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JMM 6, Spring 2008, section 4

Niels Chr. Hansen
DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO AN IMPROVISATIONAL PRACTICE BASED ON THE PIANO MUSIC OF TORU TAKEMITSU

4.1. Presentation

Very often classical musicians have been accused of being obsolete and not spontaneous due to the fact that we only engage in minute reconstruction of music that has been conceived and written down a long time ago. Probably, the allegation has just as often been disproved by good arguments such as the one that classical music becomes present by virtue of a good interpretation and derives its power to fascinate from the small details that constitute an interpretation which is both personal and artistic. Might there nevertheless be a grain of truth in this accusation after all? Perhaps the music would seem even more present and meaningful if the musicians tried to improve on catching the present and improvising on their way to musical meaning. Improvisation might as well be the object of practicing in addition to the minute study of the musical notation.

What will be presented here are some results of a bachelor thesis aiming to develop an improvisational practice for pianists based on the piano works of the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. In the paragraphs below, the methods, aims, target group and the components of this project will be identified. Additionally, I will try to explain why Takemitsu’s piano music seems to be especially suitable for the fulfillment of these specific aims. Afterwards, some examples will be given demonstrating how compositional characteristics achieved through musical analysis can be transformed into concrete educational guidelines for improvisation. Subsequently, these guidelines will be unified into a complete piece of music, which will provide the background for a concluding discussion on the further perspectives of the work.

4.1.1. Aims of the Project

The main aims of this project are (a) to encourage an improvisational approach to interpreting music, (b) to counter the fear of improvisation among performers of classical music, (c) to strengthen the understanding of contemporary music, (d) to disseminate the knowledge of traditional Japanese music and, last but not least, of course (e) to create an artistic product in itself.

An improvisational approach to interpreting music with respect to (a) includes the ability to apply spontaneously the artistic effects that exist within the stylistic frame of the concerned piece of music. These effects can relate to various categories concerning command of both musical interpretation in general and pianistic abilities in a more restricted sense. Some examples are rhythm, timing, sonority, touch, articulation and so on.

The command of these artistic effects does not lead to improvisation, however, unless the performer possesses the courage to bring them into play with respect to (b). Sometimes, learning the art of improvisation is like climbing a wall. While you are at it, the task appears to be impossible, but when you reach the other side of the wall, then improvisation has become a natural mode of expression. The earlier a music student is confronted with this obstacle, the easier the overcoming of it seems to be. That is the reason why improvisational elements should be included from the very beginning of musical training.

This project also offers some new entryways into contemporary music by means of aim (c) due to the fact that the methods of analysis that underlie the improvisational guidelines are intended to provide a more thoroughgoing understanding of the music and the compositional processes behind it. Such entryways are much needed in music teaching, as well as in professional musicology, since many teachers lack suitable pedagogical approaches to contemporary music; the usual methods of music analysis provided by traditional music theory do not always seem appropriate for this. By improvising on the basis of a specific musical style, the music student acquires an insight into the compositional process which is different from the one that he acquires through sheer analysis. This is to some extent what has constituted the fundamental difference between the teaching of music theory at the music academies/conservatories from the teaching at the musicological institutes of the universities in Denmark. This is why the improvisational practice might in some cases appeal more directly, though not exclusively, to practicing musicians educated at the music academies/conservatories (see 4.1.3 about the target group).

Although Toru Takemitsu’s approach to music composition resembles that of the western composer, he still takes advantage of many typical characteristics of traditional Japanese folk and court music (Burde, p. 478). Primarily, the Japanese influence applies to music aesthetics (Lee, p. 57). For instance, silence (Meynert, p. 21) and “noise” (Akira, p. 8 and Burde, p. 478) effects play an important part in Takemitsu’s piano music. In traditional Japanese music these concepts are referred to, respectively, as “ma” (se section 4.2.6 below) and “sawari” (Ohtake, p. 56).

In addition to the aesthetic dimension, apparently Takemitsu also uses quite a few allusions to the distinctive instrumental characteristics of the traditional Japanese instruments. The following quotation from Rain Tree Sketch II (1992) could, in my opinion, be interpreted as a reference to the deep taiko drum (the low d), the traditional Japanese zither koto (the middle part) and the shrill mouth organ sho (the top chords).

