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March 25, 2011

Végh Quartet - Bartók: The Complete String Quartets

In honor of his 130th birthday, I thought we ought to pay some heed to the music of Béla Bartók. Now for those of you who like bluegrass and John Fahey and don't think you like modern classical music, consider this:
  1. John Fahey's compositional sense was guided by the desire to try to do with American folk music what Bartók did with Hungarian folk music. Bartók was as great an influence on Fahey as was Charley Patton.
  2. Béla Fleck was named after Béla Bartók.
  3. This is damn good music, whatever the genre.
Now, secondly, I want you to look at this photo of our man. Look at his eyes. Tell me, does he not burn with the fires of inspiration? Does he not look as crazy, intense, and twisted as Skip James?

I thought so.

Just remember. As the magic of the blues, Celtic music, and Indian Classical music relies on being in neither a major or minor scale, the music of Bartók derives its particular magic from being both harmonious and discordant, at the same time. If his music was a church (and in some ways it is), half the choir would be singing hallelujah together, while the other half shouted "I AM THE GOAT-HORNED DANCING BOY!"


Autobiography written by Béla Bartók in 1921.

I was born on March 25, 1881, in a small place called Nagyszentmiklós, which now, together with the whole county of Torontal, belongs to Rumania. My mother gave me my first piano lessons when I was six years old. My father, who was the head of an agricultural school, was gifted musically and active in many directions. He played the piano, organized an amateur orchestra, learned the cello in order to play that instrument in his orchestra, and composed some dance music. I was eight years old when I lost him. After his death my mother had to work as a schoolmistress and struggle hard for our daily bread. We first went to live at Nagyszöllõs (at present Czechoslovak territory), then to Beszterce in Transylvania (at present Rumanian territory) and in 1893 to Pozsony (Bratislava, at present Czechoslovak territory). I began writing piano music when I was nine years old and made my first public appearance as a “composer” and pianist at Nagyszöllõs in 1891 ; it was therefore a matter of some importance for us to settle at last in a biggish town. Among Hungarian country towns at that time it was Pozsony that had the most vigorous musical life, and by moving there I was given the possibility of having lessons in piano and composition with László Erkel (Ferenc Erkel’s son) and also of hearing a few operas, more or less well performed, and orchestral concerts. I had the opportunity, too, of playing chamber-music, and before I was eighteen I had acquired a fairly thorough knowledge of music from Bach to Brahms (though in Wagner’s work I did not get further than Tannhäuser). All this time I was also busy composing and was under the strong influence of Brahms and Dohnányi (who was four years my senior). Especially Dohnányi’s youthful Opus I influenced me deeply.

When my education at the Gymnasium (high school) was concluded the question arose at which musical academy I should continue my studies. In Pozsony, at that time, the Vienna Conservatorium was considered the sole bastion of serious musical education, but I took Dohnányi’s advice and came to Budapest and became a pupil of István Thomán (in piano) and of Hans Koessler (in composition). I stayed here from 1899 till 1903. I started studying with great enthusiasm Wagner’s work, till then unknown to me – The Ring, Tristan, The Mastersingers – and Liszt’s orchestral compositions. I got rid of the Brahmsian style, but did not succeed via Wagner and Liszt, in finding the new way so ardently desired. (I did not at that time grasp Liszt’s true significance for the development of modern music and only saw the technical brilliance of his compositions.) I did no independent work for two years, and at the Academy of Music was considered only as a first-class pianist.

From this stagnation I was roused as by a lightning stroke by the first performance in Budapest of Thus Spake Zarathustra, in 1902. The work was received with real abhorrence in musical circles here, but it filled me with the greatest enthusiasm. At last there was a way of composing which seemed to hold the seeds of a new life. At once I threw myself into the study of all Strauss’s score and began again to write music myself. Other circumstances entered my life at the same time which proved a decisive influence on my development. It was the time of a new national movement in Hungary, which also took hold of art and music. In music, too, the aim was set to create something specifically Hungarian. When this movement reached me, it drew my attention to studying Hungarian folk music, or, to be more exact, what at that time was considered Hungarian folk music.

