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Composed: 1957
Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances

One of the most prolific composers of the second half of the 20th century, Toru Takemitsu left over 180 concert pieces, 93 film scores, and several works for theater and dance at the time of his death. Takemitsu’s first encounter with Western classical music occurred after World War II. The American occupation of Japan brought with it the Armed Forces Radio broadcasts of live classical music recordings made at the Hollywood Bowl. These three-hour broadcasts aired each afternoon; Takemitsu listened to them every day: “My first teacher was the radio.” In addition to the mentoring he received from the radio, he also studied privately with Yasuji Kiyose (1900-1981) beginning in 1948. For the most part, however, Takemitsu was self-taught.

Prior to his first meeting with John Cage in Hawaii in 1964, the two major influences on Takemitsu’s musical language were those of Debussy and Olivier Messiaen. Though these influences would become more pronounced from the 1960s onward, his use of modal melodies that emerge out of chromatic atmospheres, elimination of regular meter, and a predilection for timbre as a major force in formal delineation, can be heard in as early a work as Lento in due movimenti for piano (1950). As will be heard in the Requiem, other influences informed his musical language during the 1950s.

During these early years, Takemitsu was not only influenced by Debussy and Messiaen, but also by his Japanese contemporaries. During the years 1950-1957, much of Takemitusu’s work grew out of his participation in the group Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) of which he was a co-founder in 1951 with the composers Yuasa and Akiyama. These years found him engaged with electronic music and musique concrète (1955-56). His Shitsumai Kyosokyoko (Chamber Concerto) for 13 wind instruments (1955), his largest ensemble piece to date, was a clear testimony to the growing acuteness of Takemitsu’s inner ear to imagine and control compositionally sensitive sonorous bodies.

Takemitsu’s first large scale work for a large ensemble, and the one that introduced him to the West, was his Requiem for string orchestra, dedicated to the memory of his colleague, the film composer Fumio Hoyasaka. As it turns out, this exposure to the West occurred by way of Stravinsky’s having heard the piece while on tour in Japan in 1959. His enthusiasm for the music led him to declare the work a masterpiece, commenting directly on its sustained intensity. The rest is, as they say, history.

Requiem is a multi-sectional work in one movement that, aside from the third section, displays very little in the way of melodic or textural contrast. It exudes the sound worlds of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern) from the first two decades of the 20th century. The overall formal symmetry A-B-C-A gives the work a tautness that evoked Stravinsky’s apposite comment on the work’s intensity.

The first section opens with muted strings set as a homophonic texture supporting continuous melodies – shared by the violins and violas – that return in varied guises and concludes with a short viola solo. Following a brief silence, with mutes removed, the second section continues the homophonic texture but with a more plush sound. Section three introduces an animated rhythmic figure interrupted by lyrical passages suggesting a pseudo rondo. The piece ends with the return of the opening section slightly truncated.

Composer Steve Lacoste is Archivist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.