Music for shō and cello (1988)

Basic Information
Japanese 笙とチェロのための音楽
German Musik für Shō und Violoncello
Opus 077
Year 1988
Category Chamber
Duration 14 min.
Instruments Sho, Vc
Score information
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About this Work

«In Gagaku, the shō shrouds the music as a whole in a haze, its sound emitted as if from the heavens in the form of static clusters locked in the upper realms of pitch. The rigid stylistic features of Gagaku have determined the way in which the shō is played. But it was during the Heian Period, when Gagaku as it exists today took on a distinctly Japanese identity, that the shō was allocated the essential role that it has continued to play for more than a millennium since, namely to provide an accompaniment consisting of expressionless, cluster-like chords. lt was considered vulgar and was indeed taboo for the shō to perform in an expressive manner. But the shō appears to have been a much more vulgar instrument before the Heian Period, when the Gagaku repertoire consisted of as yet unassimilated foreign music. This is clear from the Jussōki, an early tenth-century treatise on Tōgaku performance technique attributed to Prince Sadayasu (870-924), in which reference is made to ten forms of expression including specification of types of attack.

«In "Music for Shō and Violoncello" I have attempted to break free from the coagulated resonance which characterises the use of the shō in Gagaku today. I explore how the instrument might have been used before the Heian Period, and combine this attempt to resurrect long defunct techniques with contemporary performance methods. My aim in so doing is to create a new mode of expression, one which permits an encounter with that most perfect of western instruments. the cello.

«The shō here descends from its hazy pedestal in the heavens into the vulgar world, its richly expressive voice mingling with the expressive cello to reach out into a new world of sound.»

Maki Ishii