Silence and Sound in the Works of Tōru Takemitsu: Thought and Performance
Maayan Gabel

Tōru Takemitsu

Silence is the natural opposite of sound. However, relating to silence itself as a means for musical composition is a fairly new phenomenon, one that became the subject of major artistic research during the 20th century. Tōru Takemitsu employed silence as a tool for composition in many of his works and explored its nature in several articles. Many scholars, including Koozin, Chenette and Kraut wrote about silence as a central idea in Takemitsu’s compositions.[1] They also noted the close connection between silence as used by Takemitsu and the Japanese idea of ma, the meaning of which will be explained below. However, musicologists have paid less attention to the question of the musical performance of silence in the composer’s music for stringed instruments, and how it is manifested in key moments of his oeuvre. In this article, I address three key questions: What types of silence does Takemitsu use? How do these types of silence become a formative factor in his compositions? How do the varied types of silence influence the performance of his works?

To answer these questions, I will first present how three composers who influenced Takemitsu (Debussy, Cage, Messiaen) related to the concept of silence. I will explain how silence functions as an element of compositional design in Takemitsu’s work, and how he relates to the Japanese value of ma. Then, I will illustrate Takemitsu’s use of ma in three different dimensions, by analyzing the formative moments of silence in his work for viola and orchestra A String Around Autumn (1989), in which silence is a dominant element. The premiere of the work was performed by the Japanese violist Nobuko Imai, whose professional relationship with Takemitsu I will recount, based on personal communication. Finally, I will briefly describe my personal experience as a performer, and my insights from the lessons in which I worked with Imai on the piece.

# Silence in 20th Century Musical Modernism

Silence was used a key expressive means in the musical modernism of the 20th century,[2] most conspicuously in the work of three composers who greatly influenced Takemitsu: Claude Debussy, John Cage and Olivier Messiaen. Takemitsu even referred to Messiaen as his spiritual mentor. The scholar David Metzer wrote that silence is initially a situation, a conceptual idea that composers strove to express in different ways: “Silence is… [an] ideal. Modernist… composers have written works that aim to evoke states through musical languages that emulate distinct qualities of those conditions.”[3]

Metzer’s words could be understood as paradoxical, for how can silence be composed, if it is indeed perceived as a lack of occurrence and inaction? Unlike the traditional use of silence as a means of punctuation, a variety of composers were definitely seeking a new and different way of expressing silence, one that will explicitly utilize its diverse qualities to articulate their ideas.

Metzer’s words could be understood as paradoxical, for how can silence be composed, if it is indeed perceived as a lack of occurrence and inaction?

Claude Debussy was one of the first modern composers to unambiguously use silence as a compositional tool, and he even noted this explicitly. In a letter to the French composer Ernest Chausson, Debussy wrote about the importance of silence as a powerful tool of expression for him, and noted that he had discovered that silence is a compositional technique that gave emotion and power to the musical phrase. However, for Debussy silence remained a compositional tool rather than a philosophical idea, as it was for Cage and Messiaen.

Representative examples of the different ways Debussy used silence may be found in the opera Pelléas et Melisande (1919). At the end of the opera, a choir comes on stage and remains silent, in accordance with the performance instructions, which require this of the performers (e.g., the marking, “pianissimo possible”). Throughout the opera, rests and fermatas are used extensively, in a manner characteristic of Debussy’s compositions.[4]

Silence is a central value in the musical philosophy of composer John Cage. In 1946, Cage met the Indian musician Gita Sarabhai, who had a significant influence on the composer and introduced him to Indian art and philosophy. In the late 1950s, Cage read and researched philosophical texts of the Japanese Zen Buddhism, and studied with Daisetsu Suzuki, a key figure in making the ideas of Zen Buddhism accessible in the West.[5] In a famous lecture, given in 1958, “Composition as Process,” Cage defined silence, as “sounds from the environment.”[6]

Silence is a central value in the musical philosophy of composer John Cage.

Cage contended that there is no silence free of noise, and that even in the absence of extreme noise, a person hears some sound, even if only those are sounds of their own body. He distinguishes between intentional sounds (e.g., a sonata by Beethoven) and random sounds (e.g., a passing siren or the chirping of birds). Cage was among the first to go beyond the boundaries of Western art music and propose a musical world founded on attention to ambient sounds. Throughout his life, he continued to work on incorporating sounds from the environment as a means of joining life and reality with art. Kraut argues that Cage uses silence to facilitate a special kind of attention that connects listeners to the world around them, to liberate audience’s ability to listen through the absence of deliberate sound, allowing them to choose which sounds constitute “music” for them.[7] Below, we will consider a similar type of silence, one in which listener plays an integral role in the compositional process, as an aspect of the Japanese concept, ma.

