Kyoto Nohgaku Kai, The – “Japanese Noh Music” – [Polygram]
In the 6th century, ancient music and dance came to Japan from the Kingdom of Kudara in what is now Korea. In the 8th century the Chinese circus came to Japan, with acrobatics, pantomime, and comedy. These influences, in combination with indigenous rituals related to the passing of the seasons or cultivation of rice, form the basis for Noh theater, which took on its present form in the 14th century.
Noh theater troupes are led by a Grand Master and all members are blood relatives or adopted. Sons reprise roles of their fathers. Small gestures are mimicked through generations, eventually commanding much of the audience’s focus. The audience is made up of the Shogun, feudal lords, sophisticates and wealthy commoners.
This record features members of the Kyoto Noh Theater, designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the Japanese government in 1957. It may seem like not much is going on. A wooden flute plays an ancient pentatonic melody, taiko strike here and there, a woodblock plays a slow roll as characters enter and exit the scene, dancers move in exact synchronization. The main character wears a wooden face mask, an ornate robe, and speaks in Old Japanese. A ceremonial tone pervades throughout.