Introduction by Roger Reynolds to the SEARCH Project.



Toshio Hosokawa

Transcribed by Yumiko Morita and Edited by Roger Reynolds

Copyright © 2002 Toshio Hosokawa and the Composition Area, Department of Music
University of California, San Diego
Published by Permission

Online publishing and editing by Karen Reynolds
All Rights Reserved.

SEARCH EVENT V, 27 October 2002

The following TEXTS were commissioned by the Composition Area, Department of Music, University of California, San Diego for its SEARCH initiative. The TEXTS / TALKS are copyrighted and appears in its original presentation here. While links TO this TEXTS or recording from other sites are welcome, no part of these TEXTS may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the copyright holders [Please contact Roger Reynolds: to facilitate this.].

I am not sure if I can talk about the "Future" of music because I always prefer concentrating on my present, as a Noh player always does. They think that concentration on the present opens the future. There is, also, a similar way of thinking in calligraphy. So that the world of calligraphy exists not only on paper but also in the air: the entire process of the hand in motion is transferred into a line.

I want to make a musical cosmos which is constituted of a cosmos and an anti-cosmos (the breaking down of the world that already exists). Since we do not know what will happen next, the present movement is always important. A concrete present leads to a more genuine future.

My percussion piece Sen 6 was inspired by the Japanese drum, used in Noh drama, called the tsuzumi. Sen means “line”, the line, for example, from a brush stroke in calligraphy. The tsuzumi is played while supported on the shoulder and hit with the free hand. So that the motion toward the instrument is the preparation for the sound: the intensity of the space (between hand and drum head) influences the intensity of the resulting sound. It is same as with calligraphy. The nature of the preparation before touching the paper results in different lines, for example, the line may contain more vitality.

When I went to Freiburg to study with Klaus Huber twenty years ago, I didn't know much about Japanese traditional music. So, one semester, in 1985, I went back to Japan to study traditional music, and met a Zen master, Kakichi Kadowaki, a Professor of East-Asian philosophy at Sophia University.

He worked on calligraphy every day, as a meditative practice. He said that the prepararory motion in space is as important as the moment of writing. The movement of the hand always has to be in a continuous line, and the line in space causes the line on the paper. The drawing you can see on paper is only a part of the larger movement. The more intense the motion in the air, the more intense the drawing gets.

This idea was very important for me, for my composition. Because a sound also has a metaphoric space behind it, a space to which we cannot listen. As with calligraphy, preparation and the attitude toward the instrument influence the quality of the resulting sound. The more intense the preparatory motion is, the greater intensity the sound acquires.

I also consider that the process of making sound is a process of birth. The moment you hit the instrument is the moment that you break with convention. The sound breaks the silence. They break the world which had existed until that moment. Through intensive preparation to make a sound, we can redirect the world, which is, in turn, the birth of a new world. It is a very interesting thought for me that a sound can comine birth and breakthrough together.

So, in this piece, I wanted to describe the body movement of playing the tsuzumi. As a line (sen), the sound, the body, and the movement have to flow continuously, and at the moment of the striking, the sound gives birth to a new world.

There are three things I care about in my composition. The first is the connection between the body and music, the second is the spirit, and the third is space.

I want to address my music as though it were a language of events that is directly connected to our bodies. Often, music after World War II is focused on the intellect, its language is not from the body. But what I think is more important is making a direct connection between our bodies and music. Music should speak to both our bodies and our minds.

About the spirit: We have a word mi in Japanese. In old Japanese, it meant both the spirit and the body. We traditionally think that the body and spirit are together, are one. As you might have noticed from Steven Schick's performance, his physical motions and his spirit were together. Performers usually are trained to bring them together because they play the music using their bodies. But not composers. So, we – the composers – have to work on the integration of mind, body, and spirit.

The third thing I want to focus on is space, the silent or blank space between the notes. This is why I started to compose the Sen series. The boundary between presence and absence will no longer exist if you master the thought of Zen. As with breath, inhaling and exhaling are in a continuous cycle. There is no boundary. Noh drama recognizes no boundary between the world of the living and the dead. I want to compose music which avoids making boundaries, avoids separation, between presence and absence.

As one who grew up in Hiroshima, I never thought of myself as a person from “the center”. I always think that I am a composer from the margin. And I think this is good, because I can find something which people in the central main stream cannot find. For me, finding your own language and roots, and respecting them in your music is the future.



Toshio Hosokawa
Transcribed by Yumiko Morita and Edited by Roger Reynolds

Copyright © 2002 Toshio Hosokawa and the Composition Area, Department of Music
University of California, San Diego
Published by Permission

Online publishing and editing by Karen Reynolds
All Rights Reserved.

