Friday, 22 January 2016

Takemitsu "Les Yeux Clos II"

Odilon Redon painted a series of works on the theme "Les Yeux Clos" in 1890, he says that the images were made with the most diluted paint, making the subject, the face of his wife, near transparent on the canvas.  When Takemitsu took the same title he worked his music with a clarity of texture that approached Redon's ideal. 

The pitch content is primarily driven by the use of a limited mode (of eight pitches) in its 3 transpositions. The modes are shown below as pitch classes where C =0
M1: 0,1,3,4,6,7,9,10
M2: 1,2,4,5,7,8,10,11
M3: 0,2,3,5,6,8,9,11
There are phrases where a single note or pair of notes are outside the mode, usually as a dissonance to a surrounding phrase.  Once the sound of the mode is familiar to the listener the majority of the music is easily heard as being derived from it, and the pitches outside the mode are never destructive to its character. One of the most apparent features of the mode is the pairing of semitones, and the tension created by the use of semitones is heard from the outset in "Les Yeux Clos II". The semitone isn't the only formation available from the mode and Takemitsu makes his musical intentios clear from the start.

Here all the material is taken from M1 and forms two layers, the upper part is the open fifth on C'/G', a tolling bell figure in keeping with the title. The use of the open fifth is kept for this figure to highlight its importance to the concept of the music.  The middle texture is built from a pair of semitones, C/D flat and F'/G, so the C/G forms a transposed fifth at the semitone, and a pair of augmented fourths a semitone apart C/F' and D flat/G. The augmented fourths are also present in the bass as B flat/E, E flat A. These formations are heard throughout the work, and make the form of the composition clear. The semitone dissonance is a vital element in the drama of the music, and is only diminished in importance in the closing bars where the tensions, particularly of the central section, are released.
The opening five bars act as an introduction to the work as a whole and the remaining sections are clear and simple to distinguish.
In the second section the chord passages become a major feature, these form a continuous chain of collections formed from a perfect fourth in combination with an augmented fourth, the latter in the bass, the tetrachords are added to by a semitone or tone dissonance to form a pentachord when desired, the placement of the additional note depending on the linear material surrounding the chords.

There is a strong connection in these chords to passages in Impressionist music, enhanced by the simple contours shaped by the chords which contrast with the widely spaced figures which decorate the music.
The music of "Les Yeux Clos II" forms three distinct layers, the chords, the rapid figures and the slowly evolving melodic strands, often having repeated material. The following example breaks down one of the rapid figures to show the use of the mode, three inks are used to clarify their use.  One pitch lies outside the mode marked in red where it forms a semitone cluster.

The melodic element has already been introduced in bar 4 and the close of bar 6, but plays a more extensive role from the next section starting at bar 11.
Repetition plays a more prominent role here, particularly in bars 11 to 19 . The example given below is taken from one of the long measures, bar 13, where the music is based on the M3.  The 'melodic' character is introduced by a three pitch figure on G' B (repeated) F, passing through two superimposed four note figures (x and y) to a five note group (z) where the augmented fourth/ perfect fifth collection is heard. Figure y, the lower melodic shape is given prominence in bar 18 where it is heard on its own.

From bar 19 we have the fourth section where the music becomes more vertically dense though the melodic character is sustained.  At 19 selected pitches are articulated by the use of octaves and repetition, opening with B flat , A, B flat and a long held C sharp (M1). By the long measure at 27 this has extended to B flat, C (repeated) C' E , again repeated with a final F', all harmonised by M1 with the exception of two pitches which form an augmented fourth pair in the upper parts. The pitch collection forming the melody continues through bar 28, another extended measure.  It is not surprising to hear that these long measures contain a high degree of coherence by either interval construction, repetition or rhythmic design.  This way Takemitsu composes localised groups of similarities within the whole structure, sometimes made wholly clear by larger scale repetition.
Bar 31 is a softer repeat of 30 and marks the end of the section.

The fifth is the final part with a short coda to close. The passage can be heard as a reworking of the A section, where the music is increasingly refined.  Though the material is clearly from the opening Takemitsu brings in the theme from bars 27 and 28 into the texture, both the first bar material and this theme are M1 based. Only as we get to these closing measures do we become fully aware of how the decorative figures have disappeared leaving this calm and static close. The life of the music has ebbed so progressively that the conclusion is both inevitable and natural.