The French composer Olivier Messiaen, whose compositions dealt with theology and spirituality,[8] considered silence an eternal background against which sound occurs. The occurrences of sound creates beats between which spaces of silence are formed. Thus, a rhythmic sensation is created over time. Messiaen even goes so far as to describe the birth of time itself based on these thoughts:

[T]he first, essential element in music is Rhythm… Rhythm is first and foremost the change of number and duration. Suppose that there were a single beat in all the universe. One beat; with eternity before it and eternity after it. A before and after. That is the birth of time.… Imagine then, almost immediately, a second beat. Since any beat is prolonged in the silence which follows it, the second beat will be longer than the first.… That is the birth of Rhythm. [9]

Messiaen perceives silence as the beginning and end point of every sound, in the sense of “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”[10] He claimed that the silence that follows a sound may create the impression that the sound lasted longer, and even used this technique in practice. For example, he composed with very short, accented notes, followed immediately by silence. The accented sounds echoes in space, leaving behind an acoustic trail, which creates a feeling of extended duration.

Messiaen perceives silence as the beginning and end point of every sound, in the sense of “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Messiaen gives voice to the same timeless background by using pitch collections. According to Koozin, Messiaen (and later Takemitsu) used silence metaphorically in the pitch collections, composed of octatonic scales and whole tones, characterized by interval symmetries between the sounds on the scale. Since there is no hierarchy between the sounds, as there is in the tonal system, no one sound is more central than any other. Composing music based on these scales allows composers, through the lack of hierarchy and predominance between the sounds, a metaphorical expression of stasis and immobility.[11] For Takemitsu, this kind of quiet background is a spiritual and artistic representation of temporality and the occult, as they are manifested in Japanese culture.

Thus, it is evident that the concept of silence is a central point of engagement in the compositions of Debussy, Cage and Messiaen. Musical preoccupation with the concept of silence emerges from both occidental and oriental philosophical ideas. It might be said that for Debussy the significance of silence is a practical or a technical element; for Cage, silence serves as a spiritual, philosophical element and for Messiaen, silence contains both spiritual and practical elements. As I will show below, Takemitsu’s ideas of using silence were influenced by all three.

Thus, it is evident that the concept of silence is a central point of engagement in the compositions of Debussy, Cage and Messiaen.

# Silence in Takemitsu’s Writing and Composition

The concept of silence appears repeatedly in Takemitsu’s writings; he published many articles dealing with silence and its meaning for him. In one article, he explained that music was created when a human first made a sound, when a person first broke the silence and rebelled against it. From his perspective, being present in opposition to silence is equivalent to granting presence to the existence of humanity and the existence of art.[12] Beyond giving voice to these ideas, silence had a real presence for Takemitsu, not merely an empty space waiting to be filled. His words indeed remind us of Messiaen’s approach to silence as the background of eternal limitless space, which contains the power to express the silence of life and of death.[13] In addition to the claim that creativity, against the backdrop of eternal silence, permits a human being to confirm his existence, Takemitsu also used silence as a space and void in the philosophical and practical senses of those words in his compositions. Therefore, his attitudes towards silence is ambivalent: it is not only the absence of sound, the lack of movement or being frozen in space but it also has a real presence in the physical and mental space. Indeed, Takemitsu wrote: “The most important thing in Japanese music is space, not sound. Strong tensions. Space: ma: I think ma is time-space with tensions. Always I have used few notes, many silences, from my first piece.”[14]

In this quotation, Takemitsu also notes the important connection between silence and the Japanese aesthetic and philosophical value ma ( 間), which is deeply intertwined with the idea of Japanese emptiness, which originates in Zen Buddhism. The composer explains that, influenced by Japanese culture, he used few notes and many silences to create ma. In other words, silence is a critical means for expressing ma, sometimes even more central than the sounds themselves. Therefore, before discussing Takemitsu’s use of silence in his compositions, I will explain the essence of ma as a concept in Japanese culture and aesthetics, and how it relates to silence in the music he wrote.

# Ma (間) and its Use by Takemitsu

In his book Zen Buddhism: Philosophy and Aesthetics, Yaakov Raz explains “ma is... space, that which is between, space, interval, void, distance, place, time. An invitation.”[15] The experiential value, which is difficult to define, is commonly used in ordinary Japanese speech and has many uses: technical, philosophical and artistic. Raz describes the place of ma in Japanese culture as:

That which is between events, which is not a “pause” or “break” or “rest.” In traditional Japanese music, in No theater or spaces in Japanese homes, ma is a charged, present quality; Not a “breath” for rest, but a sound in every sense, a piece of furniture, a brush line – a real presence, sometimes “present” in its emptiness more than in the presence called “form”… Japanese musicians learn to create ma not as a pause or break but rather as an additional sound. Sometimes sound is what exists in the space between two ma spaces, which is the opposite of what we are accustomed to in the West. Rather than a group of sounds with momentum, moving towards a musical conclusion, these a suspension in the birth, continuation and disappearance of a sound.[16]

Thus, the void and emptiness have a presence that is no less significant than the tangible. For Japanese musicians, ma is a significant, integral part of their artistic expression. Raz indeed argues that there are instances in which the sound is marginal, and the space is the “loaded quality” where attention is focused

In Kanji, one of the writing systems used for the Japanese language,[17] the character that expresses ma consists of the element that represents a door or gate (mon – 門) and the element that presents the sun (hi –日) or moon (tsuki –月).[18] The musician Kanako Chikami[19] explains that within the word, whose literal meaning is “moonlight shining through a gate,” there are images of both space and the occurrence that fills it. In Japan, ma is also an expression of a single entity that encompasses coexistent of space and time.[20] Indeed, neither can exist without the other, as explained by Arata Isozaki, who studied the concept of ma.[21] Isozaki argues that in Japan, time does not exist as something homogeneous, regulated and lasting, but rather is determined by its relationship to movement and space, while space is perceived in relationship to an event in time. This description imbues both time and space with vitality; rather than being considered fixed and unusable entities, they have observable existence in the here and now.