Under these diverse influences I composed in 1903 a symphonic poem entitled Kossuth, which was at once accepted for performance by János Richter, and was performed in Manchester in February 1904. Other compositions of the same period are a Violin Sonata and a piano Quintet. The former was performed by Rudolf Fitzner in Vienna, the latter by the Prill Quartet. These three works remain unpublished. In 1904 I composed my Rhapsody for piano and Orchestra (Opus I), which I entered for the Rubinstein competition in Paris but without success. In 1905 I wrote my first Suite for Large Orchestra.

Meanwhile the magic of Richard Strauss had evaporated. A really thorough study of Liszt’s --uvre, especially of some of his less well known works, like Années de Pélerinage, Harmonies Poétiques et religieuses, the Faust Symphony, Totentanz, and others had after being stripped of their mere external brilliance which I did not like, revealed to me the true essence of composing. I began to understand the significance of the composer’s work. For the future development of music his --uvre seemed to me of far greater importance than that of Strauss or even Wagner.

In my studies of folk music I discovered that what we had known as Hungarian folk songs till then were more or less trivial songs by popular composers and did not contain much that was valuable. I felt an urge to go deeper into this question and set out in 1905 to collect and study Hungarian peasant music unknown until then. It was my great good luck to find a helpmate for this work in Zoltán Kodály, who, owing to his deep insight and sound judgment in all spheres of music, could give me many a hint and much advice that proved of immense value. I started these investigations on entirely musical grounds and pursued them in areas which linguistically were purely Hungarian. Later on I became fascinated by the scientific implications of my musical material and extended my work over territories which were linguistically Slovakian and Rumanian.

The outcome of these studies was of decisive influence upon my work, because it freed me from the tyrannical rule of the major and minor keys. The greater part of the collected treasure, and the more valuable part, was in old ecclesiastical or old Greek modes, or based on more primitive (pentatonic) scales, and the melodies were full of most free and varied rhythmic phrases and changes of tempi, played both rubato and giusto. It became clear to me that the old modes, which had been forgotten in our music, had lost nothing of their vigour. Their new employment made new rhythmic combinations possible. This new way of using the diatonic scale brought freedom from the rigid use of the major and minor keys, and eventually led to a new conception of the chromatic scale, every tone of which came to be considered of equal value and could be used freely and independently.

When an appointment to the chair of piano teaching at the Academy of Music in Budapest was offered to me in 1907 I considered this a happy event because it enabled me to settle in Hungary and to continue my studies in musical folklore. In 1907, at the instigation of Kodály, I became acquainted with Debussy’s work, studied it through thoroughly and was greatly surprised to find in his work “pentatonic phrases” similar in character to those contained in our peasant music. I was sure these could be attributed to influences of folk music from Eastern Europe, very likely from Russia. Similar influences can be traced in Igor Stravinsky’s work. It seems therefore that, in our age, modern music has developed along similar lines in countries geographically far away from each other. It has become rejuvenated under the influence of kind of peasant music that has remained untouched by the musical creations of the last centuries. My works which, from Opus 4 onward, tried to convey something of the development just described were received in Budapest with animosity.

This lack of understanding had many reasons, one of which was the inadequacy of the performances in which our new orchestral works were heard. We could find neither a conductor who would understand our works nor an orchestra able to perform them. In 1911, when these controversies became very heated, a number of young musicians, Kodály and myself among them, tried hard to found a New Hungarian Musical Society. The chief aim of the new organization would have been to form an orchestra able to perform old, new and recent music in a proper way. But we strove in vain, we could not achieve our aim.

Other more personal disappointments were added to this broken plan and in 1912 I retired completely from public life. With more enthusiasm than ever I devoted myself to studies in musical folklore. More than one daring journey to faraway countries was planned in my head, out of which, as a modest beginning, one only was carried out. In 1913 I travelled to Biskra [Algeria] and the surrounding countryside, collecting Arabic folk music. Then came the outbreak of the war, which - apart from general human considerations - hit me very hard because it put an end to my work. Only a small part of Hungary remained open to my studies and I worked there under hampered conditions till 1918.
The years 1917 marked a turning point in Budapest’s audience attitude about my works. I had the chance to hear my ballet The Wooden Prince, brilliantly performed by the master Egisto Tango who, in 1918, conducted also the performance of my opera in one act, written in 1911 : The Bluebeard’s Castle

This auspicious turning point was unfortunately followed by the political and economical collapse of 1918 autumn. The period of unrest that followed and lasted about 18 months didn’t allows to work seriously.

