Sokyoku (koto music) (箏曲)

Sokyoku refers to music for the koto (long zither with 13 strings). The word is often used to refer to zokuso (recently developed koto music) which is broadly divided into two schools, the Ikuta school and the Yamada school. It may also refer to the koto part of a sankyoku (a kind of Japanese chamber music with three instruments: a koto, a shamisen (three-stringed banjo-type instrument) and a shakuhachi (bamboo flute)). Also, in some cases it refers to a genre of music including jiuta (traditional songs) which are often played in concert.


Tsukushi goto (koto from the Tsukushi area of Kyushu)
Modern Sokyoku began with 'Tsukushi goto' (a type of solo koto music) which was completed by Kenjun, a musician who was active from the end of Sengoku (Warring states) period to the beginning of the Edo periods. Kenjun, a Jodo priest, mastered gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music) and Kayo (songs and ballads) that had been handed down to the monks of his temple, and learned how to play the Kokin (Chinese zither with 3000 year history) from Teikatei, a Chinese musician who was in Japan at that time; drawing on what he had learnt, he began making Sokyoku music.
What he created was 'Tsukushi goto.'
The Tsukushi goto was classic and elegant, put emphasis on manner and spiritualness rather than on entertainment, and used the 'ritsuonkai' scale which was close to that used in gagaku.

Yatsuhashi school
Kengyo (the highest title of the official ranks within the Todo-za) YATSUHASHI was a blind musician who belonged to the Todo-za school and studied from Hosui who himself had been a student of Kenjun. He was a famous shamisen and kokyu (a Chinese fiddle) musician, but the new 'miyakobushi scale' (characteristic Japanese hemitonic pentatonic scale: mi, fa, la, ti, do) was already popularly used for shamisen music. YATSUHASHI applied this scale to the koto and moved away from tuning based on the conventional ritsuonkai scale towards new tuning methods based on the miyakobushi scale, namely the hirajoshi (literally tranquil tuning) and kumoijoshi (tuning based on hirajoshi tuning) methods. Thereafter, the hirajoshi method has remained as the standard tuning method for the koto. On adopting the new tuning method, YATSUHASHI composed a great number of pieces. More temporal and up-to-date than Tsukushi goto music, the pieces were highly artistic and became popular at that time. Kengyo YATSUHASHI produced two types of work, i.e. 'So-kumiuta' (songs accompanied by koto) and 'Danmono' (solo instrumental music for koto), both featuring well-organized musical structures. Well-known kumiuta composed by YATSUHASHI include titles such as 'Fuki' and 'Kumoi no kyoku,' while well-known Danmono by him include 'Rokudan no shirabe' (music of six steps) (however, there is some controversy over who actually composed 'Rokudan no shirabe'). Composition of this type of music continued after the death of YATSUHASHI. In the era of YATSUHASHI, however, sokyoku and shamisen music were seen as being different types of music and, generally speaking, were not played together. The music of the Yatsuhashi school was passed down to later generations by the pupils of Kengyo YATSUHASHI and continued to develop. The direct flow of the Yatsuhashi school style from teacher to pupil continued over time, and continues as a trickle to this day.

Ikutaryu School style
In the Genroku era, after Kengyo YATSUHASHI and Kengyo KITAJIMA, sokyoku was reformed and organized by Kengyo IKUTA in Kyoto. Another theory says that actually IKUTA just made public the sokyoku which the master KITAJIMA had already reformed secretly. Kengyo IKUTA may have been the first to introduce the koto into jiuta music. The shape of the koto pick was then changed substantially to accommodate shamisen techniques. It should be noted, however, that there was a similar movement in the Tsuguyama school, led by Kengyo TSUGUYAMA in Osaka, and the changes were not necessarily made by Kengyo IKUTA alone.
Shin-yatsuhashi school (New Yatsuhashi school) and Fujiike school also were established in Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area), but the styles taught in these schools were very similar and gradually integrated into what should be called the 'Ikuta School Style.'
Also this Ikuta school again divided itself into several groups, spreading out and from its base in Kyoto and Osaka and eventually reaching Nagoya, Chugoku and Kyushu.