Example 1 Takemitsu’s music sometimes refers to specific instruments of traditional Japanese music (Rain Tree Sketch II) (Schott Japan 1992). []

Hence, in order to be able to interpret such passages correctly one must acquire a certain amount of knowledge of traditional Japanese music. In addition, this acquaintance can be artistically very inspiring, and every western musician ought to be granted the opportunity to throw his own musical tradition into relief by confronting it with a foreign musical tradition. This is one of the main reasons why aim (d) is included.

Finally, this project aims at creating an artistic product in itself as aim (e) makes explicit, an artistic product that sounds good and can be presented in a concert along with other pieces of composed and/or improvised music; i.e. the project is not solely educational but also artistic. In this sense it may just as much be characterized as “artistic and educational development” as it may be considered as hardcore musicological research. Consequently, the assumptions about general improvisational theory thus far rest primarily on practical experience and have in some cases not been scientifically verified. This does not, of course, in any respect imply that this project would not benefit from further scientific research within the area of improvisational theory.

4.1.2. Why Takemitsu’s Piano Music?

An obvious question is: Why should we focus on precisely Toru Takemitsu’s piano music to achieve the aims listed above?

Many teachers of musical improvisation have probably experienced how free improvisation is generally an impossible task for a student who is not at all used to improvising. Most improvisers, and definitely the novices, need both a “knowledge base” (i.e. a certain stylistic framework of rules and restrictions) and a “referent” (i.e. a chosen constraint specific to a particular piece of improvised music) in order to awaken their improvisational abilities (Dolan, p. 114). In this connection, the teacher’s task is to set up this framework for the student and gradually expand the number of possibilities by removing the restrictions. The educational material produced as part of this project (Hansen, 2007) sets up such a framework and leaves the rest up to the teacher or to the independent student.

This explains why we should base our improvisational practice on a specific stylistic framework, but it does not at all explain why we should choose Takemitsu. The reason for this relates to the auditory surface of the music, which is in fact very improvisational in itself. This is due to the apparent freedom within meter, tempo, texture, dynamics, scales and so on. The musical parameters seem to be unified freely into a fragmentary form consisting of short and independent formal units (Koozin, p. 138). This is in line with Takemitsu’s statement that a piece of music shall not give the impression of being perfectly completed (Takemitsu, p. 61, V8). The sketchy style makes it possible to construct a form piece by piece without breaking the musical style crucially. Such a methodology works especially well in a pedagogical respect.

To sum up, “simplicity” is a key word of Japanese aesthetics (Lee, pp. 49-50) – c.f. Japanese painting, furnishing and gastronomy. This is just one of the many Japanese aspects of Takemitsu’s music that can be artistically inspiring to a classically trained musician.

In spite of the Japanese traits, the connection to western musical tradition is still strong because of the fact that Takemitsu adopted the instruments and the compositional and notational manners of western tradition and attached them to his Japanese aesthetics (Nordgren, p. 92). In this way Takemitsu’s music is subject to the restrictions of the modern piano such as range and mechanics, but it is not incontrovertibly bound by western conventions regarding form, meter, rhythm and melody.

4.1.3. General Target Group

Even though it has been stated above that improvisation should be taught at all levels of musical education, this particular project is not targeted to beginners. In order to engage in Takemitsu improvisation, the student needs to master not only the basics of piano playing but also specific subtleties such as timbral nuances and small details in the use of pedal. To put it differently, the project is not to create a traditional piano tutor, but a sort of “interpretation tutor” offering artistic inspiration for the professional pianist or the advanced piano student at the music academy.

Moreover, the project could perhaps inspire music education in general to develop additional improvisational practices suited for other levels of music training. This could also very well include the elementary stage.

Finally, the analyses might contribute to music theory by providing alternative approaches to contemporary music.

4.1.4. Components of the Project

Taking the aims and the target group into consideration, the most appropriate way of presenting the results of this bachelor thesis would be in the form of educational material, which is also the case here. The 80-page textbook (Hansen, 2007) begins with a short introduction to the background of Takemitsu’s music: The western music tradition, traditional Japanese music and some biographical and stylistic data on the composer. After the introduction follows the main part, where musical analysis outlines compositional characteristics. These are then transformed into small practical improvisational exercises.

