This recording, the first of three volumes reflecting on the history of the koto, brings together five representative pieces from the classical repertoire for the Japanese koto, composed between the mid?7th and mid?9th century. This corresponds roughly to the period of Japanese history known as the Edo, or Tokugawa period (1600-1868), when the country was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family from their castle in Edo, the former name of present–day Tokyo. The strict rule of an authoritarian adminstration and a rigid policy of national seclusion worked together to produce a relatively long period of freedom from the disruption of internal and external strife, during which the country changed and developed dramatically in social, economic and cultural terms.
The music on this disc is largely a product of the daimyo, samurai and chonin merchant–class culture of the kamigata region of Kyoto and Osaka. This style of koto playing, known as the Ikuta school after the great master Kengyo Ikuta (1656-1750), also spread to and became popular in Edo and throughout the country soon after its emergence, but the new performance style championed by Kengyo Yamada (1757-1817) from the late years of the 18th century in Edo became extremely popular there, overwhelming the Edo representatives of the Ikuta school. Now the Yamada school is still largely confined to the area around modern Tokyo whereas many Ikuta school players, like Nanae, are also based there, and the Ikuta school dominates the koto-music scene in most other regions of the country.
The koto belongs to the family of long zithers, and as with many other Japanese instruments, it can be traced back to the Asian mainland. Its history in Japan spans more than twelve centuries. The slightly convex body of the instrument is a hollow shell made of kiri, or paulownia wood, and its strings are traditionally made of silk, although nylon strings are now in common use.
Booklet annotation is provided by Associate Professor Steven G. Nelson, the only Western member of staff at the new Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts, Kyoto, Japan.
On this CD we hear two performers in the prime of their careers, Nanae Yoshimura and Satomi Fukami.
Yoshimura was born in Tokyo and began to study the koto from the age of three, receiving her teaching license with the Matsu-no-mi Kai of Ikuta school koto performance at the age of sixteen. She studied the classical repertoire for koto and jiuta shamisen with Soju Nosaka of the Kyãsh?lineage, and contemporary works for koto and nijugen (twenty–stringed koto) with Nosaka's daughter, Keiko Nosaka. She has been especially active as a specialist on the latter instrument since the early 1970s.
The ideas that shaped Yoshimura's selection of the music on this disc were: music for the koto developed and reached its completion in the Edo period, and the pieces chosen should reflect the flow of that history; they should be representative, and set out in the order in which they were composed; the pieces should also be selected for the representative status of their composers and those selected according to these three criteria should perform a well–shaped program complete in itself. The result was the selection of Rokudan, Midare, Zangetsu, Gondan-ginuta and Chidori.
Fukami, who appears on tracks 3 and 4, began to study the koto from an early age, and later studied with the late Kiyoko Miyagi (a former 'Living National Treasure') and Kazue Miyagi.