Tōru Takemitsu’s ephemeral 1977 orchestral piece, A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden, grew out of a dream. The Japanese composer attributed his vision of a flock of birds descending into a five-sided garden to an iconic photograph he viewed earlier in the day, which showed the artist, Marcel Duchamp, posing with the back of his head shaved in the “form of a star-shaped garden.” Takemitsu described the resulting piece as a “shifting panorama of scenes in which the main motif—introduced by the oboe and representing the so-called ‘Flock’—descends into the harmonious tone-field called the ‘Pentagonal Garden’, created mainly on the strings.”
As a composer, Takemitsu (1930-1996) once expressed a desire to “swim in an ocean that has no East and has no West.” In fact, throughout his music, elements of both are apparent. We hear the influences of Debussy, Messiaen, Schoenberg, Mahler, jazz, and John Cage. “In a sense,” notes Alex Ross in his essay, Towards Silence, “Takemitsu was taking back what his tradition had given to the West.”
I love gardens. They do not reject people. There one can walk freely, pause to view the entire garden, or gaze at a single tree, plant, rock, and sand snow: changes, constant changes.
A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden is music which evokes time and space. It is an experience akin to the progression through a Japanese garden. According to Takemitsu,
It’s not a linear experience at all. It is circular…one always comes back. I write music by placing objects in my musical garden, just the way objects are placed in a Japanese garden…from gardens I’ve learnt the Japanese sense of timing and colour.”
The landscape architecture of the garden plays on the contrast of volume and void. Similarly, in A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden, silence becomes as important as sound. For Takemitsu, this was expressed in the concept of ma, or “powerful silence.” It is out of this silence that a hazy, time-altering, pentatonic soundscape emerges.
Here is Seiji Ozawa’s recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra:
- Takemitsu: A Flock Descends Into the Pentagonal Garden, Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra Amazon
- Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Featured Image: “Ueno Park, Tokyo” (1953), Kawase Hasui