At the beginning of his career as a composer, Takemitsu emphatically distanced himself from traditional Japanese music, claiming that it was nationalist and reminded him of his experiences as an adolescent during World War II.[22] However, in the 1960s, Takemitsu became acquainted with John Cage, and that changed his attitude.[23] Cage influenced Takemitsu’s renewed appreciation of Japanese culture and its different qualities, including ma, made him open to exploring ma in his compositions.

# Ma as space and time

According to Jonathan Chenette,[24] beyond recognizing the essence and philosophical value of ma, Takemitsu applied the concept in his work using three dimensions: ma as space and time; ma as in between; and ma as intense waiting. Within the context of the first dimension, Chenette contends that ma is an expression of space and time, representing the empty space between two or more phenomena, which invites interpretation, action or any active human thought to endow it with meaning. Musically, space and time are usually expressed as intervals between two musical events – a physical interval between performers or a gap between two sounds during a rest, breathing or cessation. This space connects to the ancient meaning of ma – an empty space to which the kami (an ancient being to which one prays in the Shinto religion, as practiced in Japan) is invited.[25] An example of this first expression of ma can be seen in Takemitsu’s work Distance (1972) for oboe and shō,[26] in which the performance instructions sometimes tell the oboe player to stand close to the audience, and the shō player to stand behind, far from the audience. Critic Joaquim M. Benitez even claims, “[Takemitsu] forces [the listener] to create an active space (the ma of Japanese aesthetics) between the two instruments. The listener is thus put in a position where he must participate actively to create this virtual ‘space’ where the sound events that connect the two instruments occur.”[27]

Another widely-accepted interpretation of the first type of ma is an indeterminate space in time and space, which is itself by the surrounding environment. This type of ma exists in all areas of Japanese culture and art. For example, Isozaki argues that Japanese architecture facilitates experiences of deep observation of the environment and the ways in which changes, and that ma is a moment of waiting for these changes.[28] Traditional Japanese music is characterized by a willingness to allow for moments filled with unintentional sounds, consisting of those that surround us at a given moment.

# Ma as in-betweenness and hashi

The meaning of ma’s second dimension, according to Chenette, is “in-betweenness,” meaning the gap that exists between two end-= points, in two different content worlds. The original meaning of hashi (橋) as a “bridge” in Japanese is not the connection between two physical edges but the bridging between two different worlds of content. A musical example of such a genre can be found in the work November Steps (1967) that Takemitsu composed for traditional Japanese instruments, biwa and shakuhachi, and a large symphony orchestra.[29] In this work, ma expresses the gap between the Japanese world and the Western world, while hashi is the musical connection that bridges between the two different worlds of sound. The listeners’ involvement also echoes Cage’s concept of active listening as an element in a musical composition.[30]

Researcher Timothy Koozin has a slightly different perspective on ma and its connection to hashi in Takemitsu’s music:

Musical figures which begin with an initial accent and gradually die away are highly characteristic of Takemitsu’s piano writing. When musical gestures end in this manner, the listener is less likely to hear the ensuing silences as partitions between events. Because such gestural endings lack a clear point of termination, one is more likely to hear the silence arising toward the end of such a figure as a direct outgrowth of the previous sound event. In this sense, the sound event draws silence into the piece as an active rather than passive element. It is possible to think of Takemitsu’s long, decaying tones as hashi (bridges) projecting from the world of sound into that of silence. The moment of waiting for sound to become silence is in this way imbued with the quality of ma.[31]

Koozin’s proposes an additional way of thinking about the in between or a bridge and ma, and argues that it is precisely the decay of an accented sound that constitutes a kind of bridge between the world of sound and the world of silence. This technique of using an accented sound that gradually decays in intensity connects to Messiaen’s conception of the relationship between silence and sound. In addition, Koozin argues that the resulting silence has an active presence, as a matter of interest in creation of the musical picture. Silence becomes a destination, connection and terminus, an active element in the composition. Moreover, the moment that separates the sound from its disappearance to silence is loaded with the qualities of ma.

# Ma as an intense waiting

The third dimension of ma is an empty and intense moment of waiting and expectation, intense silence. Such a moment is reflected in an ancient Japanese Shinto ceremony, in which ma is the tense moment of waiting for the kami to descend from their sublime abode to their sanctuary in the human world. Chenette writes that these intense silences are “recurrences of these intervals of waiting organized the pace of life in much the same way as the placement of stepping stones leading to a Japanese teahouse organizes the breathing rhythm of the one who traverses them.[32] He contends that this type of ma is an inseparable part of life and of the circularity that moves between moments of anticipation and the event. The stepping-stones leading to the teahouse somehow organize the rhythmic breathing of people walking on them, thereby manipulating how the walker expects to arrive at the teahouse – the event. Takemitsu himself testifies that silence of this type exists between the sounds: “Recurrences of these intervals of waiting organized the pace of life in much the same way as the placement of stepping stones leading to a Japanese teahouse organizes the breathing rhythm of the one who traverses them.”[33]

