In Tōru Takemitsu's Words: November Steps
In Confronting Silence: Selected Writings by Tōru Takemitsu, the Japanese composer writes about his contemporaries; on nature, which has influenced his composition; on film and painting; on relationships between East and West; on traditional Japanese music; and on his own compositions.
In this excerpt, Takemitsu expresses his initial uncertainty about the use of traditional Japanese instruments in November Steps.
At first I had considerable reservations about using biwa and shakuhachi in this new work [November Steps]. Perhaps the fact that it was to be premiered in the United States concerned me in that I feared that it might be taken as just another exotic work. Then too, I thought it might be foolish to waste my own efforts in experiments in mixing traditional Japanese with western music. Last year  I wrote Eclipse for biwa and shakuhachi. That was not as much an experiment with these instruments as it as an attempt to tap the demonic powers locked up in them. Impressed by the performance of Tsuruta and Yokoyama, I found my world of sound widened and deepened.
I received the commission from the New York Philharmonic and knew that Seiji Ozawa would be the conductor. I conferred with him about the work and we were able to speak quite frankly about the problems. After hearing Eclipse and being fully aware of the dangers of using traditional Japanese instruments with orchestra, it was he who suggested that I write for biwa and shakuhachi. At one point he remarked to me, "You are not writing a special kind of Japanese music. No one else will be responsible if it ends up sounding exotic."
Excerpt from November Steps (1971) from Confronting Silence: Selected Writings by Tōru Takemitsu, published by Scarecrow Press, Inc., appears by permission of the publisher. This material is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher for permission to copy, distribute, or reprint.
Confronting Silence: Selected Writings by Tōru Takemitsu can be purchased here.
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