Shakespeare in London to Japanese Musical Styles

April 24, 2016, 9:29 AM · Yesterday was Shakespeare Day! 400 years since his death in 1616... I was busy listening to some music inspired by the Bard's plays yesterday. I remember in January 2013 really enjoying Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet", mostly because I played the B-minor melody on violin for English class... and there is of course the gorgeous and lush love theme, that brings to mind Tchaikovsky's personal style I recognize particularly well when listening to those lush violin and strings passages in his Sixth Symphony particularly for me.

There is of course "Hamlet" and "The Tempest", and Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet", and Handel and Verdi wrote Shakespeare-inspired works too. (Verdi did an opera on Macbeth! I enjoyed that play particularly well, I think...) I also watched some videos on Elizabethan England, London in the late 16th century and early 17th, right around when the first viols would have been coming out, and the violin was being discovered as a musical instrument for the first time.

This morning, what I really wanted to talk about for a bit, I was reading a couple articles for class on the evolution of the requiem, and how it went from something particularly sacred (Mozart) to something more secular (moving on past Verdi's requiem to Fauré and Bruckner), performed in concert halls rather than churches.

One composer caught my attention: Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa. I love this late 20th-century style of Japanese music, where it's really all sound effects, and incorporating really neat extended techniques in all the strings (all the instruments really) and combining the orchestra with traditional Japanese instruments. For example, in 2011 Hosokawa released an album called "Landscapes" that featured the sho, a Japanese instrument made with bamboo that is blown and sounds like an organ - the high register in the violins blend particularly well. (I do like the idea of having albums based on orchestral music, although I suppose it's not that indifferent to what violinists like Joshua Bell are doing, recording their own albums with different solo literature.) And then (don't worry, this'll relate to a topic!) I got back to the "Sakura" traditional Japanese work, and I found a koto version that sounded traditional, the usual, and then I found this very cool violin solo rendition of the piece. Give it a listen:

I really like how she has taken the Italian violin we in the Western world have written so much for and has turned it into a Japanese instrument in a way, mimicking the sounds of the koto with the plucked open strings, and even mixing in elements of the erhu with some of the slides and things, I think. Just the idea of all the unique things you can do with a violin - like making it sound like it's from a completely other culture - makes it such a cool thing, like exploring new techniques on percussion instruments (any instrument really) just to see what sorts of sounds you can make on it. I just love the idea of exploring the violin and everyone continuing to discover new things about it - new ways to play it, new pieces to play on it, etc. It's just like what we do here on - we can't say enough about the violin!

(I was even inspired back in February to write my "Duo for Oboe and Violin" that a couple colleagues of mine will be playing next month at a recital (and apparently after there will be a composer's talk for all the composers where I'll get to discuss my piece a little) based on Japanese music - more on Japanese traditional music that's more tonal, but even the nontraditional stuff interests me. I basically combined my French writing style in sonata-allegro form with the major/minor pentatonic scales, but tried to really give it a Japanese flavour through them.)

So yeah, quite a range of topics for today's blog post, but I thought I'd do something a little different to the types of posts I normally do, I guess. I have a concert coming up next week, and on my own I'm continuing to study the violin part of Ravel's "Duet for Violin and Cello"; I'm hoping to play it with someone sometime, possibly for a recital. That's all for now! Thanks for reading!


April 30, 2016 at 04:24 AM · Totally cool! Thanks! As far as exploring what sounds the violin can make, this is much more interesting that what I read of Paganini doing: birds, cats, sounds that made the ladies of his day faint...

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