Even the current situation doesn’t allow to think about the resumption of the works related to folk music. We can’t afford this luxury ; on the other hand, the scientific exploration of territory detached from Hungary is almost impossible for political reasons and because of mutual hostility. As for to visit faraway countries, it’s an unrealisable dream.

Besides, no real interest appears in the world for this branch of musicology. Who know ? Maybe it hasn’t the importance that these fanatics assign to it.

Béla Bartók - Biography
by Michael Rodman
Through his far-reaching endeavors as composer, performer, educator, and ethnomusicolgist, Béla Bartók emerged as one of the most forceful and influential musical personalities of the twentieth century. Born in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary (now Romania), on March 25, 1881, Bartók began his musical training with piano studies at the age of five, foreshadowing his lifelong affinity for the instrument. Following his graduation from the Royal Academy of Music in 1901 and the composition of his first mature works -- most notably, the symphonic poem Kossuth (1903) -- Bartók embarked on one of the classic field studies in the history of ethnomusicology. With fellow countryman and composer Zoltán Kodály, he traveled throughout Hungary and neighboring countries, collecting thousands of authentic folk songs. Bartók's immersion in this music lasted for decades, and the intricacies he discovered therein, from plangent modality to fiercely aggressive rhythms, exerted a potent influence on his own musical language.

In addition to his compositional activities and folk music research, Bartók's career unfolded amid a bustling schedule of teaching and performing. The great success he enjoyed as a concert artist in the 1920s was offset somewhat by difficulties that arose from the tenuous political atmosphere in Hungary, a situation exacerbated by the composer's frank manner. As the specter of fascism in Europe in the 1930s grew ever more sinister, he refused to play in Germany and banned radio broadcasts of his music there and in Italy. A concert in Budapest on October 8, 1940, was the composer's farewell to the country which had provided him so much inspiration and yet caused him so much grief. Days later, Bartók and his wife set sail for America.

In his final years Bartók was beleaguered by poor health. Though his prospects seemed sunnier in the final year of his life, his last great hope -- to return to Hungary -- was dashed in the aftermath of World War II. He died of leukemia in New York on September 26, 1945. The composer's legacy included a number of ambitious but unrealized projects, including a Seventh String Quartet; two major works, the Viola Concerto and the Piano Concerto No. 3, were completed from Bartók's in-progress scores and sketches by his pupil, Tibor Serly.

From its roots in the music he performed as a pianist -- Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms -- Bartók's own style evolved through several stages into one of the most distinctive and influential musical idioms of the first half of the twentieth century. The complete assimilation of elements from varied sources -- the Classical masters, contemporaries like Debussy, folk songs -- is one of the signal traits of Bartók's music. The polychromatic orchestral textures of Richard Strauss had an immediate and long-lasting effect upon Bartók's own instrumental sense, evidenced in masterpieces such as Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936) and the Concerto for Orchestra (1945). Bartók demonstrated an especial concern with form in his exploitation and refinement of devices like palindromes, arches, and proportions based on the "golden section." Perhaps above all other elements, though, it is the ingenious application of rhythm that gives Bartók's music its keen edge. Inspired by the folk music he loved, Bartók infused his works with asymmetrical, sometimes driving, often savage, rhythms, which supply violent propulsion to works such as Allegro barbaro (1911) and the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937). If a single example from Bartók's catalogue can be regarded as representative, it is certainly the piano collection Mikrokosmos (1926-1939), originally intended as a progressive keyboard primer for the composer's son, Peter. These six volumes, comprising 153 pieces, remain valuable not only as a pedagogical tool but as an exhaustive glossary of the techniques -- melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, formal -- that provided a vessel for Bartók's extraordinary musical personality.

