Takemitsu: Voice Program Notes

Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) was a largely self-taught Japanese composer who gained national and international recognition as Japan’s leading composer during his lifetime, and his unique musical language represents a synthesis of varied styles and influences including Debussy, Messiaen, John Cage, and traditional Japanese music. Throughout his lifetime, Takemitsu enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with recently departed French flutist Aurèle Nicolet. The products of this relationship include:

  • Eucalypts I for flute, oboe, and harp (1970): premiered by Nicolet 
  • Eucalypts II for flute, oboe, and harp (1970): dedicated to and premiered by Nicolet
  • Voice for solo flute (1971): commissioned by and dedicated to Nicolet
  • And Then I Knew ’Twas Wind for flute, viola, and harp (1992): commissioned for, dedicated to, and premiered by Nicolet
  • Air for solo flute (1995): Takemitsu’s last composition, dedicated to Nicolet on his 70th birthday, premiered in a tribute to the composer

Takemitsu composed Voice in a single day on April 8, 1971, and it was premiered by Ryû Noguchi on June 9, 1971 at the 6th Cross Talk concert in Tokyo. Originally published in 1971, the current Salabert Editions version was prepared in collaboration with Pierre-Yves Artaud and published in 1988. Voice includes an array of extended techniques and theatrical elements including text recitation, microtones, singing while playing, key clicks, “pizzicato” articulation, air articulation, flutter tonguing, breathy tones, multiphonics, timbral trills, and growling. In the first edition of this work, the composer recommended the use of microphones in order to amplify some of the more subtle effects, but he no longer felt it was necessary in the present 1988 edition. The piece is also written in proportional notation which allows for the music to be presented as a series of gestural concepts rather than strictly-rhythmic ideas.

In addition to the revolutionary technical demands of this work, Voice pairs Japanese influences and musical elements with a decidedly-Western instrument. Takemitsu references Japanese Noh theater and shakuhachi flute techniques throughout the work, yet requires these techniques to be realized on a Western flute. In addition to musically combining Eastern and Western influences, Takemitsu also achieves this sentiment linguistically through the poetry used in this work— drawn from “Handmade Proverbs” by Shizo Takiguchi, the following text is presented in both French and English.

Qui va la? Qui que tu sois, parle, transparence!

Who goes there? Speak, transparence, whoever you are!

Two revealing recordings of this work illuminate the differences between the 1971 edition and the 1988 edition of this work. The first is a recording by Nicolet, and the second is a recording by Robert Aitken. These recordings also demonstrate the widely-varied interpretive possibilities presented by this work.


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