FOCUS 204 Seminar, 29 October 2002

In my previous lecture, I talked about everything ... so I don't have so much to say now. I want to play two pieces of mine and I'd like to explain how I composed them ... maybe two and a half pieces.

The first piece is for voice and koto. The koto player sings. This piece explains a lot about my music. The koto's sound is simplicity. I want to listen to the life within a sound; it is like calligraphy (which I talked about earlier). You can hear this idea very easily.

The title of this piece is Koto uta. Koto means the (zither-like Japanese) instrument and uta means the voice or song. I used a tanka, a short poem, and I constructed the music in its form: each sound – as a point – connected with a phrase of the poem. And each point (each sound) holds a world within it. I wanted to listen to everything happening in this piece. The poem is a love song written in the 8th century by Sanono Otogamino Otome.

ajimanoni yadorerukimiga kaerikomu
tokinomukaewo itsutokamatamu

I wait for you here, time passes
you are in far Ajimano, time will bring you here

(translation by Yumiko Morita)

This music is very simple and easy to understand. The central tones appear one by one; sparse. The koto and voice are always in unison. Sometimes I put a very long pause between sounds, in order to listen to their lingering imagery. I want to hear their worlds.

Q: [Joe Michaels] Did you compose this piece in Japan? Did you feel any sense of nostalgia when you were composing?

Hosokawa: Yes, I composed it in Japan and felt nostalgia in relation to my mother ... but she doesn't sing well.

Q: [Roger Reynolds] Please talk about where you are in relation to tradition. Do you think in terms of arising out of a tradition, or do you observe, consider tradition from a distance?

H: I think I come from a tradition. I want to bridge the past and today, and, as you know, we Japanese abandoned our traditional culture 140 years ago when we reopened our country [to the world] after 200 years of isolation. Since Takemitsu's generation we have to think more about our tradition. Not to copy this traditional culture but to find our own original perspective on it. As I am of the generation after Takemitsu, this kind of thinking is deeply in myself. Also, there is my personal nostalgia for Japan, because of the fact that I was in Germany for a long time.

Q: [Kueiju Lin] Did you have to use amplification when this piece is performed?

H: No. In a large hall, this piece would need amplification. But it should be played only in a small hall.

Q: [Derek Keller] Could you speak a little more about spaciousness? What makes it so attractive? What you are listening for? How are you using silences formally or structurally?

H: This piece comes from [a type of] poem, tanka. The syllable count, line-by-line, is 5-7-5, 7-7. I used the structure of the poem as well as the meaning of the words. Each section has a different central pitch.

Q: [Reynolds] Since the pacing is so slow, how does the performer know when to continue?

H: I notated everything metrically, very clearly, in Western style. The length of the pauses is very precise. But as the performer plays it many times, she forgets to count ... which is good.

Q: [Kerry Hagan] In this particular piece, I feel the deep connection to calligraphy and the preparatory spaces you talked about earlier. So that I feel the silences are filled in. And this changed the feeling of “space” for me a lot. And I wonder how you think about it and how you work with that.

H: Sound and silence are not different for me. I hear the silence in a sound, and sound in a silence. They are connected together. I think that deep sounds contain a deep silence, and also deep silence contains deep sound. Silence and sound are not opposites. Takemitsu thought this also.

Q: [Reynolds] About the structure and the pitch, are they chosen intuitively or planned? How did you plan the timings?

H: In gagaku [Japanese traditional court music], the musicians all play the same melody, but there are slight differences between players. It is so beautiful to listen to the differences between the lines. It is a heterophony of melody and time.


The next piece is Singing Tree for children's chorus. This is a requiem for Toru Takemitsu, composed in 1996-97.

The voice – language itself – must come from the depths of our bodies. So I divided the chorus into three layers; one is the breath, another is phonemic (I break up the word, using its parts as sound elements, for example, yume becomes yu – m – me.) and the third is language. The layers also apply to depth: from the unconscious up to consciousness.

The text includes Takemitsu's favorite words: tree, river, rain, closed eyes, wind, etc. The performance is by the Tokyo Children's Choir. Each child represents a tree; there are about sixty children.

There always is a central harmony. The voice line is also a kind of calligraphy.

When I was thirteen years old, I listened to Takemitsu's November Steps [an orchestral work with solo biwa and shakuhachi, traditional Japanese instruments] for the first time. It was my first encounter with contemporary music. I was living in a small town near Hiroshima. Because my school was very strict about studying, I often listened to music in a bamboo grove with a cassette machine. His piece sounded so beautiful in the bamboo grove, and I wanted to compose a music like this. So I decided to become a composer.

