First of all, I would like thank those who came to the recital for sharing precious time with me yesterday.
The idea of performing a recital titled “Fleeting” came into my mind a few years ago when I decided to learn Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives. Although I was not aware of this at that time, in hindsight my cultural background could have been at play when I was putting this program together.
In Japan where I grew up, the notion of Mujo, which is often translated as “impermanence” or “transience”, is deeply embedded in the culture. I remember reciting as a middle school student the following passage that opens The Tale of the Heike, the epic from the Middle Ages written based on the actual historical struggle between the Heike and Genji clans and the tragic downfall of the Heike:
The sound of the Gion shoja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sola flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.
Mujo was originally the Japanese translation of Anicca, one of the essential doctrines in Buddhism that teaches evanescence and impermanence of existence, but combined with the social turbulence and unrest the country experienced during the Middle Ages, the concept also became a significant part of Japanese aesthetics. For example, every spring Japanese have Ohanami (cherry blossom viewing) to savor the fleeting moment. We see Sakura (cherry blossom) as the embodiment of Mujo because of its fleeting beauty. Sakura, along with Koyo (colored leaves) in the autumn, represents the changing of the seasons that forces us to recognize evanescence in all living things.
Here is another episode that I would like to share; as I opened the book Appreciations of Japanese Culture written by Donald Keene (one of the most significant contemporary commentators on Japanese culture) in order to write this afterword, I discovered that the author had used these four keywords in an effort to decipher Japanese aesthetics: suggestion, irregularity, simplicity, and perishability.Unfortunately it is not possible to explain in detail what each keyword means here, but there are certainly connections between the keywords and this program. “Suggestion” is equivalent to Debussy’s aesthetics while “irregularity” is the device the composers used to convey elusiveness. “Simplicity” can be seen in Prokofiev’s miniatures, and “perishability” represents what is fleeting, which is the theme of the entire program. I wish I could say that I put together the repertoire with those keywords in mind, but that was not the case. It is fascinating to see how the subconscious mind works sometimes.
Logically speaking, one who becomes attached to what is fleeting while being fully aware of its impermanence is a fool, but as I stated in the beginning of the program notes, there is something very human about being drawn to (or even refusing to let go of) what is fleeting. I dare say I would rather stay foolish.
If you are interested in reading the full program notes, you can access them here:
I would love to hear if reading the program notes in advance actually helped your musical experience. Please send me your comments here:
Again, thank you so much for following this journey with me.
Helen Craig McCullough, The Tale of the Heike (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1990), 23.
Donald Keene, Appreciations of Japanese Culture (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1971), 11-25.