Végh Quartet - Biography
by Robert Cummings
The Végh Quartet was not only one of the finest string quartets from mid-twentieth century Europe, but its style was never subjected to radical change over the years from personnel changes because the four original players remained members for 38 of the 40 years of the ensemble's existence. Its style evolved in subtle ways, of course, but its essential character endured until 1978: the quartet was Central European in its sound, with a bit more prominence given to the cello in order to build tonal qualities from the bottom upward. The Végh Quartet was best known for its cycles -- two each -- of the Beethoven and Bartók quartets. It also performed and recorded many of the Haydn quartets, as well as numerous other staples of the repertory by Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, and Debussy. For a group that disbanded in 1980, its recordings are still quite popular, with major efforts available in varied reissues from Music & Arts, Archipel, Naïve, and Orfeo.

The Végh Quartet was founded in 1940 by its eponymic first violinist Sándor Végh. The other original members were Sándor Zöldy (second violin), Georges Janzer (viola), and Paul Szabó (cello). The war years were hardly productive for the group, but in 1946 the Végh players settled in France and launched their international career. Soon they were making regular concert tours across the globe with great critical acclaim, and their first major recordings appeared in the early '50s: six quartets by Mozart (K. 387, 421, 458, 464, 575, and 590) in 1951-1952 on the André Charlin label and the complete Beethoven quartets in 1952 on the Les Discophiles Français label. The complete Bartók quartets came in 1954 on EMI and met with the same critical success.

The ensemble's reputation flourished in the 1960s and '70s, even though Sándor Végh had developed a parallel conducting career and had always been active as a music teacher, first in Switzerland, then in Germany and Austria. The group continued making international tours and issued numerous successful recordings during this period, including remakes of the Beethoven quartets (1972-1974, on Auvidis/Valois) and the Bartók six (1972, on Astrée). In 1978 Zöldy and Janzer left the group and were replaced by violinist Philipp Naegele and violist Bruno Giuranna. Végh himself took up a conducting post that same year in Salzburg with the Salzburg Camerata Academica. The group disbanded two years later.

Végh Quartet - Bartók: Complete String Quartets

Year: 1997 (released); 1972 (recorded)
Label: Valois

Disc: 1
1. String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Sz. 40, BB 52 (Op. 7)
2. String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Sz. 67, BB 75 (Op. 17): I. Moderato
3. String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Sz. 67, BB 75 (Op. 17): II. Allegro molto capriccioso
4. String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Sz. 67, BB 75 (Op. 17): III. Lento

Disc: 2
1. String Quartet No. 3 in C sharp major, Sz. 85, BB 93
2. String Quartet No. 4 in C major, Sz. 91, BB 95: I. Allegro
3. String Quartet No. 4 in C major, Sz. 91, BB 95: II. Prestissimo, con sordino
4. String Quartet No. 4 in C major, Sz. 91, BB 95: III. Non troppo lento
5. String Quartet No. 4 in C major, Sz. 91, BB 95: IV. Allegretto pizzicato
6. String Quartet No. 4 in C major, Sz. 91, BB 95: V. Allegro molto

Disc: 3
1. String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Sz. 102, BB 110: I. Allegro
2. String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Sz. 102, BB 110: II. Adagio molto
3. String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Sz. 102, BB 110: III. Scherzo
4. String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Sz. 102, BB 110: IV. Andante
5. String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Sz. 102, BB 110: V. Finale
6. String Quartet No. 6 in D major, Sz. 114, BB 119: I. Mesto - Piu mosso, pesante - Vivace
7. String Quartet No. 6 in D major, Sz. 114, BB 119: II. Mesto - Marcia
8. String Quartet No. 6 in D major, Sz. 114, BB 119: III. Mesto - Burletta
9. String Quartet No. 6 in D major, Sz. 114, BB 119: IV. Mesto

a family of flowers, under the sheltering sun. or alternate link.

* out-of-print (new for $149 at Amazon! used for $99!)

