Review: Nakabayashi's Danza No. 1

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Nakabayashi, Atsumasa. Danza No. 1. Tokyo: Casa de la Guitarra, 1970. 3 pages.

Peter Kun Frary

Historically, the Japanese have engaged in a continuous blending of borrowed cultures with their own traditional culture. This intermingling of cultures has resulted in things—ceramics, architecture, music, etc.—uniquely Japanese. During the Nara period (700-800 A.D.), the court music of India, China and Korea were assimilated and modified into an uniquely Japanese style of music called gagaku. In the 20th century, this legacy continues with the intermingling of Western instruments and music with traditional Japanese instruments and music.

Nakabayashi's short character piece, Danza No. 1, merges ancient Japanese and European Impressionistic styles into an original and refreshing musical vignette. The performance notes indicate that the head motive is derived from an unspecified gagaku composition. Western equal temperament and rhythmic vitality give this motive a distinct and driving character. Pentatonic scales are exploited throughout the work, often colored with decorative dissonance and modal and quartal harmonies. Although the harmony is non-functional, it always remains clearly tonal. A kaleidoscope effect is created by pitting moving chord streams (parallel chords) against open string pedal tones. Perfect fourths and fifths abound, giving this work an open and mystical air.

The formal organization of Danza No. 1 is conventional and Western, consisting of contrasting sections organized into a A B A C coda (A') pattern. Formal coherence is mainly achieved by the repetition of the gagaku motive in the A sections and coda. The A sections are extensively multimetric: alternating measures of 4/4 and 5/4, and 4/4 and 6/4 are used throughout. The changing accent patterns are exciting and unpredictable when performed correctly. Moreover, syncopations coupled with dissonant chords contribute to the excitement of the A sections and contrast with the gentle and rhythmically straightforward B and C sections.

Danza No. 1 isn't demanding technically: an accomplished college music student or amateur could find this work under their fingers in a couple of weeks. Like much 20th century music, this work requires an exacting control of dynamics, articulation, balance and timbre. Without these details, the color and beauty of this work would be lost.

Nakabayashi has written a highly idiomatic work for the guitar and fingered it with intelligence and care. This edition is handsome, printed on quality stock, and is clearly printed and engraved. Page turns are placed in convenient places. The only minor con about this edition is the background notes are in Japanese and Spanish, not English.

Nakabayashi's Danza No. 1 is a refreshing and welcome addition to the guitar's repertoire, and I hope to see more of Nakabayashi's works distributed in the West. This work, and other Casa de la Guitarra editions, is available from Guitar Solo in San Francisco.

October 30, 2001

©Copyright 2001-2017 by Peter Kun Frary | All Rights Reserved

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