Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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(c) Koto music in Ryūkyū.

Supplementing its role as an accompanying instrument in Ryukuan classical and folk music, in which it plays a role subsidiary to the sanshin, the Ryukyuan koto possesses a small but distinctive solo repertory of its own, consisting of instrumental pieces and songs, all with Japanese associations. The instrumental repertory consists of five sugagaki pieces (Takiotoshi sugagaki, Ji sugagaki, Edo sugagaki, Hyōshi sugagaki, San’ya sugagaki) and two danmono (Rokudan, Shichidan). The vocal repertory comprises three songs (Genji-bushi, Tsushima-bushi, Sentō-bushi).

The koto is thought to have been introduced into Ryūkyū in 1702 by Inamine Seijun, who had studied the Yatsuhashi-ryū in Satsuma. The sugagaki items he introduced on his return to Ryūkyū are short pieces for unaccompanied koto no longer extant in Japan. However, the titles of several appear in materials such as the Japanese koto primer Ōnusa (1699) and are thus known once to have been performed in Japan. Rokudan (‘six sections’) and Sachichidan (‘seven sections’) are similar to the Japanese versions of these two danmono, the main difference lying in the use of the anhemitonic pentatonic scale in the Ryukyuan version and the hemitonic pentatonic scale in the Japanese versions. Since Inamine Seijun studied the Yatsuhashi-ryū and not the Tsukushi-ryū, with which the anhemitonic pentatonic scale is associated in zokusō styles, and since composition of the danmono is attributed to Yatsuhashi Kengyō, the Ryukyuan versions are thought to reflect an early stage of development of the danmono within the Yatsuhashi-ryū, prior to their adaptation to the later anhemitonic pentatonic scale.

The three koto songs employ variants of Japanese texts contained in anthologies of ofunauta, songs to pray for safety at sea. Their titles and musical style also suggest a Japanese provenance, although no pieces with these names are known to have existed in Japanese music. They may, however, be the sole surviving remnants of the ofunauta musical tradition, which is thought to stretch back to the Heian period.

The earliest notation for the Ryukyuan koto is contained in the two-volume Koto kuroronshī compiled by Tedokon Junkan in 1895. This contains the ten items of the solo repertory together with the accompanying koto parts of a further 42 pieces from the sanshin repertory. The three-volume edition currently in use was compiled in 1940 and consists of 193 pieces.

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

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