“Musical Exceptionalism and Superficialism in Sociocultural Context:
The Music of Tôru Takemitsu as Exotic and/or International”
Upon listening to Requiem for Strings (1957) by Tôru Takemitsu (1930–1996) on radio by chance during his 1959 stay in Japan, Igor Stravinsky was impressed by this “sincere,” “intense” music and its “passionate writing.” Although the piece received harsh criticism after its 1957 premiere in Tokyo and thus met with a cold reception, the admiration expressed by the internationally famed Russian master immediately brought attention to the Requiem and to Takemitsu. While Stravinsky’s “discovery” became a milestone in Takemitsu’s pursuit of a career as a composer, the underlying sociocultural issues behind the anecdote remain undiscussed. First, it raises the question of whether critics and audience were capable of appreciating the artistic value by themselves; in other words, whether they began to acknowledge Takemitsu’s music primarily due to the fact that Stravinsky praised Requiem and that, as a result, it was more performed outside of Japan. At any rate, Takemitsu became regarded as an exceptional composer in both Japan and abroad. However, this was as problematic as the previous question, because the meaning of exceptional in this particular case was twofold: Takemitsu was regarded as exotic outside Japan, i.e., in Western countries, and as a Western-oriented international composer within his own country. A common tendency of these attitudes seems to be judging-by-the-cover superficiality, that is, what Georges Rey calls “superficialism – the insistence that matters of meaning be somehow superficially available in either behavior or introspection.” An examination of the recognition of Takemitsu’s music as the dual exceptional from a perspective of superficialism reveals the essential problem that incidental information such as familiarity of name or title, cultural differences, and captivating anecdotes obscures the essential substance of musical composition.
Makoto Mikawa is currently a doctoral candidate of the International Postgraduate Program in “Performance and Media Studies” at the Institut für Film-, Theater- und empirische Kulturwissenschaft at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, Germany. He received his doctorate in Music from the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and his M.A. in Music Theory from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He worked at the University of Windsor, Canada, as a sessional instructor in Music Theory. His research interests include postwar avant-garde approaches to the theatricalization of music, interdisciplinary and intercultural composition, sociocultural issues in the music of the mid-20th century, and the artistic-aesthetic significance of the connection between Japanese Nô-theater and postwar new music. His writings have appeared in Tempo, Perspectives of New Music, and The Musical Times, as well as in online archives.