Japanese Imperial Court Music and Dance

Opening Concert

The International Musicological Society 20th Quinquennial Congress 2017 in Tokyo, Japan
Presented by Suntory Holdings Limited
March 19, 2017, 4pm, (venue open 3 pm)
Sogakudo Concert Hall, Tokyo University of the Arts
Admission Fee
IMS 2017 Participants with Early Bird Registrations: 2,500 JPY
Others: 4,000 JPY


I. Traditional Kangen

Hyojo-Netori (Intonation on E)
Roei-Kasin (Recitation - Chinese Poem)
Etenraku-Nokorigaku Sanhen

II. Contemporary Kangen

Maki Ishii (1936-2003)
Shikyo (1970)

III. Traditional Bugaku

Manzairaku (Left Dance, performed by four dancers)
Rakuson (Right Dance, performed by a single person)


Japanese Imperial Court Music and Dance

From the 4th through 7th centuries, rare products ranging from silk and spices to religion, science and culture were transmitted from the Asian continent to Japan. Music, musical instruments and dance were among those treasures.

In 701 A.D., the first Japanese Government ordinance, Taiho Ritsuryo, was enacted and Japan began its history as a legal state. Utamai no Tsukasa (the Office of Song and Dance, also known as the College of Music) was also established at that time, with the mission of conserving music and musical education.

In 840 A.D., Gakusei-Kaikaku (Music Constitution Reform) was enacted for the purpose of compiling Japanese music. The compilation and editing work continued for approximately 120 years, and its results constitute what is now known as the legacy of Japanese Gagaku.

The Kangen of Gagaku, traditionally performed by wind, string and percussion instruments, is virtually the oldest court orchestral music in history. Bugaku is the repertoire of dance traditionally accompanied by Kangata (wind and percussion ensembles).

Tokyo Gakuso

Led by Tadaaki Ohno (Music Director, Imperial Household Agency)

Tokyo Gakuso was established in 1978. Its core membership is composed of professional musicians from the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency’s Board of Ceremonies. Other members include musicians of several generations, as well as many excellent civilian Gagaku musicians. Tokyo Gakuso performs Gagaku at the highest levels of artistic music in Japan. They have performed around the world, including being invited by the Foreign Ministry as delegates to represent Japanese traditional culture in several European countries in 1983, in Cairo, Egypt in 1986 and in the US in 1987. Additional international performances include:

2005 – EU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges: Berlin, London.
2008 – Ano do Intercâmbio Japão-Brasil: São Paulo, Brasília, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte.
2009 – Japan, Danube Friendship Year: Wiener Konzerthaus, Müpa Budapest.
2011 – 150 Jahre Freundschaft Deutschland-Japan: Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Würzburg.

Tokyo Gakuso has produced about a dozen CDs and continues to perform and share Gagaku with worldwide audiences.


Maki Ishii (1936-2003)
Shikyo - Music for Gagaku (1970)

Maki Ishii studied twelve-tone technique at Berlin College of Music from 1958 to 1961. After returning to his homeland of Japan, he struggled to find his own original style, which led him to develop his own innovations inspired by traditional Japanese music genres. Rediscovering traditional Shomyo (Japanese Buddhist chant) and Gagaku (Japanese court music) in 1966 had a profound creative impact on Ishii. Shikyo, his first experimental piece written for Gagaku, merges the “sound of the West” with “sound of the East.” In this work, the composer emphasizes the original features of Gagaku

from beginning to end, while leaving the rhythms up to the players; the improvisational feeling from the players is the most significant feature of this composition. Ishii indicated in his score that the rhythmic structure of this piece is inherent in the Japanese traditional musical sense, and it is a “form” transmitted from one natural microtone to the next.