Takemitsu argues that music consists of a circular oscillation between sound/occurrence and silence. A fluctuation can be found in his work Garden Rain (1974), which was composed into ten brass wind instruments. The piece is mostly constructed of very sustained chord sequences, with each chord held for the length of a single breath. Between chords, all the musicians breathe together, such that their breathing creates a tense, quiet moment. Chenette argues that moments of non-occurrence, pure moments of ma, are bridged by the listeners themselves and bring the listeners into a cyclical world moving between sound and silence.[34] Takemitsu himself wrote: “Just one such sound can be complete in itself, for its complexity lies in the formulation of ma, an unquantifiable metaphysical space (duration) of dynamically tensed absence of sound.”[35]

Between this complex sound – so strong that it can stand alone – and that point of intense silence preceding it, called ma, there is a metaphysical continuity that defies analysis… this ma and sound do not exist as a technically definable relationship. It is here that sound and silence confront each other, balancing each other in a relationship beyond any objective measurement.…In its complexity and its integrity this single sound can stand alone. To the sensitive Japanese listener who appreciates this refined sound, the unique idea of ma – the unsounded part of this experience – has the same time a deep, powerful silence, is that which gives life to the sound and removes it from its position of primacy. So it is that sound, confronting the silence of ma, yields supremacy in the final expression.[36]

Thus, we can conclude that ma is a clear expression of silence for Takemitsu, a concentrated, complex moment, which the composer defines as a metaphysical moment inaccessible to objective analysis. Ma is created from the relationship between sound and silence; by standing in the presence of silence, the sound gains uniqueness and intensity from the reflection of the silence before it.

# A String around Autumn

# Background

A String Around Autumn is a concerto for solo viola and orchestra was commissioned from Takemitsu for the Paris Autumn Festival, which was dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. It was premiered at Pleyel Hall in Paris on November 29, 1989 by Imai, with the Paris Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano.[37] Imai, who had a personal acquaintance with the composer, also premiered two other works by Takemitsu, And Then I Knew ’twas Wind (1992) and A Bird Came Down the Walk (1994).[38]

The concerto’s title is taken from a poem by the modern Japanese poet Makoto Ōoka:

Don’t sink
Be Simply
Be simple:
A string
To wind around

The poem was chosen because the festival was being held in the autumn, and describes a deep experience of nature and self-calming. Moreover, the poem includes the words “silent” and “string,” representing on one hand, the individual, the viola soloist (i.e., the string) and on the other hand, the many, the orchestra (i.e., autumn).[40] Takemitsu dedicated the work to the French people, “among whom are Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen, who given deep influence to my music.”[41]

There are several recorded performances of the work, most of them by Nobuko Imai. In one performance, Imai plays an arrangement of the work for viola and piano, arranged for her by the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, who tried to create a color tone as similar as possible to the original. Naturally, there are significant differences between a performance with orchestra and one with a piano accompaniment, which I will discuss below.

There are several recorded performances of the work, most of them by Nobuko Imai.

# Analysis and execution of silence in the concerto

I will use each of the three dimensions of ma to illustrate how Takemitsu uses silence as a formative tool in A String Around Autumn: ma as space and time, ma and ‘hashi’ (in between) and ma as an intense moment of anticipation and waiting. To analyze the first dimension, I consider the silent intervals between sounds and instruments that Takemitsu uses to blur the sense of time. Analysis of the second dimension focuses on the connection that Takemitsu makes between two extremes of ma (philosophical and aural), and describes how the philosophy of Japanese gardens relates to each of these. When analyzing the third dimension of ma, I concentrate on the moments of intensive, anticipatory silence, and how they divide the composition.

A String Around Autumn is composed as a single movement, and its duration is approximately 18 minutes. The work was written at a time when Takemitsu’s style of composition was characterized as nostalgic and even “old-fashioned,” compared to his works in previous decades, with evident influences of Messiaen, Debussy and jazz. The work is written as a kind of paraphrase of the concerto form:[42] The viola has a substantial solo role, and the orchestra, despite its significant presence in the presentation of musical materials, often serves as an accompanist. The work is divided into three divisions by two very long fermatas. The third section includes an exact repetition of a sequence of events that appeared in first section, and there is a viola cadenza towards the end.

Takemitsu explains that the string analogy in the poem song is expressed by an ascending phrase consisting of a synthetic octatonic scale that extends beyond the octave (in his words: “an irregular eight note scale”). It includes the work’s central motif: three perfect fourths and two minor sixths.[43] The composer notes that this scale results from merging two pitch collections: a pentatonic scale beginning on D and a major-minor chord on F.

Musicologist Peter Burt contends that the pentatonic and quartal foundations include all of the thematic elements in the work, transposed into various keys. The use of octatonic collections is directly influenced by Messiaen, and appears throughout the work, not only as a melodic building block but also as a harmonic tool (at times, all eight tones are played simultaneously). As noted above, Koozin considers the octatonic collection that Takemitsu builds a disruption of the tonal hierarchy, and thus a symbol of the eternal background of silence.