Yamada school
Although koto music had been popular from an early stage in Kamigata, there were not many koto musicians in Edo (present-day Tokyo) until the middle period for its less popularity. Then, Kengyo (the highest title of the official ranks within the Todo-za) YASUMURA who was the sokengyo (president of the Todo-za) (he became kengyo in 1732) attempted to increase his influence in Edo by sending his pupil Kengyo HASETOMI to Edo to spread Ikuta school style sokyoku. Kengyo HASETOMI then taught Shokoku YAMADA who in turn taught Kengyo Toyochi YAMADA. He created new music influenced by joruri (ballad drama) which was popular in Edo, and started the Yamada school of sokyoku. It is said that YAMADA had a very beautiful voice and would show off his technique and songs by singing in public baths. He also attempted to enhance koto, and succeeded in making a koto which made a louder sound. The koto made as a result of such enhancement is known as the Yamada koto, and enjoys great popularity today among the groups of the Ikuta school. The Yamada school style fitted the tastes of people in Edo, and thereafter spread through eastern Japan from Edo, eventually becoming a movement akin to the Ikuta school. Yamada school sokyoku is based around the songs of icchubushi (a particular type of joruri style) and other songs of the joruri style.

Unification of sokyoku with jiuta and the three instrument ensemble
While the original style of sokyoku went into gradual decline towards the end of the Edo period, sokyoku of the Ikuta school style prospered as a result of its contributing the koto parts for an enormous number of jiuta songs. Thanks to its role in jiuta, sokyoku survived. Many jiuta songs were now made with a koto part and for an ensemble, and jiuta thus became a genre of sokyoku. Consequently, the unification of jiuta and sokyoku was promoted. Also, kokyu came to be added to the ensemble, and then performing concerts using these three instruments became common. The music performed by such a trio was called 'sankyokugasso'. Later the shakuhachi was added to the ensemble and in modern times the vast majority of trio ensembles are composed of a shamisen, a koto, and a shakuhachi.

The mid Edo period and onward saw the completion, by Koto MINEZAKI and Koto MITSUHASHI, of a jiuta musical style called 'tegotomono' in which importance was placed on the instrumental part between songs. Using this style, Kengyo MATSUUA, Koto ISHIKAWA and Kengyo KIKUOKA composed a large number of Kyoto jiuta for which Kengyo YAEZAKI and others wrote the koto parts. As a result, it was developed as sokyoku which could be enjoyed as sophisticated concert music along with jiuta's populatiry. The music created in Kyoto is called 'Kyo mono' or 'Kyoryu tegoto mono,' and was passed down to Kengyo MITSUZAKI, Kengyo YOSHIZAWA and Kengyo IKUYAMA.

End of Edo period
Sokyoku was further developed by Kengyo MITSUZAKI and Kengyo YOSHIZAWA at the end of the Edo period. Jiuta had represented the cutting edge, but were now seen to have reached a level which could not be surpassed, and this led musicians look for new ways to develop koto and kokyu music. Then, for the first time in a long time, people started to make sokyoku outside the field of jiuta. After looking over the old sokyoku, Kengyo MITSUZAKI composed 'Akikaze no kyoku' (Song of the Autumn Wind) which combined kumiuta, danmono, and 'Godanginuda,' a kind of koto duet music that makes use of high and low-pitched sounds to produce a sophisticated and delicate melody. Getting the idea from Banshikicho of gagaku, Kengyo YOSHIZAWA invented a tuning method called 'kokinchoshi' (ancient tuning method). Based on this method, he composed 'Chidori no kyoku' (song of the plover), 'Haru no kyoku' (song of the spring), 'Natsu no kyoku' (song of the summer), 'Aki no kyoku' (song of the Autumn), and 'Fuyu no kyoku' (song of the Winter). From this point onwards, sokyoku developed independently from shamisen music. Note that the innovative tuning method developed by Kengyo YOSHIZAWA and compositions based on it aimed at going back to the beginnings of koto music, and the lyrics to the music were often used from the waka of Kokin Wakashu (A Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry), and so this music is sometimes seen as being reactionary.

