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TORU TAKEMITSU'S VALERIA1

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Toru Takemitsu's Valeria 1


Deborah L. O'Grady

In European art everything is built from small cells - the edifice is constructed like a piece
of architecture - but orientals see a hill then hollow it and remove the non-functional elements, those
which don't follow the line of their inspiration. They realize their creation on the basis of a whole which
already existed.2

Much of the music of Toru Takemitsu is concerned, aurally, with the interpretation or
representation of nature and natural events. From the "sound the wind makes when it blows through a
decaying bamboo grove" in November Steps to the rising, cresting and falling away of sound in
Waves, natural phenomena are described, interpreted or suggested. It would be a grave disservice to
the composer and his music to look no deeper than this beautiful surface, for underneath it run the
currents of both Western (i.e., European-American) contemporary compositional procedures and
traditional Japanese musical practice. In order to better understand Takemitsu's comment on the
sculptural approach to form as well as his relationship to traditional forms of Japanese music, it is
useful to compare his work Valeria, written in 1965 for two piccolos, violin, cello, guitar and electric
organ, with some aspects of gagaku, the "elegant music" of the Japanese Imperial Court.
An initial hearing of Valeria will probably not evoke an image of gagaku. The piece is complex
both rhythmically and harmonically. Nor will a first examination of the score produce such a reaction.
The reason for this is straightforward enough: Valeria is not "imitation gagaku." It seeks to explore and
invoke essences of the gagaku tradition in an entirely contemporary idiom. In fact, the first clearly
discernable aspect of the piece is that of extreme contrast in a thoroughly contemporary sty!e: tempi
are either extremely fast or "senza tempo" (as fast as possible or very slowly); dynamics are likewise
"almost as quiet as possible" or ff and sf ; instrumental ranges are explored in their extremes: rhythms
are complex, angular and unpredictable or sustained and sensuous.
The work is sectional, and most of the six main sections are delineated by the contrasts specified
above. The first is an introductory metered section using only violin, cello and guitar in a fast, complex
rhythmic style. This is followed by active sections "as fast as possible" which alternate with
contrasting slow, sustained chords. The return to metered writing adds the piccolos to the ensemble.
This section is interrupted by a slow section, "senza tempo", in which the electric organ is introduced.
There follows a central section of only sixteen measures of metered writing using all of the available
forces. Organ and strings close the piece in a second slow "senza tempo". These sections are not
labeled by rehearsal numbers in the score but are easily identified by the following indications: 1 q

120 ; 2. Senza Tempo ; 3. q = 120/132 ; 4. Senza Tempo ; 5. q = 84 ; 6. Senza Tempo.


A clue to Takemitsu's interest in the musical traditions of Japan is provided in the following
excerpt from his essay entitled "An Imaginative Approach to the Genesis of Musical Structure:"
When I incorporated the use of traditional instruments in my own compositions, I was impressed with the
realization that their sounds have their own integrity and deep inner history. Was my music to revive such
history steeped sounds in a contemporary setting? Or should I try in my musical thinking to merge with
such sounds: I wanted to do both but I am not sure I succeeded. 3

While this quotation does not refer specifically to Valeria it does reflect a larger musical interest. The
essay closes with an open-ended reference to the future :
Without lapsing into such silly slogans as "blending East and West," we should listen to that (traditional)
music because human beings have been living with those different musical traditions. We should stand in
wonderment at the fact that such old traditions sound so fresh to us today. After that we can face the
problem. 4

