Kangen (Instrumental music)
Kangen is an ensemble of musical instruments performing Tōgaku, or Gagaku music of Chinese origin. In ancient times, it also performed Komagaku, or Gagaku music of Korean origin, but that practice ceased sometime in the course of history. In Tōgaku, there are six musical modes: ichikotsu-chō, hyō-jō, sō-jō, ōshiki-chō, banshiki-chō, and taishiki-chō, whose keynotes correspond to D, E, G, A, H and E in Western music, respectively. The pieces to be performed today are all played in hyō-jō (mode with keynote E).
Netori (tuning) in hyō-jō
Hyō-jō, with the key note close to E, has the tonal scale of Ritsu as opposed to Ryo. Netori is a short introductory piece usually played at the beginning of a Kangen programme in order to tune the instruments and indicate to the audience the mode and mood of the music to follow, thus setting the tonal atmosphere of the concert. It can be described as a highly stylized “tuning” in Western music terms.
Netori is played first with the wind instruments, shō (mouth-organ), hichiriki (oboe) and fue (flute), then followed by the percussion instrument, kakko (drum), and the string instruments, biwa (lute) and sō (harp).
Koromo-gae (Saibara, literally songs of horse-grooms)
Saibara are old Japanese songs composed under the influence of continental melodies in the early Heian period (794-1192). The words of these folksongs are sung to the accompaniment of T’ang musical instruments.
Saibara were performed on such occasions as the Emperor’s Gyoyū, a formal concert in the Imperial Court played with the wind and string instruments. After the Kamakura period (1192-1333), Saibara went into decline and for a time seemed to have been completely forgotten but the songs were gradually revived since the Edo period (1603-1868) .
Koromo-gae is the most famous Saibara song. Starting out as a folksong, it was developed into an entertainment music for the nobility, reaching a highly artistic level. It came to be sung to the accompaniment of wind and string instruments introduced from the Continent and was frequently performed in the Heian period.
The lyrics of Koromo-gae (seasonal change of dress) are as follows：
“Koromo-gae sen ya, Sha Kindachi! Waga kinu wa, Nohara, shinohara, Hagi no hanasuri-ya, Sha Kindachi-ya!”
“Let us change our silken robes, (ahead of the season and other people)
My robe is dyed with ground flowers of tree clovers in the field (Isn’t it the trend?)
This is a vocal music piece, whose tune brings about an altogether relaxed and graceful feeling.
The chief singer in Saibara sings solo through the opening words of the song, “Koromo-gae”, clacking the shakubyōshi, a percussion instrument consisting of two wooden clappers. Then, all the singers join him in unison after the words “senya” onwards, to the accompaniment of shō, hichiriki, ryūteki, biwa, and sō.
This piece was played originally in hyō-jō mode (mode with keynote E) and is noted for its pithy, elegant melody and clear-cut form. The origin of this piece is not clearly known, some attributing it to Emperor Wen (reigned180-157 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty of China, and others to Japanese sources.
There are three pieces with this title in different modes, which are Hyō-jō, Ōshiki-chō and Banshiki-chō. Among them “Etenraku” in the Hyō-jō mode, the most famous Kangen, is said to have been the original version of “Kuroda-bushi”, a well known Japanese folksong.
Rōei is masterpieces of Japanese or Chinese poetry set to music and chanted in chorus. It is said to have been most popular during the mid-Heian period (794-1192).
Kashin used to be played at Court on the occasion of “Tōka” poetry gathering at the beginning of the year. (Men and women skilled in poetry-making and dancing were summoned to the gathering in order to chant and dance the New Year’s felicitations.)
In Rōei, a Chinese poem is usually sung in the Japanese rendering of Chinese characters except this piece of Kashin, which is specially sung in the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese characters. The poem is chanted three times but the poem is sung from the beginning of the verse only in the second reading, and in the other two readings it is sung from the middle part of the verse. It is also unique to this piece that the poem is chanted in the same tune throughout. Today, only the second reading is performed, that is, the verse is sung in full only once.
Rōei is customarily played to the accompaniment of Kangen, and as it does not have its own fixed Kyūon (base note), it is played in the tone of the Kangen. Today’s performance will be in Hyōjō-chō as its base note.
The poem reads as follows:
Ka-shin Rei-ge-tsu Kan-mu-kyoku,
Ban-zei Sen-shū Raku-bi-yō.
(On this auspicious moonlit night, Great is our rejoicing.
For ages, myriad ages, May it be everlasting.)
