Takemitsu, T / Satie, E -  Le Fils Des Etoiles Flute/Harp

Takemitsu, T / Satie, E - Le Fils Des Etoiles Flute/Harp

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Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu had a deep devotion to French music. This dated back to his first exposure to any Western music when he was a teenaged draftee in the Imperial Japanese Army and an officer played a recording of a French chanson. When he became a composer, his strongest influences were Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen.

This influence also led to his interest in music of Erik Satie (1866 - 1925), who was in many ways a precursor of Debussy. His non-Romantic, calm, and meditative style was adopted as an element in Debussy's music; the same three adjectives can be applied to much of Takemitsu's music as well. Takemitsu's arrangement of this Satie piano work illustrates how in some ways the two composers' music share points of resemblance.

Satie's music for Le Fils des étoiles (The Son of the Stars) comes from about the same period as his most famous work, the Three Gymnopédies. It shares with it the same modal flavor, sense of timelessness, and static quality.

The music originated in a brief friendship with Joséphin Péladan, founder of a mystic organization called Rose + Croix du Temple et du Graal (Rose + Cross of the Temple and of the Grail). Péladan sought to effect a reconciliation between Catholicism and Rosicrucianism and was also affected by Wagnerianmysticism, particularly that of the opera Parsifal. Péladan appointed Satie the "official composer" of the Temple. It is likely that Péladan was attracted to the antique, mystic, and ritual quality of Satie's music.

As such, Satie composed music for Le Fils des étoiles, a mystery-play. The original version was for flute and harp, but Satie published it as three preludes for piano. The music had elements of radicalism -- the harmonies were free-flowing, with no sense of a cadence. The directionlessness of the music suggests an eternal music that goes on outside the bounds of the composition as performed. Moreover, the music was notated without bar lines.

Satie wrote a bit more music for Péladan's organization, but came to a breaking point with it quite soon, in 1892. Péladan wanted music that engaged the emotions on a mystic level, while Satie avoided harmonic progressions that might have an emotional effect.

In 1975, Toru Takemitsu created a version of a prelude for flute and harp. It is very unlikely that Takemitsu's version is a re-creation of Satie's original version. Takemitsu, though self-taught, was a much better trained composer and had devoted long study to instrumental technique. In this transcription, he takes the unusual step of requiring some of the strings of the harp to be tuned to notes other than the seven standard diatonic tones of the major scale. This results sometimes in a stronger sonority, but mostly it was Takemitsu's solution to the question of achieving the most practical pedaling (i.e., adjusting a set of strings to play sharp or flat) to play Satie's streams of chords. The effect of Takemitsu's arrangement is suitably mystic.



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