A second factor suggesting the gagaku model in particular is the discovery of another of
Takemitsu's works, Distance, for solo oboe and she)", in which he has allowed for the substitution of
electric organ for the sh5, an instrument traditionally associated with the gagaku ensemble.
Many musical elements bear out the possibility of a relationship between gagaku and Valeria.
The first of these is the idea of structural symmetry. Both Robert Garfias and Peter Salemi feel that
structural symmetry is evident in nearly every extant gagaku composition. 5 This is evidenced in the
equally divided phrase structures of two beats plus two beats, four beats plus four beats, etc., and in
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the tendency of a gagaku composition to divide in half. There is an historical precedent for this
symmetry, as the music was originally imported from China where it was connected with an important
ritual requiring dancers to repeat certain gestures at all four points of the compass.
The primary generator of structural symmetry in Valeria is a large scale pitch and rhythmic
structure in which the materials of an entire section are repeated in retrograde. This process begins
on page three of the score at the entrance of the piccolos. Those eight bars are repeated in
retrograde beginning at the top of page six. It does not include the last bar on the page (see Example
1). Two sections marked "senza tempo - slowly" found on page four and seven of the score make up
the second mirror structure. In Example 2, the beginning and ending of these sections are marked
into the score.

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Example 1: The First Retrograde Structure (Valeria pp. 3 and 6)

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Example 2: The Second Retrograde Structure (Valeria pp. 4 and 7)

When these two mirror sections are plotted out graphically, as in Figure 1, it becomes apparent
that this is not a perfect symmetry in itself. (A perfectly symmetrical structure would be AB-BA.) It
does, however, set off an entire section of the piece as a center. (Other elements which help to
"frame" this area will be discussed later.)

Figure 1: Graphic representation of symmetrical structures in Valeria.

While not a pervasive technique, there does appear to be a tendency toward symmetry on
smaller levels of detail. Example 3a is a reduction of the first harmonic unit in the piece showing its
symmetrically arranged intervals. From this original unit most of the harmonies in Valeria may be
derived simply by inverting, transposing or omitting pitches (Example 3b).

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Example 3a & b: Original and derivative harmonic units in Valeria.

In order to see just how much of the music is generated from this original harmonic unit, I have
analyzed the first phrase for all related pitch groups. They are labeled a, b, c, d and are enclosed by a
dark line. (See Example 4, p. )

Example 4: Analysis of harmonic units in the first phrase of Valeria

Since Takemitsu has taken care to set off a central section with such a formidable frame, one
expects that it is somehow special or unique. A more complete examination of the section reveals its
function as a formal center. Aspects of this are:
1.

The section commences exactly halfway through the piece (in the actual duration of the piece).

2.

It is the only section which is of moderate tempo:

3.

The pitch content of the piccolos in the first measure of this section is the first indication that the
materials will appear in another (retrograde) context.
The first two measures of this section are the only instance of the organ participating in the melodic
aspect of the piece.

4.

e = 84 as opposed to e = 120/132.

5.

The string parts in the third and fourth measures of this section are a direct reference to the first "senza
tempo" section. This is the only instance in which such a reference is made.

6.

Melodic materials in the slow sections (see Example 2) appear in the fifth and sixth measures of this
section in a stretto-like fashion. It is their only appearance in the context of the contrasting faster tempo.
All of the above may be seen in Example 5

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Example 5: The structural center of Valeria

Thus a series of cross references is set up in this section which links all previously heard
materials. Formal patterns in gagaku, according to Garfias, are "created by individual highlights within
a single musical experience which recall other such highlights in the same experience."6 In this
context, structures of retrograde material and a section built on referential material create one of the
strongly audible formal traits of this composition.
There are other formal considerations which link Valeria to gagaku . Certain special compositions
associated with dance, generically labeled Bagaku, exist which are sectional and depend on the
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associated with dance, generically labeled Bagaku, exist which are sectional and depend on the
presence of timbral groups for their structure. These are known as ch!shi and their style is known as
kake-buki . Figure 2 is a simple diagram of a popular ch!shi known as Hy!jo Ch!shi. 7

Figure 2: The structure of Hy!jo Ch!shi.

Valeria also depends on the presence of timbral groups for structure. The following block
diagram shows how this structure is achieved. Included in this diagram are the previously determined
pitch/rhythmic structures in order that it may be more clearly seen how timbral structures reinforce the
other elements. For the most part these timbral groups are autonomous in that they function in
certain ways which do not change substantially during the piece.

Figure 3: The timbral structure of Valeria.