You can also get some free downloads from banjoist Jake Schepps' upcoming Bartók album here:

March 21, 2011

Gideon Freudmann & Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin - Sound of Distant Deer

Some more shaking shakuhachi brilliance here. This time the coldness of the flute is met by the warmth of a cello, albeit a cello that commonly masquerades as a flute. There is so little I can say about this album. It is incredible. You will never hear cello played like this any other time. There are no words for this music.

Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin studied Shakuhachi in Kyoto, Japan with Kurahashi Yodo Sensei, who was a disciple of Jin Nyodo. There in 1975, he received the name Nyogetsu and a teaching certificate at the level of Jun Shihan in the Kinko school of shakuhachi.

After his return to New York, Nyogetsu was awarded the rank of Shi-han (Master) in 1978, as a result of his efforts to spread the teaching of this instrument in America.

In 1980, he received his Dai-Shihan, or Grand Master's license. In April 2001, Nyogetsu received a Koku-An Dai-Shihan (Grand Master's license at the level of Kyu-Dan, or 9th level) from Japan's Living National Treasure in shakuhachi, Aoki Reibo. He was also given the name Reishin (Heart/Mind of the Bell) to go along with it. Nyogetsu is the first non-Japanese to receive this high award.

Nyogetsu has performed in numerous concerts, lectures and demonstrations in the metropolitan area and around the United States as well as Canada, Mexico, Scotland, and Argentina. Not only has he toured Japan many times, he has also been interviewed on radio and television both here and in Japan, and has performed on the soundtracks of several documentary films including the Academy Award nominated documentary "A Family Gathering" (1989) for which he also co-composed the sound track. Nyogetsu's playing also appears on the GRAMMY-nominated "The Planet Sleeps" (SONY).

Ronnie Nyogetsu has released several recordings of shakuhachi music including cassettes, LPs and CDs. Mr. Seldin is the founder of Ki-sui-an shakuhachi dojo with branches in Manhattan, Rochester/Syracuse, Philadelphia, and Baltimore/Wash.D.C. In addition to teaching privately, Mr. Seldin is also part of the Japanese Music Program at the graduate Center of the City University of New York where he gives lectures on and demonstrations of the shakuhachi. He is also on faculty at New York University (NYU). His shakuhachi school - KiSuiAn Shakuhachi Dojo - has been the largest and most active in the World outside of Japan for the past three decades. 

"I never knew anyone could play so many instruments on the cello!"

Gideon Freudmann, a cello innovator, has created his own style of music called CelloBop - a fusion of blues, jazz, folk and much more. He has performed at The Montreal International Jazz Festival, The Prague Swing Jazz Festival and throughout the US. His music is also frequently heard on NPR's All Things Considered and on the TV show, Weeds. His creative workshops at schools, colleges and music camps, as well as his tunebook, New Music For Cello has inspired cello and violin students and teachers from coast to coast to perform his music by their own cello choirs and string ensembles. Gideon's original composed music has been commissioned for film, theatre and dance. His recent project has been performing live soundtracks for classic silent films. Gideon has 12 original CDs to his credit and has performed on dozens of albums by other musicians.

A classical musician by training, Freudmann earned a Fine Arts degree in Cello Performance from the University of Connecticut. Since that time, Freudmann has distinguished himself as one of the finest solo cross-genre cellists, performing in literally hundreds of venues throughout the United States, including a featured performance at the New Directions Cello Festival in New York. His solo CDs featuring exclusively original songs and lyrics have received international distribution, extensive national and international airplay and glowing critical reviews.

Freudmann has held several artistic residencies including the University of Connecticut, James Madison University, Ithaca Violoncello Institute and others, and has performed in dozens of colleges and universities in the country. Freudmann has been featured as a guest musician on an eclectic array of folk and rock CDs, and his innovative sounds have been commissioned for video, film and dance soundtracks. Among his non-classical influences, Freudmann cites the Kronos Quartet, Turtle Island String Quartet, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Leo Kottke, Mose Allison, and The Beatles.

Gideon Freudmann & Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin - Sound of Distant Deer

Label: (Gadfly 506)
Year: 1998

" This CD is a collection of songs combining shakuhachi and cello, in solos and duets, both traditional and modern. Nyogetsu plays shakuhachi with cellist Gideon Freudmann. There are four pieces composed for this CD using duets of these two instruments. There are also 3 improvisations between the two performers that they call "Cellohachi"."

