Basic Knowledge about Pure Hogaku,
Traditional Japanese Music
So Sugiura (Lecturer of Saitama University)
- The Schools of Hogaku
There are several types of traditional Japanese music and the word
is used as a general inclusive term for this traditional music. This term is actually considered to be an abbreviation of
of the modern age), with
being an abbreviation of
(music of our nation). In its broader definition,
includes the ancient
music forms and the
music of the middle ages, but in general use the term
refers to traditional Japanese music born during or after the Japan’s Edo Period (17th to mid-19th centuries), including music for shamisen, koto, shakuhachi flute, biwa, etc.
Each of these music traditions has had various patron groups in each era. For example, gagaku was patronized by the imperial court or the shrines and temples, and noh music and Heike biwa music and other biwa and shakuhachi music was patronized by the samurai class (by high society after the Meiji Restoration of 1868), while shamisen music was supported by the common citizens in the Edo period (general public after the Meiji Restoration). It can be said that the diversity in musical expression and taste resulting from the different eras in which the traditions developed and the different social groups supporting them is one of the reasons that several different traditional art forms of music and performance have continued to exist simultaneously in Japan.
- The Classification and Development of Shamisen Music
When we speak off
music we are actually speaking about a tradition that is divided into numerous
. There are also a number of ways that these schools can be classified. Figure 1 shows a classification of shamisen music by where it is performed. In this case, the divisions are made between music that is part of a theater performance (the music for kabuki performances is classified as different from the music for puppet plays), music that is not part of a theater performance (purely for musical enjoyment) and other categories like music played as an accompaniment to work songs. Here, it is important to note that there are many cases of music that began as theater music and eventually came to be performed in non-theatrical scenes as time went by.
Furthermore, shamisen music can be classified as a branch of music sharing the same lineage with a family of musical traditions (including Joruri (dramatic ballads) and Hayari-uta (popular songs) that existed before the shamisen was imported into Japan in the mid-16th century via Ryukyu (today’s Okinawa) from its origins in China [Fig. 2]. Since it is music sharing a common lineage, the melodies tend to be similar. However, as the music evolved over time in accordance with the tastes of the different patronizing groups, slight differences began to emerge. Today, it is these differences, often so slight that only a specialist can identify them, that give the different schools their unique identity.
In Japanese, " schools " of music are referred to with the term ryuha , and further distinction is made between the ryu (schools) as used in figures 1 and 2, and the ha (branches) that exist within each school as smaller groups usually led by famous families of musicians in which a certain style is handed down from generation to generation.
- Differences in Repertoire Pieces
In both the shamisen and
traditions, the schools are so numerous that we sometimes hear stories like those of disappointed students who began studying the koto with the dream of someday being able to play the famous piece
Haru no Umi
(Spring Sea), only to find out later that the piece was not part of the repertoire of the particular school they were studying under. And, unlike in the Western music tradition, there are often cases where new pieces commissioned by one school from a particular composer, or pieces composed by a musician of a particular lineage, are not allowed to be performed by musicians from other schools.
In other words, even the most famous pieces belong to the repertoire of only one school, and even if there is a piece by the same name in another school’s repertoire it, the music will be different. In the case of the performers themselves, it is also very unusual for a musician to have pieces from two or more schools in his or her repertoire. So, for example, it is very rare to find a performer who can play the Echigo Jishi of the naga-uta (long epic songs) tradition and also play Tsugaru style shamisen.
- Differences in Performance Format
Since different types of music have different purposes, they are naturally performed in different ways. In the case of
, for example, it is a form of music that evolved with the kabuki theater, where its role was either as accompaniment to the kabuki actors’ dance or to provide what might be called background music for the play. Kabuki adopts many elements from the older Noh-kyogen theater tradition of the middle ages. One of these elements is the
instrument ensemble consisting of flute, drum and the large and small hand-held
drums. This is why
is most often performed with a combination of voice [the epic narrative],
ensemble. In short,
evolved as the only music form in which these three parts are performed together on stage, while other
music is only for voice and
. Also, the number of voices and
performing together at once will differ with the different schools.
The shamisen music falling within the theater music tradition is performed with the musicians sitting on a separate platform from the stage where the play is acted out, and this is meant to show that the music and narrative come from a different world than that of the actors on stage. This same style of performance is used when the music is performed separately from the kabuki play. In contrast, the koto music called ji-uta sokyoku music is originally what one could call chamber music, performed in tatami rooms. That is why it is now performed with the musicians sitting directly on the stage floor (or on a slightly raised platform). Hogaku continues to abide by rules of performance format and staging like these that are based in the way the music was originally performed. As a result, these rules by which the music is performed and things like the shapes of the music stands used can tell us today where the origins of the music lie.
Figure1 ©So Sugiura
Figure2 ©So Sugiura
Understanding the Figures
The solid lines in the chart show music genres that are considered direct descendants of the oldest traditions (to the left) in the genealogy of traditional Japanese music, while the dotted lines show genre rooted more generally in the preceding genre. All the names shown in the chart are of schools that still exist today. It should be noted that the division between " utai (sung)" and " katari (spoken)" traditions is based on a historical perspective and not on the actual contents of the music. As for the joruri genre, it began to divide into many branches in the early Edo period after the introduction of the shamisen and, as a result, includes many schools today.