Jablonski, Marek (Michael)



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(iii) Schools.


(a) Tsukushi-goto.

(b) The Yatsuhashi-ryū.

(c) Koto music in Ryūkyū.

(d) The Ikuta-ryū.

(e) The Yamada-ryū.

Japan, §II, 4(iii): Instruments and instrumental genres, Koto., ii) Schools.

(a) Tsukushi-goto.


During the last decades of the 16th century tsukushi-goto (named after a province in north-western Kyūshū) was created by a Buddhist priest, Kenjun (?1534–?1623), who established a new tradition, partly by selecting and arranging existing music and partly by composing new songs with koto accompaniment. Solo koto music of aristocratic origin had been played in northern Kyūshū since the end of the Heian period, and the growing political insecurity in Kyoto during the Kamakura (1192–1333) and Muromachi (1338–1573) periods led to increased cultural intercourse between the capital and south-western Honshū and northern Kyūshū, which were relatively safe. A popular pastime of the nobility during these periods was the improvisation of imayō (‘contemporary songs’). Such ‘noble imayō’ (distinct from ‘common imayō’; popular religious songs sung by the common people) often used the melody Etenraku as a vehicle for their poetry. Then, as now, Etenraku was one of the most popular compositions of gagaku. Such etenraku-imayō are the prototypes of the song cycles with koto accompaniment (kumiuta) of tsukushi-goto. Fuki, the oldest and most influential kumiuta, has been shown to be a direct descendant of such poetic improvisation on a section of the music of Etenraku. Besides aristocratic traditions, zokkyoku (‘popular music’) is said to be another source from which Kenjun drew. Its influence, however, was considerably less, and in the new arrangements the original character was lost. A third influence on tsukushi-goto, that of Chinese qin music, is often mentioned; so far, however, research has not established any relationship between them.

The most important part of the tsukushi-goto repertory consists of ten kumiuta by Kenjun. Normally the texts of these cycles were taken from old sources of high literary quality. It is typical of kumiuta that the poems of the individual songs (uta) were not related to one another. The musical structure of each uta tends to be strictly quadratic: eight phrases, each containing four bars in duple metre, already found in tsukushi-goto, later became standard in zokusō kumiuta.

Throughout the Edo period tsukushi-goto remained primarily the privilege of Buddhist priests and Confucian scholars, who respectfully preserved the aristocratic, ceremonial character of the music as originally established by Kenjun. Especially after the time of Genjo (d 1649), the second head of the school, restrictions were severe. Blind men – the professional musicians – and women were banned from instruction. Stylistic development within the school was minimal, and this, combined with the general aloofness of tsukushi-goto, caused stagnation. A serious decline began in the late 19th century with the rapid modernization of Japan. Today the school is almost extinct, and it is no longer possible to acquire sufficiently reliable information for scholarly research because the scores are incomplete and no performers of professional standard are still alive.

Japan, §II, 4(iii): Instruments and instrumental genres, Koto., ii) Schools.



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