The main part is subdivided into numerous chapters, each focusing on a specific subject or musical parameter. Some examples would be “melodic motifs”, “rhythm”, “dynamics”, “pedal effects”, “silence”, “texture”, “title” and “graphic notation”. The sequence of exercises is not strictly progressive. This allows the teacher to rearrange the order of subjects or focus on specific subjects by comparing them to other composers or other musical styles.

The exercises fall into two main categories, however: The ones that represent (1) a “tangible working method” with concrete instructions providing improvisational tools and the ones that represent (2) a more “intuitive working method” discussing extra-musical sources of inspiration such as nature, poetry, art and interaction with other improvising musicians. General improvisation theory seems to be aware of this distinction between “knowledge” and “transcendence” although there is no general consensus about how to combine and integrate these two aspects when learning the art of improvisation (see for instance Dolan, pp. 115-117). Nonetheless, in the following presentation I will mainly focus on the exercises from the first category, which are in many cases previous to the latter.

As part of the project, a teaching course with a fellow student took place during the preparation of the educational material. This course provided useful practical experience with the exercises of the textbook. Furthermore, the results of the project have been presented orally on different occasions.

4.1.5. Methods and Previous Qualifications

As it has already been suggested, musical analysis has definitely been the main method used in this work. It is indeed not the only method that has come into use, however.

In order to locate the references to traditional Japanese folk and court music and draw the proper conclusions with reference to them, a certain amount of ethnomusicological study has been necessary. Also the understanding of Takemitsu’s way of writing for the piano and the arrangement of an improvisational practice would not have been possible without an insight into common practice as regards pianistic idiomatics. In addition to this come of course the numerous considerations concerning didactics and transmission, which involve a considerable amount of pedagogical knowledge.

4.2. The Transformation of Compositional Characteristics into Guidelines for Improvisational Practice

So far I have listed the aims, the target group, the components and the primary methods of this project, and now the time has come to present some specific results of the analysis. In this connection, it is to be emphasized that the compositional principles that are gone through in the following passages only constitute a few examples of the more comprehensive analyses of the complete textbook (Hansen, 2007).

4.2.1. Relative Notation through the Dynamic Sketch

In western music, dynamics are mostly used for elucidating – or alternatively for discouraging – the inherent tendencies of the harmonies. Therefore, in most cases the left and the right hand simultaneously follow the same dynamic process of development.

In Takemitsu’s music, however, which is not based on major-minor harmony in a traditional sense, this is definitely not the case (Hansen, 2007, pp. 30-32). Here, the dynamics have in themselves become an independent mode of expression, and the wealth of dynamic detail is enormous. For instance, Takemitsu uses no less than 16 different dynamic nuances in Les Yeux Clos from 1979: molto ppp, ppp, (pp), pp, (p), più p, p, (mp), mp, poco mf, (mf), mf, poco (f), poco f, f, ff.[1] Especially in the early piano works, this phenomenon grows into a typically pointillistic style where every single note tends to have its own dynamic marking:

Example 2 A pointillistic passage from the second movement of Pause Ininterrompue (Editions Salabert 1962). []

Pointillism is often explained with reference to twentieth-century compositional style, but the technique is also prevalent as a dramatic effect in traditional Japanese music (Lee, p. 21). In Takemitsu’s pointillistic pieces, “musical gestures”, i.e. dynamics, articulation and to some extent pitch and the value of the notes, sometimes play a more important part than the exact pitches. In other words, the musical parameters are treated as “relative parameters” so that the exact pitch is not important in itself, but the important point is whether the note is either lower or higher than the note previous to it and the one following it. Consequently, the “musical gesture” of the previous extract can be notated in a “dynamic sketch” as follows: Example 3: [] [Sketch]

When improvising in the “pointillistic style” you can use such sketches either deduced from Takemitsu’s music or made up by you or by others as inspiration.

