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Pentatonic polyphony: a Japanese folk song deconstructed

arranged for violin, viola and piano

Year:  2023   ·  Duration:  3m 20s

Year:  2023
Duration:  3m 20s

Mary Celeste

Composer:   Mary Celeste

Films, Audio & Samples

Mary Celeste: Pentatonic Po...

Embedded audio
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Sample Score

Sample: first three pages of score

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This work was originally scored for alto saxophone, alto flute and piano.

I wrote this piece to see whether a polyphonic composition based on melodic phrases from a Japanese folk song could work as a piece of music in the Western art music tradition while still retaining a Japanese character and important features of the original: a pentatonic scale and an absence of harmony. Years later I still wonder uneasily whether, as a New Zealander of European descent, I had any right to use parts of a Japanese folk song as the basis for a composition. If I did, it rests on this:

In the 1970s and 1980s I lived in Japan for six years and studied Japanese folk song (minyo) in the traditional Japanese guild system. The folk song that was the inspiration for this piece was a song that our group performed and I knew it well.

When I left Japan my teacher expressed the wish that I would be a kind of ambassador for Japanese folk song and teach what I had learned to other Westerners. And I have done that.

However, in composing this piece I fear that I may have exceeded my permissions. I would be interested in feedback on this, especially from Japanese musicians and composers.

Contents note

The piece begins with a five-bar iteration of part of the folk song on which it was based then launches into the polyphony written by me.