MICHAEL JOHANSON, Composer

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Michael Johanson’s music reflects a deep interest in bringing together materials drawn from a wide range of styles and approaches, all filtered through a distinctly personal voice. His compositions have been performed at various concerts and festivals throughout the United States and abroad by distinguished soloists and ensembles. Some of the venues at which performances of Mr. Johanson’s music have taken place include the Ann Goodman Recital Hall in New York City, St. John’s Smith Square in London, England, the Shenyang Conservatory of Music in China, the Thai National Theater Recital Hall in Bangkok and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Mr. Johanson’s music is published by September Hills and Dorn Publications. He holds degrees in composition from the Eastman School of Music and Indiana University. Formerly on the faculties of Indiana State University, Williams College, and Stetson University, he is currently Assistant Professor of Composition and Music Theory at Lewis & Clark College. 

About Eternal Gardens:

My project involves writing a work influenced by the music of the great Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930 ‐ 1996*). While I currently envision my work as a tribute to Takemitsu’s overall compositional output, I see his composition “Rain Tree Sketch II” as the primary influence at play.

In my capacity as Artistic Director of Friends of Rain, Lewis & Clark College’s new music ensemble, I recently had the opportunity to program Takemitsu’s work Rain Tree Sketch II and I am including a brief program note I wrote for this concert below. I feel it effectively introduces the composer and composition.

Rain Tree Sketch II: In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen

Toru Takemitsu (1930‐1996) has emerged as one of the major composers of the late twentieth century. One finds in his music an imaginative blend of elements of Eastern and Western musical traditions, an evocative and colorful use of timbre and texture, and a careful and reverent use of silence.

Largely self‐taught, Takemitsu was highly influenced by western composers such as Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Edgard Varèse, and John Cage. Takemitsu incorporated the influence of these composers with elements of the traditional music of his native Japan as well as other Eastern musical traditions such as the music of the Balinese gamelan. He was also heavily influenced by film, painting, and nature. In his essay “Mirror and Egg,” he states, “There is no doubt … the various countries and cultures of the world have begun a journey toward the geographic and historic unity of all peoples … The old and the new exist within me with equal weight.”

Rain Tree Sketch II, the composer’s last work for solo piano, is dedicated to Olivier Messiaen. In Messiaen’s obituary, Takemitsu commented, “Truly, he was my spiritual mentor … Among the many things I learned from his music, the concept and experience of color and the form of time will be unforgettable.” The use of recurring motifs as well as the use of harmonies for their coloristic value reflects the influence of Messiaen.

The work is in a clear three-part form. The first section opens with a flowing, rhythmic passage marked by colorful chordal successions which eventually gives way to more spacious textures and the presentation of an ascending gesture played by both hands that is of central importance to the work. In the middle section, the opening material is transformed and featured in a more lyrical context. The final 2 section briefly makes reference to the opening of the work before settling into a serene, meditative close.

Rain Three Sketch II is one of three works Takemitsu wrote that were inspired by a passage from a novel by Kenzaburo Oe: “It was named the ‘rain tree’, for its abundant foliage continued to let fall rain drops from the previous night’s shower until the following midday. Its hundreds of thousands of tiny, finger like leaves store up moisture, whereas other trees dry out at once.”

Artist Statement  

Toru Takemitsu has for many years been a composer I greatly admire. I remember first hearing his music as a teenager, and since that time, I have had numerous memorable, meaningful experiences with both live and recorded performances of his music. I was especially glad to have had the opportunity to meet Takemitsu in person and to get a sense for the deep role music played in his life.

I especially admire Takemitsu’s colorful harmonic language, his compelling use of silence, the manner in which he overlays dissonance on top of consonant structures, the incorporation of both eastern and western influences, and the sense of serenity and beauty conveyed in his work. As mentioned in the description of Rain Tree Sketch II provided above, Takemitsu cited the concept and experience of color and the form of time as examples of things he learned from Messiaen’s music, and these are elements of great significance to the compositional project.

Inherent in Takemitsu’s work is the connection with Olivier Messiaen, who happens to be another composer who has profoundly influenced my music and musical thinking. To some extent, I envision the work as paying homage to Messiaen as well as Takemitsu; for me this connection feels organic, especially given the fact that many of the characteristics of the music of these masters have found their way into my own compositional world.

To learn more about Michael and his other work, visit his website.