4.2.2. Central Note Improvisation

A certain compositional principle that replaces traditional tonality in the piano music of Toru Takemitsu will in the following be referred to as ”central note improvisation”. Due to repetition and accentuation, some notes simply seem to adopt a more prominent role than others. Combined with the continuous use of the right pedal, this establishes a certain hierarchy of pitches that can to some extent be compared to the tonal hierarchy established by traditional tonality, where the tonic is more prominent than the dominant, which is more prominent than the second degree, and so on. This is, for instance, the case in the beginning of For Away (1973) where the ”e” and the “b flat” are the central notes: Example 4: [] [Score]

As we see, there is no predefined meter, and apparently, bar lines are mostly used for indicating simultaneous chords and formal divisions. Also traditional Japanese music is generally non-metric, and pre-defined meter is reserved for ceremonial dance music (Lee, p. 42). In For Away, most frequently, each note has separate dynamics (Ex 5). These sudden accents “color” the music, and they constantly challenge the hierarchy of the central and the secondary notes. Sometimes several notes are also joined into short sequences of dynamic development (Ex 6):

Example 5 For Away – Here each note has separate dynamics (Editions Salabert 1973). []

 

Example 6 For Away – An example of dynamically continuous phrasing (Editions Salabert 1973). []

However, longer chains of clusters also appear:

Example 7 A chain of clusters from For Away (Editions Salabert 1973). []

Secondary notes appear in all ranges of the register (Ex 8), but the concentration of notes is remarkably greater in the central register[2] than in the extreme registers (Ex 9). Typical harmonic intervals are various kinds of dissonant ninths and sevenths (Ex 8).

Example 8 For Away – Secondary notes appear in all ranges of the register (Editions Salabert 1973). []

 

Example 9 For Away – Great concentration of notes in the central register (Editions Salabert 1973). []

Central note improvisation will be one of the fundamental principles of improvisation which will be included in the complete piece of music presented in the third section of this research report.

4.2.3. The Taiko Drum

Throughout Takemitsu’s entire piano music, deep, single notes are quite numerous (Hansen, 2007, pp. 29, 52-53). Sometimes they just fill out breaks in one of the hands (Ex 10). In other cases they even support a dynamic crescendo (Ex 11):

Example 10 Rain Tree Sketch II (Schott Japan 1992). [] Example 11 Les Yeux Clos II (Schott Japan 1990). []

It would be an obvious conclusion to compare this phenomenon with the characteristic beats of the deep variant of the taiko drum of traditional Japanese music – the so-called dadaiko drum. The unusually great interval from the deepest note to the second deepest one is very unusual in western classical piano music, where the chords are normally spaced taking the natural overtone series as its model.

The deep notes of the dadaiko drum cloak Takemitsu’s music in a characteristic Japanese sensibility, and the technique is one of the basics of Takemitsu improvisation.

4.2.4. Plucked String Arpeggios

When analyzing the scores of Takemitsu’s piano music one will definitely take note of the many arpeggios:

Example 12 Litany, 2nd movement (Schott Japan 1990). [] Example 13 Les Yeux Clos II (Schott Japan 1990). []
Example 14 Litany, 1st movement (Schott Japan 1990). [] Example 15 For Away (Editions Salabert 1973). []
Example 16 Rain Tree Sketch II (Schott Japan 1992). [] Example 17 Rain Tree Sketch – Compare with the koto voice below (Schott Japan 1982). []

Apparently, the chords are always broken upwards, and often they are combined with a decrease in dynamics. The arpeggios draw the listener’s attention to the plucked string instruments of traditional Japanese music. The music transcribed below demonstrates the typical use of the long zither koto and the short-necked lute biwa in the Togaku repertoire.

Example 18 Plucked string arpeggios are found for instance in the koto and biwa voices of this Senshûraku movement from the Togaku repertoire of traditional Japanese court music (transcription from Garfias, p. 247).

The arpeggios in Ex 18 are quite similar to the ones used by Takemitsu in the previous examples. Thus we will add the plucked string arpeggios to our expanding library of improvisational techniques.

4.2.5. Parallel Harmonies with Reverberation

As to texture, the following two examples are quite related: Some harmonies move in parallel motion, thus creating a melodic outline primarily consisting of small intervals. The long notes of the melody are sometimes filled in by some kind of “reverberation” (see 4.2.6).