"Sound of Distant Deer," the first ever cello-shakuhachi duet CD ever released, features traditional and original music performed by two masters of their respective instruments.

Gideon Freudmann, recognized as one of the most unique and original cellists in the country, teams up with Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin, the leading shakuhachi (the japanese flute) instructor in the U.S., for this one-of-a-kind album. Sounding at times meditative, reflective, bizarre, and odd, this first-ever musical combination has yielded a result that is, quite simply, greater than the sum of its parts.

The music on "Sound of Distant Deer" includes two ancient Japanese pieces, contemporary works written for these two instruments (though never recorded), and music specifically written and improvised for the album by Freudmann and Seldin.

Gideon Freudmann, with three previous CDs (Banking Left, Cellobotomy, and Adobe Dog House), has long been recognized for pushing the envelope with his unique use of the cello. In addition, his odd and quirky songwriting has made him a staple of the up-and-coming singer/songwriter circuit.

Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin -- the foremost shakuhachi instructor in the U.S. -- first learned and studied the Japanese flute with his Japanese Grand Master instructor from 1973 to 1980. In addition to teaching students and giving concerts around the world, he runs the largest shakuhachi dojo in the world outside of Japan.


1 Shika no Tone (Kinko Ryu) 鹿の遠音 10'50
This is perhaps the most famous of all the Honkyoku (Zen Buddhist original music for Shakuhachi). The time is Autumn, it is the mating season, and from two different mountain tops in the ancient city of Nara, a male and female deer are calling to each other.

2 Slippery Lettuce 04'46

During the recording session, when we took a dinner break, Ronnie attempted to pour some dressing on his salad. The dressing slid off a big leaf of lettuce and onto the table He said, "that's some slippery lettuce," which inspired Gideon to create this funky, bluesy morsel of aural ruffage.

3 Psalm of the Phoenix 10'52
Composed by Edward Smaldone I.

The indomitable spirit of the Phoenix is portrayed in a wide-ranging series of scenes that are alternately dramatic, prayerful, ecstatic, bluesy, and Zen influenced. Edward Smaidone (b f956) received the 1993 Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is an Assistant Professor at the Aaron Copeland School of Music at Queens College, CUNY.

4 Cellohachi - Part 1 04'04
Gideon and Ronnie intended to play an improvisational number together from the outset. They recorded three short pieces and decided to keep them all as a suite. See if you can hear the nod to the tune "Summertime."

5 Cellohachi - Part 2 03'35

6 Cellohachi - Part 3 02'04

7 Ajikan (Itchoken) 阿字観 06'51
This honkyoku is supposed to represent the Zen concept of "seeing with the heart”. It is about "seeing the original sound", a special sort of vision that is associated with enlightenment.

8 Scivias 07'25
This melody draws on a chant by the 12th century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, and borrows its title from her "Book of Mysteries". Jeffrey Lependorf (b 1962), best known as a composer of operas, is also a master of the shakuhachi and has composed extensively for the instrument.

9 Lost Together 07'03
Composed by new music composer Murray Hidary of New York City.

the pigeons alight under brooklyn bridge. or alternate link
mp3 >256kbps vbr

Japanese Masterpieces of the Shakuhachi

Now we enter the void.

Shakuhachi music is some of the most deeply affecting musics I have ever heard. It is suffused with presence. It requires diligence, and awareness, and a sharp will on the part of both the musician and the listener. It cannot be background music. This music is not for soothing you whilst you relax in a spa and pretend to meditate. This music is true meditation. It is a slap in the face, a breath of fresh air, and the nimble light of beauty dancing through the world. Its association with Zen Buddhist monks probably explains the funny basket-hat, or at least I hope so, because I'm at a loss…

Anyway, all I'm saying is, this music has the brash hunger of an empty shark, the shifting eternity of an unhurried cloud, and the solipsism of a lone swan on a still lake.