From the Meiji period onwards
In the Meiji period, sokyoku became increasingly independent from jiuta, and many pieces of so-called 'New Meiji music' were composed solely for the koto, one of these being 'Shin Takasago' (literally, "new version of Takasago") by Hanano TERASHIMA. However, this music largely adhered to the traditions of tegotomono in jiuta, and the music for shamisen and koto continued to be composed in this period. In the Taisho and Showa periods Michio MIYAGI released many new pieces which had their roots in traditional music but also drew from Western music. Of these, the masterpiece is 'Haru no umi' (The sea in springtime) for an ensemble including a shakuhachi. MIYAGI also developed a seventeen-stringed koto which has low tone like a cello and an eighty-stringed koto (a normal koto has 13 strings). The seventeen-stringed koto is still used today in ensembles for Japanese music to provide low notes and has had solos composed specifically for it.

The movement of making new music was grew strong from the end of Taisho period to around 1935-1944, and a huge amount of new music with new styles, arrangements and composition methods was created by MIYAGI and others such as Genchi HISAMOTO, Soyo NAKAMURA, Kasei MACHIDA, Kinichi NAKANOSHIMA and Takayama TAKAMORI.
This music is called 'new Japanese music.'

After the war, not only composers of traditional Japanese music but also composers of classical music who were unfamiliar with traditional Japanese music started to collaborate in the creation of music. Gradually the distinction between what was viewed as classical and what was viewed as modern music blurred, and 'modern Japanese music' came to mean all music composed in this way (rather than just new sokyoku). The composition of new music influenced by a wide range of music including western and popular music continues to this day, and such music is known as 'modern music' in the worlds of sankyoku and sokyoku. Recently more music pieces which are comparatively similar to pop music or have strong Asian feel are being composed.

Features of music

A lot of sokyoku music pieces have lyrics since the most formal style of sokyoku as early-modern traditional Japanese music is 'kumiuta,' which is composition style of songs with vocals only, and sokyoku have been developed along with jiuta.
The only purely instrumental music from the Edo period is 'Danmono' and 'Kinumono.'
However, the late Edo period saw great developments in 'Tegotomono,' a style of jiuta in which instrumental parts of music were regarded important, and this led to innovations of the instruments.
Since the Yamada school sokyoku, meanwhile, took in elements of joruri such as icchubushi, the music from this school all includes songs with the exceptions of 'Danmono' and 'Yodanginuda koto music.'
In cases where the music has lyrics, the musician plays the musical instrument while singing. The method of playing koto has picked up influences from playing method of koto in gagaku through tsukushi goto which had been influenced by gagaku. The addition of picks to three fingers on the right hand remains unchanged. When the koto came to be played together with the shamisen, however, the shape of the pick was changed substantially to enable the musician to play the shamisen as well. The so-called 'sukui' (a technique of playing the koto, literally, "skimming") is often used when playing shamisen. Thus, the koto pick of the Ikuta School and Yamada School adapted a shape with which this technique could be applied. At the initial stage of merging with jiuta, there were many pieces with melodies that were almost the same as those for the shamisen part in jiuta. There were also compositions with parts (called "kakeai") which are interchangeable between the koto and shamisen. Later, more compositions called "kaede" appeared with sophisticated melodies provided to make the melody of the shamisen stand out within the jiuta. Then, as more music pieces composed independent of jiuta appeared, music came to be written that has melodies making full use of the unique technique of koto playing method.

Note that the only compositions of this type are those specifically composed as sokyoku. The koto is also able to join the ensemble in nearly all jiuta music. Please see the jiuta section for details. The koto is also used as an accompaniment for the kokyu and in ensemble with the kokyu.

[Original Japanese]