Example 19 Parallel harmonies with reverberation in Les Yeux Clos II (Schott Japan 1990). []

 

Example 20 Parallel harmonies in Rain Tree Sketch (Schott Japan 1982). []

The intervals of the fourth and the tritone are quite prevalent, and further analysis will show that in fact all of the harmonies are made up by the same basic intervallic structure: a fourth placed over a tritone. In addition to this, some supplementary notes have been added coloring the harmony and making it more or less dissonant. Furthermore, the harmonies can be divided into two categories: the a-types where the interval between the tritone and the fourth is a minor third and the b-types where the same interval is a major third. These two types – with all their variants – are used freely when improvising. [Example 21]

4.2.6. Different Kinds of Reverberation

“Reverberation” is a useful word for describing Takemitsu’s piano music, and sometimes it seems as if reverberation constitutes the actual music on its own. This is not at all unknown in traditional Japanese arts, where, for instance, the moment following the beat of the drum in “No Theatre” is considered to be more important than the very beat (Beckman, p. 5). Likewise, the concept ma describing the interval between the sounds plays an important part in traditional Japanese music (Ikuma, p. 201, and Ohtake, pp. 54-55).

As a musical phenomenon, reverberation can be either active or passive (Hansen, 2007, pp. 44-47). In active reverberation the keys are pressed subsequently, and in passive reverberation the sound is modified in other ways. In Takemitsu’s piano music, silent notes and different kinds of pedal effects belong to passive reverberation, whereas both of the examples above are illustrations of active reverberation.

Additionally, active reverberation can be either abstract or concrete (Hansen, 2007, p. 44-47). “Concrete” means that the reverberation is more or less a carbon copy of the music previous to it. Some notes can be omitted, or the reverberation effect can be indicated by softer dynamics or verbal expressions as the ones below (note that also rhythm and tempo can vary in the reverberation):

Example 22 “Concrete/active reverberation” from Rain Tree Sketch indicated by a verbal expression (Schott Japan 1982). []

 

Example 23 “Concrete/active reverberation” from Rain Tree Sketch II indicated by a verbal expression (Schott Japan 1992). []

Nevertheless, “abstract reverberation” is the most common type, and here the reverberation is not a carbon copy but more like an abstract comment to the preceding music. These kinds of reverberation often employ one of the two main types of dynamic phrase disposition that we know from Takemitsu’s piano music – i.e. the “crescendo-decrescendo” and the “general decrescendo” (Hansen, 2007, pp. 32, 46). The previous Ex 19 is a typical example of “abstract/active reverberation” used in practice. [Example 24]

4.2.7. “Ocean of Notes” and Mirror Scale

The following passage is very difficult to sight-read, even for a skilled pianist. This contrasts with the seemingly simple structure of a repeated 10-note motif in the right hand superimposed on a repeated 8-note motif in the left hand. The difficulty is due to the fact that the two motifs are displaced in a way so that the fingering varies as different notes are taken over by the other hand in each repetition. In this sense, the execution of a seemingly simple compositional principle becomes rather complex. Example 25: [] [Score]

Nonetheless, it is my assumption that the average listener will in most cases not perceive the exact compositional structure but rather the musical gesture, which could be understood as some sort of abstract “ocean of notes”. This is further supported by the right pedal mark creating a pedal technique that I refer to as “crescendo pedal”, i.e. the right pedal simply underlines the crescendo by being continuously pressed down.

Such structures that are complex in their execution are extremely difficult – if not impossible – to reconstruct in the context of spontaneous improvisation. If we accept the previous assumption about the listener’s perception, however, it becomes feasible to create an “ocean of notes” without the structure of displaced, superimposed motifs.

In order to do this we need to take a closer look at the tone material used in the two motifs: [Example 26]

With the exception of the 6th and the 12th intervals, the notes of the tone material seem to be arranged as an intervallic reflection around the middle axis indicated by the vertical wavy line above. I will refer to this as a “mirror scale” (or, in this case, more accurately a “quasi-mirror scale”), and this could potentially be used for improvising an “ocean of notes”.

4.2.8. Unison Melodies

Traditional Japanese music is not based on harmonies in the same way as western music usually is (Ikuma, p. 207; Nordgren, p. 92). Instead, melodies in unison and melodies in heterophony[3] (i.e. the simultaneous playing of two or more versions of a melody) play an essential part. Takemitsu also uses the characteristic expressivity of unison melodies in isolated parts of his piano compositions (usually no more than 1-4 bars at a time). Namely, unison melodies are combined with diminuendos and concluded with a fermata, sometimes indicating the beginning of a new formal section.

