Modern Gagaku (contemporary music that uses the composition of gagaku [ancient Japanese court dance (現代雅楽)

Modern gagaku is a form of newly created modern music that uses partial compositions and some instruments of gagaku, which is a traditional music of ancient Japan.

Shinsaku Gagaku (newly created gagaku)

Modern composers in and outside of Japan are commissioned to compose new gagaku pieces, and these pieces are performed at the National Theater. Besides the National Theater, similar attempts are being made in the private sector. In particular, 'Shuteiga Ichigu' (In an Autumn Garden) (1973 - 1979) composed by Toru TAKEMITSU is performed frequently owing to his brilliant interpretation. It is an essential repertoire in modern gagaku.

Major Works in Modern Gagaku

Toshiro MAYUZUMI, 'Showa Tenpyoraku'
Toru TAKEMITSU, 'Shuteiga Ichigu' ('Shuteiga' [An Autumn Garden] was composed first, then five more pieces were added later to create 'Ichigu' [a suite])
Karlheinz STOCKHAUZEN, 'Hikari' (light)
(It later became a part of 'Hikari' [Licht in German], a very long opera which requires seven days to perform, on which he spent approximately 30 years for its completion in 2003.)
(This gagaku piece HIKARI is his very first piece created in the stages of composition.)

Maki ISHII, 'Shikyo' (Violet Sound) (It may be performed together with an orchestra.)

(In that case, the title is 'Sogu II' [the Encounter II].)

Toshi ICHIYANAGI, 'Ogenraku'
Sukeyasu SHIBA
Kokanya Zenu' (a king of Xiongnu)
Kinka Rinzetsu' (an exceptional and extraordinary performance practices of Gagaku)
Semi no Hikyoku Zukushi' (many secret pieces of music of Semi)
Haruna MIYAKE, 'Toki Mirugotoni' (every time to see the time)
Takashi YOSHIMATSU, 'Chomu Mai' (dream dance of a bird)
Yoshihiro KANNO, 'Tsuki no Iso' (phases of the moon)
Toshio HOSOKAWA
Tokyo 1989' (this piece has a strong collage element, such as playing Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 using a gagaku composition)
Kanso no Shushi' (seed of contemplation) (a work that incorporates shomyo [chanting by priests at Buddhist ceremonies].)
(There are old and new versions.)

'Yoake no Niwa' (garden at dawn)
Toshiro SARUYA, 'Rinkoku' (dignified time)
Atsuhiko GONDAI, 'Higan no Jikan' (the equinoctial time)
And so on.

Modern music that incorporates gagaku musical instruments

In modern classical music, gagaku musical instruments such as sho (a Japanese wind instrument composed of a mouthpiece and seventeen bamboo pipes of various lengths) are used frequently by Japanese and non-Japanese composers.
It was also used recently in Helmut LACHENMANN's opera 'The Little Match-Seller.'
Other non-Japanese composers who favor it include mostly German-speaking musicians such as Klaus HUBER (Switzerland) and Robert H.P. PLATZ (Germany), other than John CAGE (U.S.A.) and Paul MEFANO (France). Of course, there are many examples of its use by Japanese composers.

Existence of performers with a deep understanding of not only gagaku, but also modern music, is vital to the performance of modern music using gagaku musical instruments such as sho. Specific examples include the sho players Tadamaro ONO, Mayumi MIYATA and Ko ISHIKAWA, the ryuteki (Japanese flute) player, Sukeyasu SHIBA and the hichiriki (Japanese flute) player, Hitomi NAKAMURA.

Gagaku-inspired modern music

There are many compositions that were inspired by the gagaku music structure, even when these pieces were composed with western musical instruments alone and without using any gagaku musical instruments.

In the modern era, Hidemaro KONOE arranged 'Etenraku' (literally, music brought from heaven) for orchestra in 1931. This was a faithful recreation of gagaku melody and tune in orchestra with no creative intentions, and was performed frequently by the conductor, Leopold STOKOWSKY.

In the modern era, many composers are inspired by gagaku. As a first example, there is Yoritsune MATSUDAIRA, who had a gagaku-inspired creative style as his foundation while creating many compositions that incorporated avant-garde techniques at the time, such as serialism and indeterminacy. He also influenced Olivier MESSIAEN and Pierre BOULEZ.

Olivier MESSIAEN composed 'Nanatsu no Haikai' (seven haikai poems) for small string and wind instruments, which is a summary of his impression from his trip to Japan. In it, there is a movement entitled 'Gagaku' as the fourth number. The tone of gagaku is emulated by an ensemble of small string and wind instruments.

Among the young generations, Misato MOCHIZUKI commented on her own work that she was inspired by the recurrence in gagaku.

Jazz and pops

In the genre of pops, hichiriki player Hideki TOGI performed his own compositions as well as arrangements of popular music that make use of the sound of hichiriki. He is refreshing the image of gagaku and introducing it to the general public by appearing often in the media to perform.

Gagaku musical instruments are also played in jazz in a very small number of cases.