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Pro Musica Nipponia: The Art of the Koto, Complete Edition 4 CD Boxed Set

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Price: $49.99
Item Number: CH-19918
Country or Region: JAPAN
Catalog No: CH-19918
The Art of the Koto, Volume One:
This recording, the first of four volumes reflecting on the history of the koto, brings together five representative pieces from the classical repertoire for the Japanese koto, composed between the mid–17th and mid–19th century. This corresponds roughly to the period of Japanese history known as the Edo, or Tokugawa period (1600-1868), when the country was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family from their castle in Edo, the former name of present–day Tokyo. The strict rule of an authoritarian administration and a rigid policy of national seclusion worked together to produce a relatively long period of freedom from the disruption of internal and external strife, during which the country changed and developed dramatically in social, economic and cultural terms.

The music on this disc is largely a product of the daimyo, samurai and chonin merchant–class culture of the kamigata region of Kyoto and Osaka. This style of koto playing, known as the Ikuta school after the great master Kengyo Ikuta (1656-1750), also spread to and became popular in Edo and throughout the country soon after its emergence, but the new performance style championed by Kengyo Yamada (1757-1817) from the late years of the 18th century in Edo became extremely popular there, overwhelming the Edo representatives of the Ikuta school. Now the Yamada school is still largely confined to the area around modern Tokyo whereas many Ikuta school players, like Nanae, are also based there, and the Ikuta school dominates the koto-music scene in most other regions of the country.

The koto belongs to the family of long zithers, and as with many other Japanese instruments, it can be traced back to the Asian mainland. Its history in Japan spans more than twelve centuries. The slightly convex body of the instrument is a hollow shell made of kiri, or paulownia wood, and its strings are traditionally made of silk, although nylon strings are now in common use.

Booklet annotation is provided by Associate Professor Steven G. Nelson, the only Western member of staff at the new Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts, Kyoto, Japan.

The Art of the Koto, Volume Two:
Volume Two of this series, which features the artistry of the koto player Nanae Yoshimura, comprises six pieces ranging from the core classical repertoire of the 17th century to new works composed in the first decades of the 20th. Two great masters stand out: Kengyo (Kengyo meaning master) Yatsuhashi (1614-85), the founder of the tradition of Japanese koto music played by blind musicians, and Michio Miyagi (1894-1956), the great blind musician of the first half of the 20th century who not only embodied that tradition but opened up exciting new possibilities through his new compositional and performance activities.

The koto belongs to the family of long zithers, and as with many other Japanese instruments, it can be traced back to the Asian mainland. Its history in Japan spans more than twelve centuries. The slightly convex body of the instrument is a hollow shell made of kiri, or princess tree, and its strings are traditionally made of silk, although nylon strings are now in common use.

In the initial planning stages, it was envisaged that this second volume should continue the chronological survey of the history of music for koto started in Volume One, beginning with the second half of the 19th century, where the first volume left off. Lively discussions amongst those involved, however, encouraged Yoshimura to include two more pieces from the core classical repertoire attributed to Yatsuhashi: Shiki-no-kyoku as an example of his koto kumiuta (‘song cycle’) repertoire, and Hachidan as the third and final danmono attributed to him. The former, especially, is a brave choice. Although it was by means of mastering the thirty–something pieces of the kumiuta repertoire that musicians of this genre trained until the end of the 19th century, few koto players today are attracted by the refined restraint that they require. In contrast, the danmono repertoire is still extremely popular, and Yoshimura’s renditions, in this and the preceeding volume, of all three pieces attributed to Yatsuhashi should join the ranks of definitive readings.

Booklet annotation is provided by Associate Professor Steven G. Nelson, the only Western member of staff at the Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts, Kyoto, Japan.

The Art of the Koto, Volume Three:
The third volume of The Art of the Koto, which features the artistry of Nanae Yoshimura, takes us into the second half of the twentieth century. It comprises five works written between 1969 and 1989 for the nijugen, a version of the koto with 21 rather than the traditional thirteen strings. This instrument was developed through co-operation between the composer Minoru Miki and the virtuoso koto performer Keiko Nosaka in 1969.

The koto belongs to the family of long zithers, and as with many other Japanese instruments, it can be traced back to the Asian mainland. Its history in Japan spans more than twelve centuries. The slightly convex body of the instrument is a hollow shell made of kiri, or princess tree, and its strings are traditionally made of silk, although nylon strings are now in common use.