The Shakuhachi
The shakuhachi is believed to have evolved from flutes that first appeared in ancient Egypt and arrived in Japan via China about 1,400 years ago. It has a long association Zen and is said to have a meditative quality because its sound is so closely linked with human breath. With no valves or reed it is deceptively simple instrument made of a piece of bamboo with holes. It produces a rich, mellow sound that it intimately related to the bamboo from which it is made. Its name come from its length in Japanese measurements (equaling 58 centimeters). One shaku is equal to 7.25 centimeters. Hachi is “eight.”
Patterson Clark, an American who studied the shakuchi in Japan, told the Washington Post, the shakuhachi is “notoriously difficult to play...It forces a face-to-face confrontation with expectation, self-criticism, disappointment, frustration, and impatience—all in a single breath. Exhaling through all these impediments and releasing one’s attachments to them can dissolve the ego so that one experiences only the sound—and become the sound.” 

 The shakuhachi is played very softly. Master musician Yoshio Kurabashi told the Washington Post, “The loudest tone is at the start of the first note of the phrase. As the breath continues, the sound grows softer until it fades into silence.” Notes can be flattened, bent, overblown and played with different fingering. By one count 64 sounds can be made in each octave.

 A bamboo shakuhachi flute from the 8th century found in Nara is 43.7 centimeters long and 2.3 centimeters in diameter and engraved with images of four women picking flowers and playing the biwa lute along with images of flowers, butterflies and birds. 

Japanese Masterpieces of the Shakuhachi

played by the Masters Meian-ryu, Kimpu-ryu, Tozan-ryu, Ikuta-ryu, Kikusue-ryu

Year: 1991
Label: Lyrichord
Time: 53:22

This famous bamboo flute, historically the instrument of the Samurai, is here played by the Masters of Meian-ryu, Kimpu-ryu, Tozan-ryu and Kikusui-ryu, at Darumaden of Nanzenji, and Meianji, Kyoto.
Selected as one of CD Review Magazine's 50 Definitive World Music Recordings! (June 1990)

AMG Review by Adam Greenberg
One of a long series of albums put out by Lyrichord dealing with traditional musics from around the world, Japanese Masterpieces of the Shakuhachi reprises the major schools of playing for the traditional Japanese bamboo flute. The liner notes, though leaving the performers uncredited, are quite detailed on the history of the flute and of the playing styles used. As many "world music" aficionados know, the shakuhachi lends itself well to making beautiful, earthy tones that Coleman Hawkins could only have dreamed about. The album starts with "Koku," a 12th century piece written by a priest for relaxation. "Sekihiki No Fu" is an accompaniment for a sung Chinese poem. "Matsukaze" represents a pine tree, which itself represents man; the work makes use of komibuki, a panting technique, used here to symbolize the wild breath of a samurai. "Ajikan" is a beautiful meditation on nothingness, and "Oshusanaya" is a pastoral piece. "Sagariha" uses a choppy rhythm that implies waves, though the translation is "drooping leaves." Finally, "Kyushi Reibo" is a piece written in memoriam of the Buddha's death by a pilgrim who was impressed by the strong spirit (reibo) of the Buddha on the island of Kyushu. Throughout, the album shows some noteworthy playing by the musicians of this mysterious sounding flute, and beauty in all aspects of the playing. The sound is perfect for tranquil relaxation, regardless of the century or the continent.

Japanese Masterpieces for the Shakuhachi is one of those rare discs that takes over the mind and body, filling the room with an unearthly mist of sound. The timbre of the bamboo flute on this release can be shrill and penetrating in the upper registers, mellow and breathy in the middle, thick and dark in the lowest reaches. The use of quivering tremolos at climactic moments and well-paced dissonance's that add a foreboding sense of mystery are fully exploited by the indigenous masters of this Buddhist-inspired music. The performances are so convincing that you get the feeling these artists aren't just musicians symbolizing the unknown, but actually calling it forth. An obvious hiss may summon you back to earth once in a while, but the instruments still come across with vitality. - Linda Kohanov, 4/90

