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Photo©Akira Kinoshita
Yoshihiro Kanno

Searching for the Lost Heritage

National Theatre, Gagaku Performance “Sangincho Gyuraku”

Yoshihiro Kanno
Composer and Professor at Waseda University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, School of Intermedia Art and Science

A “recreated” gagaku (Japanese court music) performance titled “Sangincho Gyuraku,” was held at the National Theatre on June 12, in an attempt to search for a lost heritage. Almost everyone is aware that gagaku is a traditional Japanese music. However, when you consider the number of people who have actually listened to it, it seems more like a “traditional music forgotten from the Japanese spirit” than a “lost heritage.” That said, at the gagaku and shomyo (Buddhist ceremonial music, which should be celebrated in line with the Gregorian chants) performances of recent years held at the National Theatre several times a year, are always completely sold-out. It’s true, then, that there are more people who are trying to recapture the meaning of how the primal scene of Japanese people’s music can be found in the Japanese traditional music forgotten from the Japanese spirit. With this background, a motivated attempt was made to recapture an old “tradition” by recreating a musical piece that had lost its heritage.

“Sangincho Gyuraku” Gagaku (Photo: National Theatre)

“Sanju Niso” Gagaku and Shomyo (Photo: National Theatre)

The heritage of Japanese gagaku began in the 8th century, while shomyo is thought to have begun in the 6th century. In Western music, the Gregorian chants developed first, after which the development of instrumental music followed for accompaniment. From this example, it may seem that in Japan also, shomyo existed first and gagaku followed in connection, but this is not the case. These two styles are deeply related and were often performed in the same ceremony, but it seems that these were separate styles of music and were simply “performed simultaneously.”

The shomyo piece titled “Sanju Niso,” for which the words, “Both musician and shomyo singer should bring their spirits together, understand the piece well, and train together,” are recorded, and the gagaku piece titled “Sangincho Gyuraku” were recreated and performed together, realizing a true “chorus ensemble.” Just as the old words noted above state, Sukeyasu Shiba, a great dragon-flute player, recreated the piece based on an old musical score that was lost during the Meiji Period, practiced with the shomyo chorus, and brought the lost heritage back to the limelight. Of course, there is no way to know how the “real” original piece was played. However, the National Theatre and Sukeyasu Shiba’s recreation based on careful research of the old score is more than enough to win our trust. The effect contained a new sound—something that does not exist in current gagaku—and it was quite enjoyable as music. I would also like to commend how the first stage was the recreated gagaku performance of “Sangincho Gyuraku,” and the second stage was the gagaku and shomyo performance “after training together.”

“Sanju Niso” Gagaku (Photo: National Theatre)

“Sanju Niso” Shomyo (Photo: National Theatre)

Yoshihiro Kanno
composer and professor at Waseda University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, School of Intermedia Art and Science

University of Fine Arts and Music with the Master's Degree in 1980.In 1979, he won the Prince Pierre of Monaco Musical Composition Award for his "String Quartet". In 1994, his "Les Temps des Miroirs--L'Horizontale du Vent" for ryuteki, sho, and electronic music became the recommended work of International Music Council sponsored by UNESCO.
Kanno's compositions are founded on three genres--the Western orchestral music, the Japanese traditional instruments, and the computer music.
Employing the various elements freely and unboundedly, he has composed a number of pieces based on Japanese idioms and traditions.