Thinking about structure in Muir Woods

November 19, 2016

In preparing Takemitsu’s Muir Woods for a few recital recently, I spent time thinking about how the piece is put together, which helped me create a logic for how I then express/perform the music. Often I find understanding the structure a very helpful window into understanding what the composer is on about. In classical music this is usually through tonal relationships and thematic ideas. In contemporary music, things like the literal repetition of a phrase or a particular interval can be the key.

In Muir Woods I found two important gestures that I thought unlocked the music as a whole:

  1. Interval of a fourth, in particular harmonics on the 4th and 5th strings. These open the work and close the work, and reappear as structural markers throughout. I think of these as something similar to paragraph markers.
  2. The melody in line 3. Fragmented elements that create this theme (such as the figure of Db-F) are alluded to in the previous bars and finally appear in beautiful harmony here. The melody then only reappears in this exact format at the very end of the piece. However Takemitsu continuously alludes to it through various permutations throughout (most notably the reharmonisation at the end of page 2), creating the illusion of it a distant memory percieved through another lense.

Has anyone else found helpful ways of thinking through this piece?