Keitoku： Virtues of the Barnyard Cock
Two alternate origins are ascribed to this piece. Some say that it was composed by translating the five virtues traditionally accredited to the barnyard cock, i.e. the verbal arts, martial arts, bravery, benevolence and sincerity into the five notes composing the Pentatonic scale (Kyū, Shō, Kaku, Chi, and U), while others believe that it was composed in celebration of the Chinese triumph over a southern rival state, called Keitō-koku (literally, ‘cockscomb state’).
In the Heian period (794-1192), this piece was played on 7 January on the occasion of the Aouma Festival, when white horses from each of the two court stables were brought to the courtyard and shown to the Emperor, after which a court banquet was hosted by the Emperor for his subjects. Since the character meaning “barnyard cock” in Japanese is the homonym of “kei,” a word meaning congratulations, this piece is considered to be auspicious music.
Bugaku (Dance and music)
Bugaku dance and musical pieces, which originated on the Asian continent, are broadly classified into two categories, sahō-no-mai (dances of the left) and uhō-no-mai (dances of the right). The dances of the left originated in China, and in them the dancers appear at stage left before entering the stage. The dances of the right came to Japan via Korea, and in them the dancers appear on the right before entering the stage.
Manzairaku and Shundeika are from the dances of the left, and Nasori and Bairo are from the dances of the right.
Manzairaku (Longevity Revel)
In ancient China there was a belief that when a sage emperor reigned, a phoenix would fly overhead and sing “Manzai! Manzai!” in an auspicious omen of the emperor’s longlife. Manzai means ten thousand years.
In the bugaku piece Manzairaku (literally “ten thousand years of music”), the music is said to represent the voice of the phoenix, while the dance evokes its form and movements.From ancient times, this piece has been customarily played at enthronement ceremonies, celebratory feasts and similar auspicious occasions.
The four dancers wear phoenix headdresses and are costumed in kasane shōzoku, with the right sleeve hanging loose at the shoulder. The movements are elegant and stately.
Shundeika (The Garden Flowers in Spring)
According to legend, the T’ang Emperor Hsuan Tsung (712-756), lamenting that the blossoms were so late in blooming, went up onto a tall tower and played a tune on his flute, when all of a sudden a hundred different flowers in the garden bloomed forth in profusion. The tune he is supposed to have played came to be known therefore as Shundeika (The Garden Flowers in Spring).
This piece is said to have been either introduced by Kure no Makura, who was sent to China as a dance trainee during the reign of Emperor Kanmu (781-806), or composed by Wanibe no Ōtamaro.
It is divided into two parts. When only the first part is performed, it is called Shundeiraku. When both parts are danced, it is called Shundeika.
The four dancers wear a ken-ei headdress with a floral decoration, and take the right sleeve of their ban-e-shōzoku costumes off their shoulders. They also wear a long sword in their belts. As they circle the stage in the latter part, the dancers evoke the unfolding and closing of flowers, making this a most elegant and refined dance.
This piece was introduced to Japan from Korea but its origin is unknown. It is also called Sōryū-no Mai (Dragon Pair Dance), a dance representing a male and a female dragon merrily disporting themselves. In olden days, it is said that this was performed to extol the victor in traditional games of Sumō wrestling or other competitions.
The two dancers wear the ryōtō-shōzoku, a kind of fringed tunic with pantaloons, covering their faces with masks, and holding a baton in their right hand. Theyperform the ha (intermediate) and kyū (climax) movements of the music.
The music for this bugaku piece is said to have originated in India and been composed by a music master named Hanrōtoku. In former times, it was believed that if played before a battle, Bairo had the uncanny power to predict victory for the army that could hear in it the sound of the mysterious shamō note.
The music is thought to have been introduced to Japan by Baramon Sōjō, a Brahman priest from India, and Buttetsu, a monk from Indochina. The dance, on the other hand, was choreographed in Japan. The dance is said to evoke a battle between Crown Prince Shōtoku (574-622) and the Mononobe clan, which the former won after hearing the sweet shamō note in this music. The bugaku was performed every year at Tōshōdaiji temple in Nara duringa ceremony to celebrate Buddha’s birth.
The ha part of the music is played in hyō-jō and yatara-hyōshi (compound time of 2/2 and 2/3). In the kyū section, a part called Shinra-ryō-Ō (a Tōgaku piece) is played in Ichikotsu-chō.
The four dancers are dressed in ryōtō-shōzoku (a chasuble-like, sleeveless, open-sided costume) and wear a head dress called makkō. They are also girded with a long sword and carry a halberd and shield. In the middle of the ha part, the dancers draw their swords and perform a sword-dance. Towards the end of the kyū section, the dancers pick up their halberds and shields and go off stage, brandishing them in a dance movement called the Bairo Rout.