|On the Origins of Gagaku in Japan|
the court music of the Imperial Household of Japan, has a long and august tradition. It
has been played by musicians from the same hereditary families, or guilds, for more than
one thousand years. During the course of that time, the interpretation of this ancient
music has without doubt been subject to change. The earliest surviving examples of the
written notation, which date from the 11th and 12th centuries, do not should vast or
substantial differences from that notation used for the music in the Imperial Court and
elsewhere in Japan today. Nevertheless, the potential for substantial changes in the
interpretation of the music is great.
was introduced to Japan from China and Korea. The Word Gagaku is written with two Chinese
characters that mean "elegant music". The term is in fact a misnomer, not to imply that this music is not elegant,
but only that the term, in Chinese, Ya-Yueh, refers to the ancient music for the
propiation of the ancestral spirits and the ensuring of the continued balance of the
elements of nature. This was not the music introduced into Japan. The music that the
Japanese imported into the court during the 6th and 7th centuries, was of the type known
as yen yueh, or engaku, in Japanese, meaning
court banquet music. Ya-yueh, proper, sometimes called Confucian Ceremonial music, was
never introduced into Japan, perhaps because the Japanese already had their own sacred
ritual music, kagura, which was associated with the way of the gods, or Shintoism.
Nevertheless, the term, Gagaku, or ya-yueh in Chinese, was retained by the Japanese
perhaps because of the loftier associations carried by that word.
During the years, 1958 through 1960, I studied Gagaku with the musicians of the Japanese Imperial Household Music Department. Then, as today, these were the strongest carriers of this ancient tradition. Although, clearly the music as well as its style of performance has been subjected to natural change during the more than one thousand years during which it has been practiced in Japan, it is also clear that the tradtion is one of the strongest surviving music traditions in Asia. Although various subtle changes, which are today difficult to document, have taken place, the teacher to pupil lineage is clear and unbroken.
Other pages in this set
Ya-yueh in Korea.
Yen-Yueh in T'ang China and in Korea.
The Shosoin Imperial Repository.
The Music of Gagaku
Music in Heian times
Dance Robes of the Imperial Palace
Views of the Imperial Palace
The border is a section of the silk robes worn by dancers of the Right Group of the Imperial Palace Music Ensemble.
Last Updated 9.14.04