Voice (1971)

Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)

Program note written by Jacob Farmer

One movement

Approximate Performance Time:
5-8 minutes

Advanced – appropriate for upper college undergraduates and master students


Source Article:
Robinson, Elizabeth A. Voice, Itinerant, and Air: A Performance and Analytical Guide to the Solo Flute Works of Toru Takemitsu. Diss. Ball State U, 2011. Muncie: Ball State U, 2011. Print.

Toru Takemitsu was essentially a self-taught composer, and combined both Japanese and Western sounds in his works. It was not until he served in World War II that he was first exposed to Western music—a French chanson that he listened to in secret on a gramophone that had an improvised bamboo needle. After the war, when he was employed at an American military base, he took it upon himself to listen to as much Western music on the radio as possible, since it had been previously banned in Japan. He was strongly influenced by the music of Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen and learned a great deal from transcribing their works. His only formal composition study consisted of occasional lessons with Yasuji Kiyose. 

Piece Information:
Takemitsu’s Voice was composed in 1971 and dedicated to the flutist, Aurèle Nicolet. He completed this piece in one day and was premiered two months later on June 9th, 1971 at the 6th Cross Talk Concert in Tokyo, Japan. This piece captures many Japanese musical idioms. The flute emulates the Japanese shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo flute) through the use of extended techniques and theatrical elements of Japanese Noh Theatre. Noh Theatre seeks to synthesize literature, dance, music, and theater, in such a way that it is challenging to separate these components from one another. In Noh drama, the flute is intended to play at times with the Noh actor, and at times separately; the flute improvises around a melody that, in turn, weaves in and out of an unrelated melody or text as part of the performance. The different extended techniques utilized in this work include: flutter tonguing, hollow tones, harmonics, multiphonics, timbre trills, glissandi, microtones, singing and playing, key clicks, growling, and reciting text. This work is written in proportional notation, allowing the music to have a certain amount of freedom and interpretation of phrases and gestures. Takemitsu uses text from Shizo Takiguchi’s Handmade Proverbs. The text is spoken in both English and French:

Qui va la? Qui que tu sois, parle, transparence!

Who goes there? Speak, transparence, whoever you are!