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The Modal World of Toru Takemitsu part II: Rosedale

Now I must say, that for complexity, the only other piece I have come across that is remotely comparable to this piece is the chromatic fantasia and fugue BWV 903 by J. S. Bach. I wasn’t expecting that, but that is part of the excitement of doing score analysis.

Now the opening phrase has been described by others (1) as ‘being derived from a nine note scale that resembles the octatonic scale in Messiaen’s limited transposition Mode II with one extra note’, well I beg to differ. Firstly, that means nothing to me as the direction that the music is going in is not described, and therefore the likely point of resolution is going to be missed. I prefer the seven note scale process, helping me plot the patterns and changes of modes throughout.

This is the current approach to the opening from the above mentioned source, ‘The first chord created is a C# minor sus4 (?) that is followed by a D# half-diminished seventh chord, which then crescendos to a C dominant seventh chord in third inversion. After that, decrescendos to a C# minor seventh sus#4(?), and the phrase is then concluded by an E harmonic played on the fifth string at the 19th fret with the right hand.’ Ok, so to sum it up: C#minorsus4(?) – D# m7b5 – C7/Bb – C#m7sus#4 (?). Now my approach. (I am not dismissing this chordal approach, but to me it doesn’t seem to explain much.)

I would put it like this: The initial key of G Major ( I have put the label of G Major on it just for a point of reference) leads to the simultaneous change back a fifth and up (+1) to D Melodic, then a single change via D Melodic (+1) to E Neapolitan Major. Another simultaneous modulation occurs, this time to E Locrian natural 7 via the E Neapolitan minor scale before the final single change to G Melodic b5 via the F Harmonic Major scale. So the pattern is:

2 changes – 1 change – 2 changes – 1 change =

G Major – D Melodic – E Neapolitan Major – E Locrian natural 7 – G Melodic b5

Below is the score example. The change in scales used are marked in red.

NB: If you are unsure what a simultaneous modulation is, I would direct you to my post on the subject here:

Now, I need to make it clear that I have altered the C# that is tied all the way to the end of the phrase to Db. It makes no sense to have C and C# being played together when a Db would suffice and make it clearer what is happening, and that there is no other D note anywhere to be seen. Sometimes, especially in modern writing, all meaning is lost as enharmonic equivalents are ignored, intermingled and the composer’s intention is obfuscated, intentionally or otherwise.

The rest of the piece is as complex or even more so. Too much for a post on here, perhaps a longer one at some point or a separate score. (If you are interested you could message me.)

So, to recap. The ‘theme’ of the first movement is continued with the focus on Melodic b5 and the other b5 scales for the first section, but this gives way around the end of the first section into a series of changes in and around E Harmonic Major (E F# G# A B C D#) to A Hungarian minor (A B C D# E F G#), as you can see they are only one note different, flipping back and forward again between the two scales.

The third section is really quite unusual, some of the scales used are quite out there, fascinating to watch TT’s command of moving in and out, further and back, like a jazz player, some of the harmonic palettes he is drawing from is really obscure but it is observable. (For those with the book, he is drawing from scales in the 30’s and 40’s even). Then he returns to the E Harmonic Major – A Hungarian minor fluctuation once more, all the way to the close of the piece.

Takemitsu’s modal style is becoming more apparent now, with these two pieces laid out before you. He avoids the major scale almost obsessively and has half a dozen basic scales he uses as the main tools in his toolbox. They are:

1. Melodic

2. Neapolitan Major

3. Harmonic Major

4. Melodic b5

5. Harmonic b5

6. Neapolitan Major b5

I would say, at least in this piece so far, more than 50% of the music is spent in the sounds of these scales and their modes. I look forward to revealing the next and final instalment of In The Woods: Muir Woods.

Thanks for reading. My book is available at:

(1) A Performer's Guide to Toru Takemitsu's in the Woods Matthew George Dunlap, Florida State University Libraries Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations The Graduate School 2008

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