Scholar James Siddons claims that the solo viola symbolizes the human observer of the autumn landscape, which is represented by the orchestra. The observer is represented by the melodic lines that emerge from the thematic foundation described above.[44] The starting points of Siddons’ analysis are the analogy of the observer, which appears in several of Takemitsu’s compositions, and the influence that the philosophy of Japanese gardens had on the composer.

Scholar James Siddons claims that the solo viola symbolizes the human observer of the autumn landscape, which is represented by the orchestra.

# Ma as space and time

Throughout A String Around Autumn, Takemitsu wrote complex, frequently-changing rhythms (e.g., a measure containing three quarter notes and a half note, followed by one containing four quarter notes, in turn followed by a one with six quarter notes and half note). The orchestra, representing autumn, is influenced by the inspiration that Takemitsu found in Japanese gardens. Takemitsu indicates two tempos, both slow and relaxed: the first 46-52 beats/minute; the second, 32-38 beats/minute. Together, these blur the sense of a steady beat, and thus Takemitsu creates a sense of time unique to his perception. Takemitsu explained, “I think of time as circular and continuity as a constantly changing state.”[45] Takemitsu’s blurring of time and infinite sense of time correspond with the constant changes in the time mentioned in his writing, and relates to the first dimension, the ma of space and time.

Despite very specific and precise rhythmic writing (e.g., arrows that show the directions of deceleration and acceleration, or the many dynamic markings), the blurred sense of the beat allows the performer to express himself in a subjective, free manner (within the limits of music). When the soloist is performing the various musical materials, Takemitsu composed long chords for the orchestra to hold. Although the rhythmic values and the number of beats are constantly changing, the performer is left the possibility of expression without any material restrictions. In my opinion, the composer does this to create almost picturesque gestures, unlimited by the barlines.

Despite very specific and precise rhythmic writing (e.

For me, performing A String Around Autumn involves understanding that silence is the background from which the sound begins and in which the sound ends. For example, the first entry of the viola begins pp and grows to ff in just three measures. After one additional measure, calm returns with orchestra playing ppp, and a feeling that the breath is being relocated. To achieve these moments, the artists performing the work must intensify the feelings of growth and decay in the work. As a performer, I attempt to use all available technical means to this end: changing the nature of the vibrato, allowing it to extend into the rests and create a sound trail; varied bow speeds; bowing at different positions on the strings; and striving to create diverse tone colors according to compositional nature. The musical and technical approach to these moments is fundamental and allows the moments of ma as space and time in the work to be present in the ears of the listeners.

# Ma as in between and ‘hashi

The second dimension of ma is very dominant in A String Around Autumn, and therefore can be understood from several perspectives. The first is philosophical-perceptual. Although the work does not bridge two clearly distinct content worlds, as November Steps does, Takemitsu does create hashi here, between Japanese philosophical ideas related to nature and Japanese gardens and the Western format of a soloist versus an orchestra in a concerto style. Takemitsu uses the second ma dimension to shape the different phrases in the work. Usually, they begin from silence (a rest or a long, motionless chord in the orchestra), increase their dynamics and fade back into silence (a definite influence of Messiaen). Takemitsu uses varied performance instructions (e.g., al niente and ppp) to emphasize the extreme fade into complete silence (in a manner reminiscent of Debussy’s performance instructions). The decay into silence relates to how Koozin understands hashi and ma in Takemitsu’s compositions: waning sound as a connection between the world of sound and the world of silence, and as the moment that separates the audible from its decay into silence. The quality of this dividing moment connects to ma.

The differences in texture between Takemitsu’s version and the piano arrangement lead to tonal colors that differ from those that Takemitsu orchestrated. From the perspective of ma, the orchestra allows for varied moments of silence and muteness that reach powerful climaxes. The increases and decreases in intensity are played by an entire orchestra, with very different volume of ma than that of the piano version. The decays in intensity occur more when slowly performed by the orchestra, because the piano is unable to hold a sound continuously. Furthermore, the piano cannot intensify and fade within a sound that has already begun, so it misses some of Takemitsu’s performance instructions. For that reason, Hosokawa sometimes forgoes the held chords that appear in the original score, replacing them an arpeggio sequence for the piano using the notes in the chord, thereby creating the constant feeling of rise and decay (e.g., the last two measures in the piano arrangement). Moreover, Hosokawa’s piano part frequently uses legatos that extend beyond the limits of the measure. All of these techniques are intended to reinforce the possibility of hearing the sound’s natural decay, rather than interrupt it before a rest, a desire to preserve key moments of ma to the extent possible.

The second form of hashi between these worlds is created by the extensive use of flageolets throughout the work. Flageolets allow the composer to switch between ranges quickly, in addition to making the color hollow and airier. The flageolets’ color also differs in the feelings expressed; they may be used to express a void and feeling of in between, flanked by sound and no-sound. Throughout the piece, Takemitsu uses flageolets that facilitate rapid range jumps in the viola, a use reminiscent of the timbre and performance technique of Japanese bamboo flute (shakuhachi). Takemitsu uses flageolets in many of the fading phrase endings, allowing him to underscore the idea of connection between the world of sound and the world of silent void. The flageolets are therefore the hashi between sound and silence.

