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Composed: 1994

Length: 15 minutes

Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd = piccolo, 3rd = alto flute), 3 oboes (2nd = oboe d’amore, 3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (2nd = E-flat clarinet, 3rd = bass clarinet), soprano saxophone, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, percussion (antique cymbals, bass drum, glockenspiel, marimba, snare drum, steel drums, suspended cymbals, tam-tams, tubular bells, vibraphone), 2 harps, celesta, piano, and strings

Fascinated by a French chanson he heard as a teenage conscript in World War II, Toru Takemitsu decided to become a composer a few years later, even though he had no formal music training. Except for off-and-on lessons with Yasuji Kiyose beginning in 1948, he was basically self-taught in both traditional Japanese music and in Western music. Ever inquisitive, he was open to a broad band of influences, from Debussy to Duke Ellington.

Images of nature – water, trees, birds, sky – were important to him, particularly as composed in formal Japanese gardens. Takemitsu often compared listening to music to strolling through a Japanese garden, perceiving a unified field of shapes and textures. Garden Rain, A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden, Spirit Garden, In an Autumn Garden, and A Minneapolis Garden are some of his titles for music that ranges in sound sources from symphony orchestra to traditional gagaku ensemble, from brass ensemble to tape.

“I can imagine a garden superimposed over the image of an orchestra,” Takemitsu said. “A garden is composed of various different elements and sophisticated details that converge to form a harmonious whole. Each element does not exert its individuality, but achieves a state of anonymity – and that is the kind of music that I would like to create.”

Spirit Garden is one of Takemitsu’s last works, premiered in 1994 by Hiroshi Wakasugi and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony. Takemitsu sets out his basic stock of motives immediately: the descending one in the strings and upper woodwinds, its pivotal extension heard in the lower woodwinds and horns, and then, after a pause, the rising one in the harps, celesta, and vibraphone. Each of these is rich in expressive implications, which Takemitsu cultivates like sonic fields. These are often subtly blurred with tremolos and ghostly cluster doublings in evocative, luminous scoring. This garden is immaculately tended, with almost every note given expressive and dynamic markings. Progression is fluid, with tempo and meter fluctuations almost bar-by-bar, and the effect is one of organic organization emerging within a formal framework.

- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.