The stringed instruments, guitar, violin and cello, are the central timbral group because they are
always present in the texture. Their function as an autonomous group is controlled by the guitar, the
instrument with the most physical limitations. Writing for violin and cello conforms to these limitations
by using primarily short note values, less resonant modes of playing such as harmonics, non-vibrato
and sul ponticello, and a complex rhythmic interrelationship wherein individual lines are almost
impossible to hear out. They share in the exploration and delineation of harmonic units as well (see
Example 4).
Piccolos are the second timbral unit to be added to the ensemble. Their tessitura is consistently
extremely high, with rhythms limited to thirty-second note patterns. (See Example 1) As in the
strings, these parts are written in an interlocking fashion. This is either quasi-imitative or a hocketlike procedure in which material is developed linearly as opposed to the moving between harmonic
and melodic exposition as in the strings.
The final member of the ensemble to be heard is the electric organ. Its function is strictly
harmonic, with the exception noted in the above discussion of the center section of the piece, and it
is usually sustained - a marked contrast to the other two groups.
In what sense might such a timbral configuration be construed as a sculptural approach to
sound structure or composition? The following from Garfias may help to shed some light on this:
The Gagaku novice is always quite surprised to find after carefully mastering the notation systems and
learning to play a few pieces according to this notation, that in actual ensemble the first part of the
composition is always omitted in all parts except that of the fue.8

Implied in this statement is a subtractive compositional process; all elements are thought of as
existing simultaneously. The piece is then shaped by the selective removal of elements, their
presence in the composition finally providing directly discernable structural information. This is not
the same approach as might be found in a composition which is composed first and orchestrated
later, the orchestration being a more coloristic element. It is a simple matter to apply this
"subtractive" perspective to Valeria given the autonomy of the timbral units.
William MaIm adds to this consideration in his discussion of the aural qualities of gagaku. He
says:

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Much Japanese music has this chamber music quality regardless of the size of the ensemble. It is also
chamber-like in the sense that the individual instrumental lines are designed to be heard separately,
rather than merged as they are in the Western orchestra.9

Analogies between gagaku and Valeria exist on many other levels. The most striking similarities
are:
1.

The instrumentation of gagaku is generally divided among distinct timbral groups which perform varying
functions in the musical context. They are classified as winds (subdivided into non-reed and reed
instruments, e.g. fue and hichiriki, or flute and oboe-like instruments), strings, percussion, and sh! ., a special
type of wind instrument which is a mouth organ that performs a primarily harmonic function. There is
evidence, as discussed earlier, that Takemitsu finds a relationship between sh! and electric organ.

2.

The way the instruments function within the musical context is heterophonic. The sh! provides the harmonic
matrix for the melodic instruments which then heterophonically realize that harmonic potential. If the organ is
considered as an analogue to the sh!, it can be seen as having this type of harmonic matrix function for the
strings and winds. Example 6 represents a partial exploration of this possibility.

Example 6: The harmonic matrix function of the organ.


3.

There is at least a casual relationship between the cluster-like chords available on the sh!, which in the
traditional repertoire are limited to ten, and the chords of the organ part in Valeria. Example 7, below, names
the ten sh! clusters and compares them with a few of the verticals found in the organ part. Several
tendencies may be identified as common to both. The major second is always present within the group, the
interval of a fifth seems to play an important role (in the case of gagaku, it is the generating interval for all of
the verticals), at least two triads are either implied or present in the vertical, and all of the groups tend to be
in a closed as opposed to an open spacing.

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Example 7: Harmonies in gagaku and Valeria


4.

The biwa, a Japanese lute, is generally confined to a "colotomic" (defined by Malm as "any device which
divides music into temporal units") function in gagaku, playing rather stereotyped melodic phrases and
arpeggios. Example 8 presents an example of typical writing for biwa in gagaku and an excerpt from Valeria.

Example 8: A comparison of biwa and guitar writing. 10


5.