When I played the piece for Imai, on two occasions in September 2021, she talked to me at length about the flageolets that appear at the end of the phrases. She suggested that I play them using the entire bow, in an ascending direction (from the tip to the Frosch), in a manner that goes against the logic of bowing, by which when the bow descends (from the lower section to the tip) so the sound fades naturally. Imai explained that bowing in the opposite direction creates an acoustic tail that fades away in space and allows the sound to evaporate. Ma is inherent in all of these proposals, because they enable the performer to leave a sound trail in the acoustic space, when it is no longer being “played” but simply exists until it disappears. This is a moment of ma – between sound and silence.

Silence, too, is an important element in Takemitsu’s music, which helps him clarify the formal structure of the composition. Researcher Jeong Woo Jin claims that silence also provide unique intensity, “It is not a space or rest between the sounds in Takemitsu’s music. Rather it allows the sounds to emerge, grow or fall away.”[46] In her analysis of A String Around Autumn, violist Tze-Ying Wu notes that the piece consists of three major sections, each with key repeated melodies. Takemitsu carefully choose where to locate the short phrases and moments of silence, which represent objects in nature.[47] The brief events and dialogue are expressed by moving the central motif between the soloist and the orchestra, in a manner that resembles observation of the violist. These moments composed by Takmitsu are very closely related to the value of ma, in the sense of forming a moment of deep contemplation of one’s surroundings.

Structurally, two major fermatas divide the work. The first part (measures 1–61) is the longest. The rest written by Takemitsu is marked with a both fermata and a caesura, denoting the significant silence that Takemitsu demands of the performers. This cessation comes after a major event in the work, and occurs before a fading flageolet played by the soloist (Takemitsu marked the flageolet with a crescendo and a decrescendo). The second part (measures 62–112) also ends with a long fermata and caesura beneath it. Similar to the first part, after a full section of short phrases that intensify and fade, the fermata is preceded by a fading flageolet. In measure 113, there is a clear return to the motif that began the work, an occurrence that symbolizes the beginning of the last section (reminiscent of a recapitulation). This division (measure 113 to the end) is the shortest part, and it includes a cadenza, consisting of recapitulations of fragments appearing throughout the work. The cadenza is also divided by three fermatas. The first and last fermatas come after fading flageolets, and the middle one follows a flageolet played fortissimo, with an accent on which Takemitsu for which also requests dynamic increase and decay. After the cadenza, there is – for the first time in the piece – an almost exact repetition of a previous event (measures 33–46 are repeated in measures 122–134). The only difference is that the viola plays with the orchestra in measures 130–133. In Wu’s opinion, this symbolizes the return of the observer to the same place he visited at the beginning of the work.[48] The work ends with three concluding measures, in which the initial motif (a kind of coda) appears. In the last measure, the final sound of all instruments fades into a long diminuendo, marked with a fermata. The concluding sound played by the solo viola is an accentuated flageolet (sforzando-piano), which remains after the entire orchestra, until the sound dissipates entirely. (Takemitsu wrote “legato” even over the last note, extending it over the final double bar). Moreover, Takemitsu marked the flageolet with a crescendo and diminuendo.

In terms of notation, Takemitsu sometimes writes notes that continue into a rest (notated as a rest in parentheses), for both the soloist and the orchestra. In this way, he asks that the performers continue the sound into the rest, so it is not completely interrupted and creates the experiential moment of ma, a moment that is between sound and silence, a moment of augmented attention to its existence or non-existence. This underscores how unique the separation between sound and silence is for the composer, and displays how Takemitsu was truly attempting to create moments of ma by using hashi in the form of sound fading into the silence.

# Ma as intense waiting

The moments of silence that divide the work are the third dimension of ma – moments of intense waiting. These come after the varied phrase sequences throughout the piece (which are shaped by the silences between them) and decay into silence, the eternal background of which Messiaen spoke. The fermatas that divide the sections are moments when all the performers stop, breathe together and start over. These moments are the moments when the next sequence of events are born, in manner reminiscent of the periodicity between sound and silence, which Chenette, in his description of ma refers to as a moment of expectation. For the listeners, these moments of silence are indeed times for anticipating what will follow. Prior these moments there is harmonic tension that arises from the preceding phrase or chord, which intensifies those silences. One example is the dominant tone in measure 59. The anticipation is contained in the moments of silence, because they are actually moments of absence, of void so that the sound that follows them is a kind of relaxation. They invite the listeners’ active involvement in the music. The silence is therefore present both in the macro design of the work (three divisions beginning and ending in silence) and in its micro design (short phrases that also begin and end in silence).

The lengths of the silences were important for Takemitsu in the performance of his works. Indeed, conductor Oliver Knussen testifies to the experience of working with Takemitsu:

The lengths of the silences were important for Takemitsu in the performance of his works.

When I used to work with [Takemitsu] on performances, he would be very very picky about exactly how long the silences should be between these little fragments (phrases). It was like how you place flower beds or plants in a garden and then you trace and route around them.[49]

In A String Around Autumn, the world of silence is no less significant than the world of sound, and therefore must be performed seriously and with the necessary attention.