I went to Tokyo in 1971, and started to study music at a private music school. It was a very good time for contemporary music. Takemitsu and other young composers started a series of festivals like his "Music Today." I went there and listened to a great variety of music: Japanese music. Berio, Boulez, Xenakis, Ligeti, also Roger Reynolds.

But there was no good teacher then in Japan. So I went to West Berlin to study with Isang Yun. When Takemitsu came to Berlin in 1982, I met him and received a commission from his festival. He helped me a lot. He presented me with his new book, an essay on his thinking about music: Oto, Chinmoku to Hakariaeru Hodoni. It has been very important for me and I read it a lot. I studied and analyzed a lot of his music of the 60s and 70s, including November Steps, Dorian Horizon, Piano distance,... He also took me to many festivals.

I used tonal elements in this piece (Singing Tree) for the first time.

Q: [Steven Hoey] Why children's voices?

H: Their voices are more transparent and pure. I love this sound.

Q: [Keller] What was your compositional approach in this piece?

H: I wrote it intuitively from the beginning to the end.

Q: [Hagan] Why did you use such an ancient Western text as the requiem?

H: I have composed many pieces on Latin texts. I studied with a Catholic priest (Professor Kakichi Kadowaki in 1985 at Sophia University, Tokyo). For me, this language is fascinating. I also love the requiems from Fauré and Mozart. My teacher, Klaus Huber, influenced me, too.

Q: [Peter Edwards] The approach to notation in this piece seems different from that in the koto piece. When is it important to you that the freedom exist in a score?

H: This piece is for children, so I had to write simply. With a clear and simple score, they can have more freedom. There are a lot of fermatas so that the spacing can be balanced. If you are a good musician, you can guess how long you need to wait.

Q: [Ming Tsao] Do you find different interpretation of fermatas between traditional Japanese musicians and western musicians?

H: I will explain my thinking about fermatas: If the player doesn't understand the timing, then I stop working with her.

Q: [Michaels] Could you say more about language and the voice?

H: The Zen master I mentioned in my earlier talk told me about the depth of language. He said that there were four layers: superficial, in between, logos, and the deepest which is silence. The real word, the language of events, comes from the level of silence. The superficial level is just mimicking. This concept is very Zen-like and Buddhistic. He said that I should always speak from the deepest level. I tried to compose this piece from this deepest layer.

structure of language diagram

In this piece, sometimes you can hear the meaning very clearly, and sometimes it is very difficult to understand. I like this ambiguity. The chaos makes the harmony more dimensional. It is like a misty horizon over the ocean. You cannot see the boundary between the water and the sky. The mist comes back and forth, so you see the horizon occasionally. I like this kind of idea very much. The poem is beautiful but you cannot understand it directly.


The last piece is my newest, Silent Sea, a piano concerto. It was composed in 2002. There are two string sections, to the left and to the right. And there is a percussion section behind each. The pianist is placed between the two sections, in front of the conductor.

I imagined ocean waves coming in and out. The movement of the wave is also like the motion in calligraphy. One sound always comes back. Each wave comes at a different time: each section has its cycle. The pianist represents me, standing at the shore, and watching the waves coming and going. The line between the primary chordal pitches, the top E-flat and F-sharp, is the horizon.

I will tell you the story of this piece:

In the first part, the man standing at the shore is fighting with nature.

In the second part, the ocean takes him so that man and ocean become one, together. It is very calm.

I composed this piece just after my father's death hoping that he would be there, unified with nature in the other world. It was just premiered in September (2002).

Q: [Keller] I hear a similar structure in the last two pieces. Is this a trend, something that you want to explore?

H: To me, my pieces always sound the same. It is a problem.

Q: [Chinary Ung] To me, this particular kind of music is to be felt, not to be heard. This is not an impression but a remark. The natural construction of the piece derived from somewhere else, not from the musical history that we know.

Q: [Yumiko Morita] Where do the gestures of the piano come from? What is the meaning of the repeating notes?

H: They come from calligraphy. The repeating notes are used in order to sustain a pitch more intensely.

Score Example

Q: [Reynolds] That particular gesture [a dramatic, downward, scalar passage] seems so concrete. Is there a special reason for it?

Score Example

H: The pianist did not like this passage, but I didn't have time to change it. The Birmingham Symphony played this piece and I couldn't go there to attend the rehearsals. So it was already at the dress rehearsal stage when I first heard it.

Q: [Keller] I couldn't identify when the separated waves of the beginning became oneness at the end from this recording. Was it a different experience in the performance?

H: Yes, it was very different. Also the colorful sound of the violins is not clear in this recording, but it was beautiful in the concert hall. The piano sounds and the string spectra harmonize as though they were one. The piano presents no more clear figuration. The man disappears into the sea; the piano is now a component of the overall orchstral sonority.