I am immensely happy that my Gloriosa, symphonic poem for band (1990), has been performed by so many bands in the last thirty years.
During this period, the growth of the internet has made it much easier to access information. When I composed Gloriosa, I only had limited information about the period when Christianity and Western music was first introduced to Japan, and had to rely a lot on my imagination. However, nowadays, it is easy to obtain various source materials and to read interesting studies on the music of the past.
In recent years, the music of Luis de Narváez (born ca.1500 - died between 1555-1560), Spanish composer and vihuela player, has become increasingly known, and several CDs of his music are now available.
Narváez composed the earliest-known set of diferencias, a forerunner of the variation form. One of his works is Seys diferencias sobre el himno “O gloriosa domina” [Six diferencias on the hymn “O gloriosa domina”] (1538), based on the Spanish Marian hymn, and it was this melody I used in the first movement of my Gloriosa.
Western music has been my musical roots since childhood, and throughout my career as a composer, it has continued to fascinate me. One could say that this has provided the inspiration for Diferencias on an Old Spanish Song, my own take on the diferencias form.
Actually, such music from the early sixteenth century could sound fresh to our modern ears. So I decided to quote the melody from Narváez’s Sey diferencias at the beginning and end of the piece, in order that people can get the feel for the period.
The main section (bars 42-390) is formed of 13 diferencias, similar to the first movement of the Gloriosa.
In the middle section, which begins after the eighth diferencia (from bar 187), one should be totally absorbed in the tranquility and the beauty of the music. Although it’s in the style of a sarabande, it should be taken slower and played as pianissimo as possible.
This is followed by folk-style dance music. (As only standard percussion instruments are used, try to be creative with tonal colours and sense of rhythm).
The structure of the work is simple, but be aware of the connection between the sections when constructing the whole.
Also, think about the tonality. Overall, the work is in F minor. The main section is basically in D minor, but from bar 102, it modulates to A flat minor and G minor, and then in the middle section it suddenly switches to A flat major (which is the furthest key from D minor, and the relative major of F minor). From bar 219, it modulates to F minor and then to C minor, then back to F minor by way of A minor.
N.B. The Oboe II part can be substituted by the English Horn (as indicated in the parts). One can choose according to the player’s skills or preference.
Recent new compositions for wind band are often full of rhythm, dynamism, and tonal colour, and compositional techniques and orchestration have also evolved greatly. Yet on the other hand, they tend to feature fewer melodic or expressive elements. Since this work is the test piece for WMC Kerkrade 2022, I had to think about what “tests” or “challenges” to set, and I decided to compose something that doesn’t involve a lot of technical display, but requires beautiful sounds and harmonies, and above all, musical expressivity. I didn’t put many expression markings in the score, because I wanted the performers to think about how best to express this music. If it is played merely as notated, it’s not going to sound very interesting.
Christianity was introduced to Japan in the mid-16th century, but it was subsequently banned and Japan entered a period of national isolation, which meant that there was hardly any international exchange for two hundred years. As a result, the Christian hymns that were introduced prior to the isolation became almost unrecognizable over the centuries. This was the theme I explored in my Gloriosa thirty years ago.
Now, in 2021, the whole world has been forced to “isolate” due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In such times, it seems pertinent that I’ve written a work using this melody again. I sincerely hope that people will be able to gather in Kerkrade in 2022. (May 2021)