The first three pieces are famous and well-known examples of what may be seen as the first generation of pieces for the instrument. The first piece, Miki’s Tennyo, gains this place of honour by virtue of the fact that is was the first ever composed for the instrument. The second piece, as set of five sketches named after traditional colours, was written in 1973 by Katsutoshi Nagasawa. Their warm and approachable melodies have contributed much to developing a fan base for the instrument, while the comparative simplicity of the techniques required to play them means that most nijugen players study them as part of the learning process. Miki’s Aki-no-kyoku (Autumn Fantasy) of 1980 was chosen for its fresh approach toward melody for the nijugen and shakuhachi, and its exploration of the limits of virtuosity on the former.

The two pieces that end the disc are works from the late 1980s, commissioned for performance at her recitals. Nanae, by Akira Nishimura, freely explores the historical roots of the flat zither, outside the restraints of the Japanese koto tradition. Kamu-Ogi-Guoto, by Somei Sato, travels back to the ancient world of Japan’s mythological age, when the koto was used as a medium of communication with the gods. It was written with the sincere wish that the ancient gods would deign to dwell in this modern incarnation of this instrument.

Her recent concert performance in Rome, Italy, with Kifu Mitsuhashi, was enthusiastically compared to Tony Scott’s Music For Zen Meditation, the seminal recording credited with starting interest in new age music.

Booklet annotation is provided by Associate Professor Steven G. Nelson, the only Western member of staff at the Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts, Kyoto, Japan.

The Art of the Koto, Volume Four:
This disk completes the four-volume The Art of the Koto series (Celestial Harmonies CH-13186, CH-13187 and CH-13188) which features the musical artistry of Nanae Yoshimura. As a companion especially to Vol. 3: Works for Nijugen it contains three more compositions for the nijugen-koto, a modern version of the koto with 20 strings (instead of the 13 strings of the traditional koto). This time, however, the focus is on works for nijugen-koto and an ensemble of Japanese traditional instruments, played by members of Pro Musica Nipponia (Nihon Ongaku Shudan).

On this disk two compositions by Minoru Miki can be heard: Tatsuta-no-kyoku written in 1971 is one of his earliest solo compositions for the new instrument nijugen-koto which was 'invented' in 1969 (Track 7). The other is his Concerto Requiem for nijugen-koto solo and an ensemble of Japanese instruments (Track 1), one of Miki's most important works written in 1981. Tracks 2-6 include a piece in five movements by the versatile composer Takashi Yoshimatsu (*1953). Originally written in 1998 for nijugen-koto solo and a trio of European instruments, it was newly arranged in 1999 for an ensemble of Japanese instruments to be performed during 'Pro Musica Nipponia the 156th regular concert' on 8th August 2000 in Tokyo.


the artists

Nanae Yoshimura was born in Tokyo and began to study the koto from the age of three, receiving her teaching license with the Matsu-no-mi Kai of Ikuta–school koto performance at the age of sixteen. She studied the classical repertoire for koto and jiuta shamisen with Soju Nosaka of the Kyushu lineage, and contemporary works for koto and nijugen (21-stringed koto) with Nosaka's daughter, Keiko Nosaka. She has been especially active as a specialist on the latter instrument since the early 1970s, always in search of new possibilities for musical expression and extending the horizons of the instrument.

Born in Tokyo in 1950, Kifu Mitsuhashi studied Kinko-school shakuhachi with Sofu Sasaki and the classical honkyoku repertoire of the Fuke school with Chikugai Okamoto. He is the recipient of numerous awards in Japan, holds the qualification of shihan (master) in the Kinko school, and runs his own group for shakuhachi performance, the Kifu Kai. He has recorded the 3-CD series The Art of the Shakuhachi on Celestial Harmonies.

Pro Musica Nipponia was founded in 1964 by composer Minoru Miki (*1930) with the intention of devising a vital form of musical expression based on ancient forms and instruments linked to the spirit of the present. The ensemble, with its highly professional and talented members, has premiered dozens of works by both Japanese and foreign composers and has built up an impressive repertoire of new pieces. Some of them have been written by Miki himself, thus demonstrating the potential of traditional Japanese instruments for creating a modern and international music. Yoshimura became a member of Pro Musica Nipponia in 1972 and continues to perform with the ensemble as a soloist until today.

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