|Dimensions||14 × 12.5 × 1 cm|
Gagaku is the oldest of Japan’s performing arts, with a history of more than one thousand years, and is the oldest living ensemble music in the world. In its contemporary sense, the term gagaku signifies the whole body of classical Japanese music and dance performed by the musicians of the Kunaicho Gakubu (Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo).
Until the 1960s, composition of new pieces for the genre was often seen as an affront to the dignity of the tradition. The situation is changing, however; since its establishment in 1966, the National Theatre in Tokyo has contributed significantly towards developing new possibilities for gagaku performance, and the emergence of new performing groups like Reigakusha, less bound to the official version of the art, has made it easier for new possibilities to be explored.
Recorded on this CD are two taikyoku (extensive suites in multiple movements), the first a suite that was a taikyoku only at the very beginning of its history in Japan (Sandaien), and the second a suite belonging to both the ancient and modern class of the central four (Shunnoden). The first is performed in kangen style, that is, as instrumental music with winds, strings and percussion. Lost parts of the suite have been recomposed by Sukeyasu Shiba according to a method of reconstruction that he outlines in his notes. The second is performed in classical bugaku style, that is, to accompany dance, with winds and percussion.
This is the third recording in Celestial Harmonies’ series documenting Japanese gagaku music. Gagaku and Beyond (13179) and Gagaku: “Gems From Foreign Lands” (13217) have proven to be essential additions to the Celestial Harmonies catalogue of important cultural documents.
This rare and important recording has been put together at the very highest level of expertise. Booklet annotation is provided by Steven G. Nelson, the only Western member on the staff at the new Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts, Kyoto, Japan.
Reigakusha & Sukeyasu Shiba – Gagaku Suites
Review by Ian Dearden
My musical DNA has significant strands of Anglo-Celtic folk, rock, jazz, blues and western art classical music woven into it.
What it lacks is any substantial exposure to, or influence from, classical oriental music – in particular, classical Japanese music.
That wonderful and eclectic record company, Celestial Harmonies, based (rather improbably) in Tucson, Arizona, USA, has yet again contributed to the store of knowledge of music other than our own (however we might define that), with this CD of traditional Japanese gagaku music.
Gagaku music and dance came to Japan from Tang period Chinese culture in the eighth and ninth centuries AD, and from the 10th century on, was practised by the emperors and others in the Imperial Court, as part of their governmental duties and as private musical expression. I should note that this introduction to gagaku may sound learned, but that’s because it is drawn from the detailed, comprehensive and informative CD liner notes.
Another big tick to Celestial Harmonies releases!
The music on this CD is performed by the Reigakusha ensemble, established in 1985 and lead by Sukeyasu Shiba, who trained and performed at the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency.
Since leaving that Agency in 1984, he has devoted his life to teaching, reconstructing, composing (in the tradition) and performing the ancient repertoire of gagaku.
This CD is a representative sample of the extraordinary work of this remarkable musical scholar and performer, together with his ensemble, many of whom he has taught in his long teaching career.
Performed on transverse and double reed pipes, free reed mouth organs, koto, biwa (lute), shoko (brass gong), taiko and kakko (drums), this is music which is slow moving, meditative, and does not necessarily sit easily on untrained western ears.
It would not be my first choice of music to listen to, but one of the great joys of reviewing for ‘Trad and Now’ is the ongoing exposure to a vast array of different music that steps outside the mainstream.
If you have an interest in exploring the intricacies of Oriental, in particular, Japanese, classical music, this is a fascinating introduction to a never-ending journey.
If only there were more record companies like Celestial Harmonies, prepared to take us along such intriguing paths!
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