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The Cosmic Metaphor of Toru Takemitsu's "Rain Tree Sketches"


Tomoko Isshiki, University of Houston



One of the most influential Japanese composers in the late twentieth century, Toru Takemitsu (1930-96) created a unique musical language by integrating the disparate musical traditions of East and West. This lecture/recital will investigate the metaphor behind Takemitsu's last two solo piano pieces, Rain Tree Sketch (1982) and Rain Tree Sketch II (1992). The lecture explores the interaction of ideas between Takemitsu and his novelist friend Kenzaburo Oe, the Nobel Prize winning author whom inspired Takemitsu to compose the Rain Tree series. An analytic overview of the piano pieces will also be given which indicates the influence of Olivier Messiaen. A performance of the complete Rain Tree Sketcheswill follow the lecture.

The origin of the Rain Tree Sketches can be traced back to Takemitsu's percussion trio Rain Tree (1981), which was based on a description of a rain-tree in Kenzaburo Oe's short novel "Clever Rain Tree" (1980). Rain Tree is used as a metaphor of water circulating in the cosmos, and Takemitsu employed Messiaen's modes of limited transposition in order to construct the pitch collections evocative of cosmic imagery. Takemitsu's goal as an artist was to expand the possibilities of music, and to express himself through creation of a universal language. This lecture/recital will demonstrate how this goal is realized in the Rain Tree Sketches.


Tomoko Isshiki obtained the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Houston, Moores School of Music in piano performance in May 2001, where she studied with Nancy Weems and Horacio Gutierrez. As a performer, Dr. Isshiki has been active as a chamber musician for the past several years. As a member of the Moores Piano Trio, she has performed and appeared on radio broadcasts in numerous cities in the U.S. The Moores Piano Trio was a prize-winner in the Carmel Chamber Music Competition (Carmel, CA), and was also selected as one of the five groups nationwide to participate and perform in the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in Michigan with a full scholarship. As a piano duo, Dr. Isshiki has been praised by critics for performances as a member of the Musetta Duo in Tokushima Japan and in Oregon. Dr. Isshiki is also an active teacher, serving as an adjunct faculty member at San Jacinto College in Texas, and at the University of Houston, Preparatory and Continuing Studies where she taught a broad range of students from children to adults. She has been a teaching assistant at the University of Houston and at the University of Oregon. Dr. Isshiki obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree at Meiji University in English literature, and Master of Music degree at the University of Oregon in piano pedagogy and piano performance. Dr. Isshiki is currently teaching piano and theory at the Ichimura Music School in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.