Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

(b) The indigenous tradition

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(b) The indigenous tradition.

The earliest documented genre of indigenous Ryūkyū art music comprises the songs known as omoro, the texts of which appear in the major classic of Ryukyuan literature, the Omorosōshi, which was compiled in three stages in 1531, 1613 and 1623. The songs are thought to date from between the 12th and 17th centuries and were performed by an individual (or perhaps a guild of court musicians) known as Aka Inko or Omoro Neyagari, who has acquired legendary status as the founder of Okinawan music. Performances were given at court ceremonies by a male choir. Only 47 of the total of 1248 songs contained in the Omorosōshi appear to have been sung. This number had dwindled to a mere five by the late 19th century, and the tradition is now extinct. There was no formal notation for this style of singing; the only glimpse available of the tradition can be gained from the scores in Western notation of the five omoro produced by the Okinawan researcher Yamanouchi Seihin in 1912, after a meeting with the last representative of the tradition.

The classical tradition of Ryukyuan art music consists primarily of a corpus of songs (fushi) accompanied by the sanshin, which are contained in anthologies known as the kunkunshī, a term referring to both the anthologies and the system of musical notation. Almost all the songs employ poetic texts in the indigenous ryūka form consisting of a single four-line verse of 8–8–8–6 syllables. A variant of the ryūka form is the syncretic nakafū form, which combines the 7–5 syllable structure of Japanese waka with the ryūka, resulting in texts with the syllabic structure 7(or 5)–5–8–6. The texts are sung in the Okinawan literary language based on Shuri dialect, the language of the Ryukyuan nobility.

The earliest extant kunkunshī is a single volume work compiled by Yakabi Chōki in the mid-18th century. It contains the notation of the sanshin parts and ryūka texts of 117 songs that have remained the central items in the repertory. The kunkunshī used today in the largest school of performance, the Nomura-ryū, was compiled by Nomura Anchō and Matsumura Shinshin in 1869. Consisting of three main volumes and an appendix, the Nomura kunkunshī contains sanshin notation and texts of over 200 songs. The tradition of sanshin-accompanied song is now synonymous with Ryukyuan classical music and is maintained in three schools: Tansui, Nomura and Afuso.

The ordering of the songs in the Nomura kunkunshī accords approximately with the customary generic classification of the song repertory into ha-bushi, nkashi-bushi, pieces for solo singing and regional folk songs.

The first volume, comprising 37 pieces, consists primarily of ha-bushi, relatively short and structurally simple songs originating within the art tradition. They are described in the aesthetic treatise Gensei no maki (1789) as being ‘imbued with the impermanent spirit of the floating world’. The volume begins with four songs (Kajadifū-bushi, Unna-bushi, Nakagusuku hantamē-bushi, Kuti-bushi) from a set of five that was originally performed on occasions when the king of Ryukyu was in attendance. This set, known as Gujinfū gokyoku (‘five pieces in the honourable presence’), continues to be the most frequently performed ‘suite’ (chukusai) in the repertory, sung at concerts and celebratory occasions of all kinds.

The second volume, comprising 29 pieces, consists primarily of nkashi-bushi (‘ancient songs’), a genre subdivided into jun nkashi-bushi (‘semi-ancient songs’), nkashi-bushi and ufu nkashi-bushi (‘great ancient songs’). Nkashi-bushi are described in Gensei no maki as ‘singing of the glory of past ages, when the world enjoyed such peace that not even the branches of trees were disturbed’. The ten pieces at the head of the second volume are the central items in the repertory. The first five (Chikuten-bushi, Janna-bushi, Shui-bushi, Shudun-bushi, Akatsichi-bushi) constitute a set referred to as nkashi-bushi in the narrow sense. The second five are interspersed with short songs, known generically as chirashi. These five pieces (Chaya-bushi, Nkashi habira-bushi, Naga Janna-bushi, Naka-bushi, Jūshichihachi-bushi) are the ufu nkashi-bushi. Although the conventional assumption that they predate other items in the repertory is clearly erroneous, they are the longest and the most complex and diverse pieces, both technically and structurally.

Whereas all the pieces in the first two volumes employ the honchōshī tuning of the sanshin, the third volume begins with 34 pieces in the niagi tuning. The high tessitura of the vocal parts, the lyrical content and the relatively free metrical structure of these pieces suits them to solo singing. The first five pieces in this volume (Fishi-bushi, Kwamuchā-bushi, Sanyama-bushi, Nakafū-bushi, Shukkwē-bushi) again constitute a set, in this case of solo songs. These are the principal solo items in the classical repertory and are often performed together at concerts (see fig.38 for notation and transcription of one version of Nakafū-bushi). The remaining items in the third volume are pieces in rare tunings and regional folk songs in the honchōshī tuning.

The fourth volume was compiled later than the first three volumes and contains approximately 60 pieces. It is an appendix to the three main volumes and consists of regional folk songs, especially from Yaeyama, arranged in the classical style, and other pieces not included in the earlier three volumes (e.g. instrumental interludes to kumiodori music dramas and arrangements of danmono pieces originally for the koto).

Japan, §VIII, 1: Regional traditions, Ryūkyū.

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