Rhythm Music Magazine
The shakuhachi (vertical bamboo flute) was sometimes used in Gagaku, but the music on LYRCD 7176 is associated with the four or five schools of largely solo styles of the Fuke sect of samurai. The starkness of the melodies is decorated by microtonal ornamentation and changing timbres, which can quickly move from shrill overblowing to breathy worbling to mellow sustained tones; when two or more shakuhachis combine, beats created by deliberately "out of tune" unisons add further variety. Small details such as these are the main focus of the music, which amply repays repeated listenings. -Steve Holtje, 3/94

1 Kokh   9:08
2 Sekihiki No Fu   13:48
3 Matsukaze   6:43
4 Ajikan   6:31
5 Oshusanaya   7:11
6 Sagariha   6:00
7 Kyushi Reibo   4:36

the wind blows lonely through distant pine trees. or alternate link
mp3 >224kbps vbr | w/o cover | 86.1mb

liner notes here

Tomoko Sunazaki - Tegoto: Japanese Koto Music

Japan has been on our minds.
Since I've been on a theme of music from the far-east recently, I ought to continue it with a few albums of Japanese music. This is a really beautiful, quite accessible album, totally recommended if you have been interested by any of the Chinese & Vietnamese stuff that I've posted. Though of course it's different too. Sonically, it is like a cat prancing from roof to slanted roof in the middle of a rainstorm. Emotionally it runs the gamut from serenely delicate to luscious and wet to stark and cold. Apart from one flute duet, it's mostly solo Koto, which is just fantastic for cordophiles like myself. Listen to this music at night, and then go take a midnight walk and smell the plum and cheery trees coming into blossom. There is a full gleaming moon in this music, I promise you.

Tomoko Sunazaki - Tegoto: Japanese Koto Music

Year: 1996
Label: Fortuna

Product Description
This splendid collection of recordings covers a wide spectrum of Japanese koto music; the compositions span three centuries, from ancient traditional to modern Western influenced pieces. Undoubtedly, the most impressive element of the releases is the artist herself, the world renowned Tomoko Sunazaki. She is internationally recognized as a master of the Japanese koto. From the age of six, Sunazaki was trained in the direct lineage of the famous koto performer and composer, Michio Miyagi. At the age of 14, she had already earned her teacher's license in koto from the Ikuta School. Later she earned her Bachelor and Master degrees at the Tokyo University of Fine Art, and subsequently joined the faculty there. In 1981, Madame Sunazaki was awarded a teaching degree from the Miyagi Koto school, which is a rare honor.
Michio Miyagi's works are an integral part of each of the releases in this collection, performed with respect and devotion. Miyagi was one of the first to integrate Western inspiration into koto music, an aspect Madame Sunazaki found especially important. By recording traditional Japanese music, Western classics, and the delicate blend of both, she hoped to expand the perceived limitations of the koto.

Drawing from Sound of Silk Strings (1984), Spring Night (1984) and Moon at Dawn (1986) this compilation CD presents a delicious sampling of Sunuzaki's most elegant and most exciting performances.

Special note should be taken of the beautiful release Tegoto: Japanese Koto Music. From the stunning rice paper booklet to the choice of titles, this compilation is clearly an artistic masterpiece. This sampling of Madame Sunazaki's most elegant and exciting performances is the perfect choice for the audiophile interested in koto music.

Review by Backroads Music/Heartbeats
This 60-minute CD-only release is a compilation from Mme. Sunazaki's tapes, plus one cut from Moon at Dawn (her duet with M. Koga). Ms. Sunazaki is a master of the koto, and the music is graceful and serene.

1 Sea of Spring - Miyagi - 6:56
2 London No Yoru No Ame [London in a Rainy Night] - Miyagi - 3:51
3 Shinsencho Bukyoku - Yuize - 9:37
4 Koto Tanshishu - Miki - 9:53
5 Tegoto - Miyagi - 12:26
6 Mittsu No Dansho - Nakanoshima, Nakonoshima - 9:08
7 Kamimu - Sunazaki, Yamamoto - 8:05
8 Midare - Kengyo, Sunazaki - 7:48

snow melts on high mountains. or alternate link
mp3 vbr | w/o cover

* out-of-print