasty

Longest continuous musical tradition in Japan (1500 years)

Carries high prestige Connected to continuous Imperial trad. Music passed on with great care Preserved by clans of court and Buddhist temple musicians
Gagaku ensemble performing. Left to right, back row: ryuteki, hichiriki, sho; front row: koto, taiko, biwa

Has undergone change: sounds different than it did 1500 years ago
Less instruments Slower tempo, sparse texture

Gagaku uses aerophones, chordophones, membranophones, and an idiophone. Heard together, the contrasting timbres of these instruments create a heterogeneous sound ideal.
Netori (prelude)


Aerophones play melodic roles in gagaku music

Sho is a bamboo mouth organ. A metal reed is fitted in each pipe, and vibrates when air is blown over it. The sho plays sustained clusters of pitches and has an organ-like timbre

Sho mouth organ

Hichiriki, double reed

Hichiriki is a double-reed aerophone with loud volume and a clear timbre. It plays a heterophonic version of the melody. Ryuteki is a side-blown bamboo flute with a high, somewhat breathy timbre. It also plays a version of the melody.

Ryuteki, side-blown flute

Chordophones combine melodic and rhythmic roles in gagaku music

Biwa is a 4-stringed, pear-shaped lute with a very short neck (see photo). It is plucked with a wooden plectrum. The biwa has its origins in the Middle East via China Koto is a large (6ft long) zither with 13 strings. It it tuned using moveable bridges under the strings (see photo) and played by plucking a string with the right hand while pressing down with the left Both biwa and koto have soft tones due to silk strings Melodic parts played by biwa and koto are sparse and underline main melody


Biwa, 4-stringed lute

Koto, 13-stringed plucked zither

Membranophones and idiophones

These instruments combine limited strokes to play coordinated percussion patterns
Taiko: frame-drum hit with leather mallets; hangs from a wooden stand. Its timbre is strong, dark, and resonant. 2 strokes: zun and do Shoko: small bronze gong, hangs from a frame, hit with wooden mallets. Shok has a bright, high sound. It plays one stroke: chin. Kakko: small barrel-shaped wooden drum. It has 3 strokes, sei (single stroke); katarai (slow accelerating roll, left hand); mororai (slow roll with both hands)
Taiko, frame drum


Shoko, bronze gong

Rhythmic organization in gagaku

Japanese metric structures are called hyoshi
Hyoshi are articulated with a series of coordinated percussion patterns played by kakko, taiko, and shoko One composition passes through a series of patterns:
Opening pattern (uchihajime) is played once Regular pattern (hyoshi) is repeated several times, accelerating gradually Once the tempo has accelerated, it is called kuwahero A final percussion sequence (uchidome) slows down to end the composition

Etenraku (CD 1, tr.22) is in the metric structure called haya (4 beats) yo (4 measures) hyoshi
A complete cycle of this hyoshi consists of 4 units (measures) each containing 4 beats As performed, the beats are spaced apart and somewhat flexible (so difficult to hear) The percussion instruments articulate the hyoshi in predictable ways:
Kakko plays a rolling pattern that keeps the rhythm accelerating Shoko plays on the first beat of each unit (measure) Taiko plays low notes in the third and fourth units (measures)

General characteristics of hogaku

The form and sound of Etenraku follows some general aesthetic characteristics found in other forms of traditional Japanese music (hogaku) Melody
Pentatonic scale, along with subtle slides and tonal shifts Melody is treated in a heterophonic way Combination of a broad range of bold, distinct timbres in one ensemble

System allows for a flexibility of pulse Metric structure is articulated by a series of coordinated percussion patterns Patterns make use of distinct timbral qualities of each instrument

Aesthetic shape/form
Sparse beginning followed by regular beats, gradual acceleration gathering to a climactic density, then slowing of tempo and thinner texture Jo - Ha - Kyu is the term for this aesthetic shape, which is found in Japanese music, theater and dance

Etenraku, gagaku composition

A. Beginning sequence (uchihajime) is 3 measures long and played once
Begins with ryuteki alone for one measure Kakko enters in measure 2 Shoko, kakko and taiko mark beat 1 of measure 3


Regular pattern (hyoshi) played

ryuteki continues melody alone Measure 1 is a kakko roll stroke Beat 1, measure 2: kakko and shoko Measure 3: kakko roll stroke, taiko Measure 4, beat 1, kakko, taiko, and shoko together; sho and hichiriki enter Same coordinated percussion pattern Sho, ryuteki, and hichiriki play heterophony Measure 4: biwa and koto enter and play sparse melodic patterns Same coordinated percussion pattern Now the whole ensemble is playing, providing a fuller texture

Etenraku (CD 1, tr.22) The melody is in the pentatonic mode called hyojo The metric structure is called haya yo hyoshi Listen to the order in which the instruments enter. In named compositions this sequence is always the same.


Hyoshi repeated


Hyoshi repeated again