During the long fermatas and in the cadenza, the soloist and the conductor must be alert to the fact that they contain moments of extraordinary tension, not relaxation; these are the dramatic occurrences that required intention. As a performer, I try to allow listeners to participate in this silence and be active in the “virtual” space created between the sound events. Imai spoked at length about the silence in the work and even noted, while we worked on the cadenza, that I must remain motionless during the large fermatas and create a sense of dramatic cessation. In her opinion, silence is an intense, dramatic moment; the tension is released only with the continuation of the phrase. Imai’s various performances of the work are replete with carefully timed moments of silence that create precisely the feeling she mentioned – tension during the rest and relaxation when the sound begins again. The dynamics rise and fall, and the time Imai waits between the phrases allows the listener to feel how the end of each musical phrase holds a moment of ma, as Takemitsu intended.

# Conclusion

For Takemitsu, the discourse between silence and sound is equivalent to the act of creation. He was influenced by the different uses of silence by Debussy (silence as a compositional technique that gives emotion and power to the musical phrase), Cage (silence as a conceptual idea and its connection to Zen Buddhist philosophy) and Messiaen (silence in the form of theology and the eternal background on which a sound events occur). Takemitsu used silence as a powerful means of composition to express, inter alia, the value of the Japanese ma. Ma is expressed in his works using three dimensions: as space and time, as in between or hashi, and as intense waiting. These three dimensions find expression in A String Around Autumn. Awareness of them allows a performer to think actively about the moments of silence contained in the work: how to fade into them, how long each rest should be, how the length of the rest changes based on its position in the composition, and the meaning of the musical phrases that follow the rests. The silence, in all of its aspects, is conspicuous in its presence not only in the analytical studies of the work, but also when listening to it. Takemitsu uses silence as a significant means of composition, and this is evident in every existing performance. In the performances and teaching of Nobuko Imai, who worked with the composer regularly, these elements and the importance she attributes to silence are audible.

Takemitsu incorporated western and eastern compositional ideas in his works, emerging from the influences he experienced and from his various occupations. As a performer, a historical and cultural understanding of Takemitsu’s music allows me to relate to these ideas. This awareness is equivalent to the essential stylistic awareness required for performing any musical genre or period music. In A String Around Autumn, the soloist ought to know that he is leading the audience through a musical garden meticulously designed by Takemitsu, because the soloist is indeed supposed to convey an experience linked to a complete philosophy. Despite Takemitsu’s specific performance instructions, he also expects the soloist to contribute personal expression, through the textured, conceptual freedom composed into the work. Just as there are moments of deep contemplation of nature, as well as constant changes, in the life of a Japanese garden, the performer is must also consider his individual performance as an opportunity to share these experiences with the listeners.

In this article I analyzed the cultural and artistic influences on Takemitsu in order to develop a consistent interpretation of the influence of silence in the performance of his works. When I started preparing A String Around Autumn, I encountered a new language, and realized that I was unaware of all its subtleties. I understood intuitively that the many rests, the repetitive form of growing and decaying phrases, and the extreme dynamics have a broad conceptual significance. As I described above these choices can be understood through the Japanese value of ma, in which the occurrence between the sounds is not a passive rest but rather silence. For Takemitsu, silence is an active, living state, and it behooves performers to treat it as such.

The following passage from the Book of Tao book sums up, in my opinion, the experience of silence and ma of Takemitsu:

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.[50]

# Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Dr. Ofer Gazit for his thoughtful guidance and Dr. Lilach Levanon for her advice and help with the final version.

Special thanks to Professor Nobuko Imai for sharing her inspiring insights and lessons.

# Notes

[1] Timoty Koozin, “Tōru Takemitsu and the Unity of Opposite,” College Music Symposium 30 No.1 (1990), pp. 34–44; Jonathan L. Chenette, “The Concept of Ma and The Music of Takemitsu,” paper presented at the National Conference of the American Society of University Composers, University of Arizona, 1985; Jael Kraut, “From Silence to Muteness, Music and Philosophy in the 20th Century,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Amsterdam, 2010.

[2] David Metzer, “Modern Silence,” Journal of Musicology 23/3 (2006):331–374, esp. p. 332.

[3] Metzer, “Modern Silence,” pp. 331–374, esp. p. 374.

[4] Jael Kraut, “From Silence to Muteness. Music and Philosophy in the 20th Century,” pp. 56–57.

[5] Chung Eun Kim, “Silence in The Music of John Cage, Tōru Takemitsu and Salvatore Sciarrion,” Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, New Jersey, 2018, p .18

[6] Kraut, “From Silence to Muteness,” p. 89.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Timothy Koozin, “Spiritual-temporal imagery in music of Olivier Messiaen and Tōru Takemtisu,” pp.185–202

[9] Olivier Messiaen, as quoted in Koozin, “Spiritual-temporal imagery in music of Olivier Messiaen and Tōru Takemtisu,” pp.185–202, esp. p. 186.

[10] Genesis 3:19 (RSV).

[11] Koozin, “Spiritual-temporal imagery in music of Olivier Messiaen and Tōru Takemtisu,” p. 186

[12] Tōru Takemitsu, Confronting Silence: Selected Writings, (trans.) Yoshiko Kakudo and Glenn Glasow, Lanham, Toronto and Oxford: Fallen Leaf, 1995, p. 17.