Example 27 Les Yeux Clos (Editions Salabert 1979). []

 

Example 28 Rain Tree Sketch II (Schott Japan 1992). [] Example 29 Piano Distance (Editions Salabert 1962). [] Example 30 Les Yeux Clos II (Schott Japan 1990). []

 

Example 31 Litany, 1st movement: Adagio (Schott Japan 1990). []

An expressive variation of the unison melody, and of the heterophony as well, is the use of parallel major sevenths (or sometimes even minor ninths):

Example 32 Les Yeux Clos (Editions Salabert 1979). []

4.3. Constitution of a Complete Piece of Improvisation

After having introduced a number of compositional principles that we can use as a basis for our improvisation, we are now ready to combine these principles into a complete piece of music. Here, it is an important point to distinguish between the pedagogical form used in our piece of Takemitsu improvisation and the authentic form which is found in the actual music by Takemitsu. As Lee states, Takemitsu’s “approach to composition is intuitive and spontaneous rather than schematic and logical” (Lee 1994, p. 36). In this way, Takemitsu advocates subordinating the form to the musical material – and perhaps he even encourages improvisation! From an educational point of view the student can, however – as earlier mentioned – benefit a lot from having a certain stylistic framework of rules and restrictions to refer to.

4.3.1. Building the Form

As an overall form of our improvisation we choose the traditional A-B-A-form. This choice is substantiated by the general dominance of the “principle of recognition” throughout Takemitsu’s piano works (Hansen, 2007, pp. 61-62). In early compositions such as Piano Distance and the second movement from Pause Ininterrompue, small melodic motifs reappear, and in For Away, Les Yeux Clos I and II, Rain Tree Sketch I and II and Litany actual recapitulations are to be found.

The table in Example 33 shows the complete form of the piece of music that we would like to improvise. Subsequently, the individual elements of this table will be further specified.

Example 33: [Table]

Generally, the A-section is characterized by the principle of “central note improvisation”. As we can see, the A-B-A-form is also applied on a lower formal level as an a-b-a´ structure within the actual A-section. Whereas the a-unit is dominated by the harsh and dissonant interval of a small second (e-f), the central note improvisation of the b-unit is expected to appear slightly more consonant (c-a flat).

Example 34 The two pairs of central notes to be used in the A-part (and the recapitulation) of our improvisation.

Due to the difficulties regarding the memorization of improvised musical material, the use of recapitulation is generally very problematic when improvising. In order to cope with this problem, however, we have decided to begin our improvisation with the dynamic sketch that we earlier deduced from the second movement of Pause Ininterrompue (see 4.2.1):[4] [Example 35]

The middle section of the improvisation is dominated by the principle of parallel harmonies with active reverberation. As a melodic inspiration for our improviser, I have produced a short motif containing some characteristic intervals of Takemitsu’s piano music – i.e. the minor second and the tritone (Koozin, p. 128):

Example 36 The short melodic motif used as inspiration for the parallel harmonies of the middle section.

As a bridge to the recapitulation, we choose to create an “ocean of notes”. The crescendo effect is further underlined by the use of “crescendo pedal” (see 4.2.7), and the melodic material is based on a “mirror scale” around a middle axis placed approximately in the same register as the one that was contained in Rain Tree Sketch (see 4.2.7): [Example 37]

This specific “mirror scale” is not only distinguished by containing exact reflections of the intervals, but also by the fact that it is visually symmetrical on the keyboard: [Example 38]

As a result of this, it is possible to use similar fingering in both hands. The notes are divided into two separate “grips” in each hand so that the fingering of “grip a” of the right hand corresponds to the fingering of the same grip in the left hand. Of course, it is left solely to the improviser to decide which of the notes to use throughout his “ocean of notes”, but surely the grips and the symmetrical fingering are an effective pedagogical means of furthering the memorization of the musical material.

The recapitulation is initiated by the dynamic sketch and follows the general guidelines of the A-section.

4.3.2. The Result

The guidelines of the previous passage are the ones that were also given to the student performing the improvisation which we are now about to hear. Previous to this, the student had attended a brief course in Takemitsu improvisation consisting of six solo lessons of approximately 30 minutes. The author of this article was the instructor, and the course was concentrated on various topics from the textbook (Hansen, 2007).

The following sound file contains the complete piece of improvisation, and – for the sake of clarity – subsequently the individual formal units have been listed in a timetable underneath the sound file. Listen to the sound file: []

Example 39 A timetable of the different formal units in the improvisation by Jakob Alsgaard Bahr.

