Paths (1994)
In Memoriam Witold Lutoslawski
for Trumpet
Toru Takemitsu (1931-1996)

Biographical Info

Toru Takemitsu was a self-taught Japanese composer who combined elements of Eastern and Western music and philosophy to create a unique sound world. Some of his early influences were the sonorities of Debussy, and Messiaen’s use of nature imagery and modal scales. There is a certain influence of Webern in Takemitsu’s use of silence, and Cage in his compositional philosophy, but his overall style is uniquely his own. Takemitsu believed in music as a means of ordering or contextualizing everyday sound in order to make it meaningful or comprehensible. His philosophy of “sound as life” lay behind his incorporation of natural sounds, as well as his desire to juxtapose and reconcile opposing elements such as Orient and Occident, sound and silence, and tradition and innovation. From the beginning, Takemitsu wrote highly experimental music involving improvisation, graphic notation, unusual combinations of instruments and recorded sounds. The result is music of great beauty and originality. It is usually slowly paced and quiet, but also capable of great intensity. The variety, quantity and consistency of Takemitsu’s output are remarkable considering that he never worked within any kind of conventional framework or genre. In addition to the several hundred independent works of music, he scored over ninety films and published twenty books.

Takemitsu had no important teachers, and his musical career really began with the formation of the Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) to promote and perform mixed-media art works. It was Stravinsky’s acclaim of the Requiem for strings in 1959 that launched Takemitsu’s international career. The next few years produced a wide variety of works including Takemitsu’s prolific film work, and numerous new music concerts and festivals that culminated in 1967 with a commission for the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic. By this time, Takemitsu had begun using traditional Japanese instruments in his music. November Steps is one of his most successful combinations of Eastern and Western music; Takemitsu’s style was created from, and rooted in both. Takemitsu’s international fame skyrocketed after this premiere, flooding him with commissions and honors that established him as one of the most influential Japanese composers of the century.

Paths for trumpet was first performed by Hakan Hardenberger at the concert “Hommage a Witold Lutoslawski” at the Warsaw Autumn Festival on September 21, 1994.  The piece is also dedicated to Hardenberger.

Suggested Equipment

It is written for C trumpet with extensive harmon mute usage.  I used a Marcus Bona fiberglass harmon and my Eclipse C for this audio clip.


Practice/Performance Tips

I was introduced to this piece through hearing it on Hardenberger’s CD, Emotion, and was very moved by its’ emotional gravity and somber tone.  There is a dialogue between the open and muted trumpet that tells a powerful story.  There is nothing “gimmicky” about this unaccompanied work; no explorations of extended techniques; range, or tonguing acrobatics – just a very deep melody.

So then I bought the piece to learn it myself.  When it finally came my first thought was, “Holy #$%^!”  Looking at the sheet music of this melancholy work is incredibly intimidating!  Listening to it seemed so harmless…  Takemitsu apparently took nothing for granted and spelled out every bit of nuance and rubato he was hoping for.  This resulted in some (in my opinion) overly complicated rhythms.  Here is the opening phrase, and this is one of the more simple ones!

Don’t get me wrong, I love this piece, but really; there is an instance where we are playing what amounts to a little more than a half note and he notated it with quarter tied to triplet eighth tied to triplet quarter tied to a sixteenth.  Why do we need to know about this hidden rhythmic subdivision in an unaccompanied piece?

I have heard about a school of thought some composers take in writing their music purposefully complex so that it will only attempted to be played by “serious” musicians.  I have reviewed Stravinky’s Soldier’s Tale here on this site, and those of us that have played it know the many meter changes seem to be more complicated than the music needs.  However in the case of the Soldier’s Tale, the rhythmic complexity is indeed needed, just not perhaps in all parts all the time.  For example, a simple melody may be accompanied by a rhythmically complex background or visa versa.

In the case of Paths, I wonder if the notational complexity actually adds to the performance of this work.  It is such a gentle, flowing, introspective and emotional piece that in my mind simpler notation with the liberty of rubato would put the performer in a more calm state.  This would lessen some anxiety in the performer and perhaps warrant an even more soulful performance.

Suggested Recordings

Hakan Hardenberger – Emotion