Symphonic Ballade "Towards Time Dragondeep" (1994)

Basic Information
Japanese 交響譚詩 「龍玄の時へ」
German Symphonische Ballade "Towards Time Dragondeep"
Opus 100
Year 1994
Category Orchestra/Concerto
Duration 28 min.
Instruments orch
Score information
Tokyo Concerts
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J-169-0051 Tokyo
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Description by the Composer

«The ideograph 玄 (read xuan in Chinese and gen in Sino-Japanese) occupies a key position in the abstract, idealistic thought of traditional China. Its essential meaning is that of 'subtle and profound principle', denoting the deepest recesses of the artistic domain. The mythological beast whose name is written with the ideograph 龍 (long in Chinese and ryū in Sino-Japanese) is customarily rendered as 'dragon' in English was envisaged in eastern Asia as dwelling beneath the earth and at the bottom of the sea; it served as a symbol of strength and energy. Another mythological beast whose name incorporates xuan as one of the two ideographs (玄武) employed to write its name is the xuanwu (genbu in Sino-Japanese). This beast was envisaged as a turtle with a snake coiled around it and was worshipped as the god of water. The word 'dragondeep' in the English title of the present work is a translation of the Chinese character compound ryūgen (龍玄) contained in the Japanese title, Ryūgen no Toki e.

«This compound combines the two ideographs 龍 and 玄 as just explained. The title thus suggests a journey to a realm governed by a sense of time different from that of the world in which we live, to a spatial environment remote from our own such as exists mythologically at the bottom of the sea. This is the setting for the tale incorporating a dragon and a turtle on which the present work is based. At the same time, the title denotes a journey to the deepest recesses of the artistic domain as symbolised by the conceptual implications of the ideograph read gen.

«The tale of Urashima Tarō has been transmitted in Japan from ancient times. It begins with a scene on a beach. The fisherman Urashima Tarō is walking along the beach one day when he comes across a group of children deliberately tormenting a large turtle. Urashima Tarō comes to the turtle's rescue and releases it into the sea. In gratitude, the turtle tells Urashima Tarō to mount its carapace and takes him through the sea to the Dragon Palace, a lavish and beautiful palace at the bottom of the sea which is the abode of the dragon god. Urashima Tarō pledges himself to Otohime, mistress of the Dragon Palace, and dwells there happily for three years. But he is eventually overwhelmed by homesickness and bids farewell to Otohime. Mounted again on the turtle's carapace, he returns to his home in the transitory world. But in reality several centuries have elapsed in this world: the beach and his home are now totally different; his house and the village in which he lived are now completely dilapidated. Urashima Tarō is despondent. He opens a magic casket which Otohime gave him on his departure from the Dragon Palace telling him never to open it; she informed him that a disaster would befall if he does so. A whiff smoke escapes from the casket; Urashima Tarō is immediately transformed into an old man and rises into the heavens.

«On the musical level, Part I of this work (rehearsal numbers 1 to 13 in the score) corresponds to the section of the tale up to Urashima Tarō's arrival at the Dragon Palace. Part II (rehearsal numbers 14 to 29 ) corresponds to Urashima Tarō's stay in the Dragon Palace until his return to the transitory world. The scene in the Dragon Palace included in Part II is the core section of the work as a whole. The music here is based on synthetic spatio-temporal concepts which unite the differing perceptions of musical time in Western and Eastern music. The passages before and after this section (7 to 13 and 24 to 29, i.e. those in which Urashima Tarō is escorted to the Dragon Palace and then, following his stay, back to the everyday world) incorporate 'variable acoustic textures' which are repeated in order to create the effect of gradual transformation of the spatial and temporal context. In the latter half of part III, these variable acoustic textures are used once again to represent Urashima Tarō's metamorphosis into an old man after he has opened the magic casket (33 to 35).

«As suggested by the subtitle, another important creative concept behind this work is the underlying presence of an imaginary ballet, that is to say of dance gestures. In part II in particular, I pictured in my mind the temporal and spatial movements involved in the courtship of Urashima Tarō and Otohime, and strove to translate these visual images into sound.

«Toward Time Dragondeep thus reflects the meaning of the distinctive content possessed by the tale of Urashima Tarō. The work provides the setting for artistic creation from the varying standpoints of two separate musical worlds, employing in a wholly natural manner heterogeneous musical elements from East and West. The work is a conceptual journey towards the 'third image' music to which I constantly aspire.»

Maki Ishii