4.3.3. Evaluation of the Result

Self-evaluation and evaluation via a teacher is probably the most important and most rewarding part of learning the art of improvisation. It is always a threat to the educational process that usually the sounding music cannot be retained and used as a common point of reference throughout the course of instruction. In improvisation this aspect is even more prominent due to the fact that neither the sounding music nor the score are present. Therefore, the lessons of the previously mentioned Takemitsu course were recorded, and below I will briefly discuss the musical result of the preceding improvisation exercise.

The so-called “dissonant” a-unit contains clusters, sudden accents and spans the whole keyboard, whereas plucked string arpeggios, soft dynamics and a lighter touch generally characterize the subsequent more ”consonant” b-unit. Here, the music is concentrated around the middle register of the keyboard.

The transition from the first unit to the second one is somehow remarkable. Already in 0’32’’ the note “c” takes up a prominent role, and the general soundscape becomes slightly more consonant. This points to a gradual transition between the two central note pairs of the a- and the b-units and can also be traced back to Takemitsu’s use of central notes in compositions such as For Away (see 4.2.1).

In the middle section the short melodic motif is subjected to additive, motivic development. This is evident from the following attempt to transcribe the approximate melodic curve of the entire B-section: Example 40: [] [Transcription]

The use of additive motifs is in fact rather prevailing in Takemitsu’s piano music (Hansen, 2007, p. 14). In the following passage from Les Yeux Clos II, we find an ascending melodic motif that is also shaped as an additive motif with active reverberation:

Example 41 An example of an additive motif with reverberation from Takemitsu’s Les Yeux Clos II (Schott Japan 1990). []

In the end of the middle section the parallel harmonies with reverberation are substituted with an apparently unison melody in two voices. However the voices do not move in strict parallel motion, but appear to be two heterophonic versions of the main motif of the B-section. The primary harmonic intervals seem to be octaves and major sevenths. The unison melody represents a textual thinning out and functions as an exemplary contrast to the subsequent “ocean of notes”.

The recapitulation is introduced by a sudden pedal lift leaving only the two central notes of the a-unit. This is a sharp separation of the formal sections which contrasts well with the earlier described gradual transitions within the A-section.

4.4. Further Perspectives for this Project

In this research report I have given an example of how to build up a complete piece of improvised music taking some of the practical guidelines from the textbook (Hansen, 2007) as a starting point. Even though this piece of music is to be considered as an artistic product in itself which can be performed in a concert, the project also opens up a wide range of possibilities for practical application as well as possibilities for further research and development.

First and foremost, further teaching experience on the basis of the textbook (Hansen, 2007) will refine the material and provide valuable knowledge regarding the application – and the applicability – of the practical exercises.

This refinement might lead to future publishing of the material in book form or electronically. In this connection, it will be preferable with a translation of the Danish material into English.

The material can also be useful for giving workshops within the field of Takemitsu improvisation for pianists or piano students. The results of such workshops could be presented in fully improvised concerts or in connection with other pieces of contemporary or older music.

Moreover, the project also offers potential for further development of teaching methods and more or less related teaching subjects. This project might inspire to the development of similar improvisational practices based on the works of other composers – contemporary or classical. On the basis of Takemitsu’s music yet another possibility is to develop additional improvisational practices for other instruments. For instance, Takemitsu often composes for the acoustic guitar, which similarly to the piano holds a wide variety of textural means of expression. Melody instruments such as the violin, the cello, the flute and the clarinet would especially call for further studies of the repertoire and the idiomatics of these particular instruments. The involvement of other instruments could very well result in actual interactive improvisation. The first step would be to let two pianists improvise together, and a more long-term goal would be team-building courses for permanent chamber ensembles.

I am open to all sorts of comments and will look forward to exploring these possibilities further in the years to come.

4.5. Acknowledgements

First of all, I would like to thank my fellow piano student Jakob Alsgaard Bahr for dedicating part of his musical talent to the field of Takemitsu improvisation and for being at my disposal at different occasions. Furthermore, I would like to acknowledge sound technician Henrik Winther Hansen for his helpful recording assistance and The Royal Academy of Music Aarhus for providing recording facilities in the beautiful, brand-new Chamber Music Hall of the conservatory. Finally, my teachers Assistant Professor Thorkil Mølle and Professor Anne Øland have been valuable sources of inspiration during the project.

 

 

 

 

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