The use of piccolo in Valeria may be thought of as a timbral analogue to the fue, a small, rather high pitched
flute used in gagaku. The role of the fue in a gagaku piece is that of a main melodic instrument. If one
examines a number of gagaku transcriptions it may be seen that the fue quite often doubles the hichiriki, a
double reed instrument, and provides ornaments for the melodic line. The hichiriki is very loud and easily
dominates the gagaku ensemble, relegating the fue to timbral reinforcement and melodic embellishment
functions. It is quite appropriate to apply this generalization of role to that of the piccolos in Valeria, since
their high thirty-second note patterns are much too fleeting to be analyzed by the ear in a concrete melodic
or harmonic fashion. They seem, rather, to reinforce and embellish the main material of the strings. Example
9 is an excerpt from the gagaku piece Yahanraku, transcribed by Robert Garfias, showing this doubling and
embellishing role and a section of Valeria (Example 10) relates piccolo pitches to the harmonic field present
in organ and strings.

Example 9: Excerpt from Yahanraku

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Example 10: Embellishing roles of fue and piccolo.

6.

In certain sections of Valeria, especially the opening page of the score, the cello plays melodies that are
predominantly harmonics. This timbre is particularly flute-like and has been used by Takemitsu on other
occasions, especially in his string quartet Landscapes. This could be a reference to the shakuhachi, an end
blown flute. While this instrument is not a part of the "modern" gagaku ensemble, it was a member at an
earlier time. Only the composer himself could provide this information; it is mentioned as a point of interest
in this cross-cultural analogy. 11

7.

Phrases in gagaku are based on flexible breath rhythms as opposed to metronomic rhythms in which a
definite beat is present.12 Phrases in Valeria are similarly constructed, although phrasing in the slow
sections seem to deliberately defy this and extend beyond the breath length. In a conversation with Peter
Salemi, I was fortunate enough to learn that the breath plays an integral part in the performance of gagaku
and that part of learning the music is knowing exactly where to breathe. Usually these breaths coincide with
the symmetrical phrases; that is, a player may breathe out for two beats and then breathe in for two beats,
as in the case of the sh!). If the phrase involves lengths of three or foul' beats, then the "in" and "out"
motion of the breath will correspond to these structures.

There are many areas of analytical interest which have been deliberately left untouched in this
paper. In fact, this analysis represents only the tip of the iceberg as far as the compositional expertise
of Takemitsu is concerned. The important issue that I have tried to suggest is that the possibility
exists for cross-cultural fertilization which does not result in "ethnic" sounding music but rather has a
universal and thoroughly contemporary appeal. Valeria reveals the beauty and depth to which this
idea might be taken. Its formal structure is unique, growing out of the music itself, and its relationship
to the traditions of Japan are integrated into the musical structures rather than being surface imitations
of a traditional music. This piece certainly represents the achievement of the "blending of East and
West" in a very unsilly and artful way.

1 All excerpts from Takemitsu's Valeria are reproduced with permission from Universal Editions and
European American Music Distributors as follows: (c) Copyright 1973 by Universal Edition (London) Ltd.,
London used by permission of European American Music Distributors Corporation sole U.S. Agent for
Universal Edition (London) Ltd., London.
2 lnterview with Toru Takemitsu in Music and Musicians May 1973.
3 Takemitsu, Toru; translated by G. L. Glasow; "An Imaginative Approach to the Genesis of Musical
Structure"; unpublished, in the author's possession.
4 Ibid.

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5 Garfias, Robert; Music of a Thousand Autumns (Berkeley: U. C. Press, 1975), p. 81.


6 Ibid., p. 284.
7 1 was unable to find a transcription of this particular choshi. It was described to me by Peter Salemi.
One of similar structure is transcribed in Garfias' book, page 190-198.
8 Ibid, p. 72. The Fue is a transverse flute, integral to the gagaku ensemble.

9 Willsam Maim; Japanese Music and Musical Instruments (Tokyo: Charles B. Tuttle Company, 1959)
p. 265.
10 All examples from Garfias' Music of a Thousand Autumns with permission from U. C. Press,
Berkeley, CA.
11 In a conversation with George Arasimowicz, Mr. Takemitsu stated that his use of cello harmonics in
Valeria is not a reference to the Shakuhachi. [EcA
12 Garfias, Music of a Thousand Autumns, p. 128.

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