[13] Koozin, “Spiritual-temporal imagery in music of Olivier Messiaen and Tōru Takemtisu,” pp. 185–202, esp. p. 186.

[14] Tōru Takemitsu, as quoted in Frederic Lieberman, “Contemporary Japanese Composition: Its Relationship to Concepts of Traditional Oriental Musics,” M.A. thesis, University of Hawaii, 1965. pp. 140–141.

[15] Jacob Raz, Zen Buddhism: Philosophy and Aesthetics, Ben-Shemen: Modan, 2011 [Hebrew].

[16] Ibid.

[17] Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia, “Kanji,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 4, 2019,

[18] Kanako Chikami, “Utilizing Concepts of 間 (Ma) in Japanese Percussion Repertoire,” Ph.D. dissertation, George Mason University, 2021, p. 20.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Timoty Koozin, “Tōru Takemitsu and the Unity of Opposite,” College Music Symposium 30 No.1 (1990), pp. 34–44, esp. p. 36.

[21] Arata Isozaki as quoted in Chikami, “Utilizing Concepts of 間 (Ma) in Japanese Percussion Repertoire,” p. 13: “Space could not be perceived independently of the element of time, and time was not abstracted as regulated, homogeneous flow, but rather was believed to exist only in relation to movements or space […] Thus, space was perceived as identical with the events or phenomena occurring it: that is space was recognized only in its relation to time-flow.”

[22] Tōru Takemitsu, “Contemporary Music in Japan,” Perspectives of New Music 27 No.2 (1989), pp.198–204, esp. p. 199.

[23] Ibid: “The reason for this is that in my own life, in my own development, for a long period I struggled to avoid being ‘Japanese,’ to avoid ‘Japanese’ qualities. It was largely through my contact with John Cage that I came to recognize the value of my own tradition.”

[24] Chenette, “The Concept of Ma and The Music of Takemitsu,” 1985.

[25] Chung Eun Kim, “Silence in The Music of John Cage, Tōru Takemitsu and Salvatore Sciarrion,” Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey, New Jersey, 2018, p. 29.

[26] This refers to a traditional Japanese organ originating from a traditional Japanese orchestra (Gagaku orchestra).

[27] Joaquim M. Benitez, as quoted in Chenette, “The Concept of Ma and The Music of Takemitsu,” p. 10.

[28] Arata Isozaki, as quoted in Chikami, “Utilizing Concepts of 間 (Ma) in Japanese Percussion Repertoire,” pp. 26-27: “The fading of things, the dropping of flowers, flickering movements of mind, shadows falling on water or earth are kinds of phenomena that most deeply impress the Japanese. The fondness for movement of this kind permeates the Japanese concept of indefinite architectural space in which a layer of flat board, so thin as to be practically transparent, determines permeation of light and lines of vision. Appearing in this space is a flickering of shadows, a momentary shift between the worlds of reality and unreality. Ma is a void moment of waiting for this kind of change.”

[29] Chung Eun Kim, “Silence in The Music of John Cage, Tōru Takemitsu and Salvatore Sciarrion,” p. 31.

[30] Chenette, “The Concept of Ma and The Music of Takemitsu,” p. 13.

[31] Koozin, “Tōru Takemitsu and the Unity of Opposite,” pp. 34-44, esp. p. 36.

[32] Chenette, “The Concept of Ma and The Music of Takemitsu,” p. 13.

[33] Takemitsu as quoted in Chenette, “The Concept of Ma and The Music of Takemitsu,” p. 13.

[34] Chenette, “The Concept of Ma and The Music of Takemitsu,” p. 16.

[35] Takemitsu, “One Sound,” Contemporary Music Review 8 No. 2, pp.3–4, esp. p. 3

[36] Ibid.

[37] Nigel Simeone, “Subtly Inflected Sonorities,” Liner notes for November Steps, p. 4

[38] Tze-Ying Wu, “An Analytical Study of A String Around Autumn by Tōru Takemitsu,” D.M.A dissertation, Jacob School of Music, Indian, 2016

[39] Ōoka Makoto, A String Around Autumn, (trans.) Takako Lento and Onuma Tadayoshi, Rochester and Michigan: Oakland University, Katydid Books, p. 1:

[40] Ibid., p. 11.

[41] Takemitsu, as quoted in James Siddons, Tōru Takemitsu: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 2001, p. 37: “among whom are Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen, who given deep influence to my music.”

[42] Wu, “An Analytical Study of A String Around Autumn by Tōru Takemitsu,” p. 11

[43] Peter Burt, The Music of Tōru Takemitsu, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 224

[44] Siddons, Tōru Takemitsu: A Bio-Bibliography, p. 37

[45] Takemitsu, Confronting Silence, p.119

[46] Jeong Woo Jin, “Comparative analysis of Tōru Takemitsu's recent works Rain Tree and Rain Spell and Ta-ryung (Lamentation): An original piece for chamber orchestra,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1987, pp. 34–35.

[47] Wu, “An Analytical Study of A String Around Autumn by Tōru Takemitsu”

[48] Wu, “An Analytical Study of A String Around Autumn by Tōru Takemitsu”

[49] Oliver Knussen, as quoted in Wu, “An Analytical Study of A String Around Autumn by Toru Takemitsu,” p. 74.

[-50] Translation from here