Marco Blaauw plays Toru Takemitsu's trumpet solo Paths (1994) and explains the unique qualities of this "melancholic obituary".
I can well imagine Toru Takemitsu traveling through Japan, not to capture different aspects of the moon, but let's say to experience the wind whistling through different trees, and returning to the city with a gift. This gift consists of the transformation of nature into art. (John Cage)
Takemitsu's music uses a language combining classical Western music (we hear traces of Webern, Messiaen, Debussy, Cage) with a Japanese sound world (using traditional Japanese instruments, elements from traditional music, and incorporating sounds of nature). The result is a music of incredible beauty and originality. It is usually slowly paced and quiet, but also capable of great intensity.
The trumpet never played a significant role in his œuvre, so I was surprised and extremely pleased to learn that Takemitsu had committed to writing a solo for trumpet!
After witnessing the premiere of Paths for trumpet solo at the Warsaw Autumn Festival on September 21, 1994, I better understood his choice.
In February that year, Witold Lutosławski, one of Poland's most influential composers and conductors, had past away. To honor him, the Warsaw Autumn festival commissioned works from composer friends. Takemitsu was one of them, and he chose to write for the trumpet and nobody less then Hakan Hardenberger.
In many cultures around the world, including Japanese culture and Western classical music tradition, the trumpet often appears at the gate between life and death. The trumpet, or its precursors such as the conch shell, animal horn, or didgeridoo, are often used to call out to the living, honoring the human who passed and announcing the transformation of spirit.
Paths is a melancholic obituary. The slow-developing melody starts off with almost incomprehensible rhythm and harmony in the muted trumpet. The sound of this Harmon mute reminds us immediately of Miles Davis playing a soft jazz ballad, but it also takes us to the traditional music of the shakuhachi, the ancient Japanese end-blown flute made of bamboo. Only when the trumpet suddenly shines forth without the mute, answering its own question, do we get a sense of grounding and harmony. The open sound of the trumpet is more heroic and filled with hope. The following muted passage confirms the structure of this solo piece: The introspective ballad of the muted trumpet is contrasted by the expressive lines of the open trumpet, as if Takemitsu brings his internal dialog to sound, allowing space for sadness and happy memories in one single breath.
Marco Blaauw, October 2020