Duo YUMENO (Yoko Reikano Kimura, koto; and Hikaru Tamaki, violoncello) commissioned American composer Daron Hagen to create four large-scale works for koto and cello based on characters and stories from the great Japanese epic, The Tale of Heike. The project is titled “Songs of Heike,” the third installment of which is called Misterioso. The world premiere performance takes place on Saturday, September 9.
The third duo tells the story of Kogō (portrayed by the koto), Takafusa, and the Emperor’s man, Takakuna (both men are portrayed by the cello). Kogō was the most beautiful lady and the finest koto player in the palace. Takafusa’s love for her was deep and pure. When she was summoned to Emperor Takakura’s side upon the death of his beloved consort Aoi No Mae, she fulfilled her duty. Sadly, Takafusa was one of mankind’s saddest souls, for, as Gide observed: “Nothing thwarts happiness as much as the memory of happiness.” He could not let her go. The work is in three movements: 1. Kogō and Takafusa, 2. Kogō Alone, 3. Kogō and Nakakuni.
Movement 1 (Kogō and Takafusa) portrays the lovers in the moonlight, illuminated by their grief. Kogō sings the words of a poem Takafusa has dared to send her, which begins:
When I think of you / There is no end to my pain
Upon her honor, she cannot finish reading the poem. She discards it and pours her feelings out in the still night playing her koto, counterpointed by the sounds of the whistling night wind, the lonesome calls of the gulls, and Takafusa’s cries. Movement 2 (Kogō Alone) portrays Kogō, who has fled the palace, living in hiding in a humble cottage near the village of Saga. The Emperor’s faithful man Nakakuni is searching for her, this poem on his mind:
Here in the mountains / Near the village of Saga, / The fawns are crying. / A man is full of sorrow / In autumn, when night has come.
In Movement 3 (Kogō and Nakakuni), the story of Nakakuni discovering Kogō at the Hōrin Temple is told. He hears her playing the melody (I quote a fragment of it) of Sōfuren, which tells of a wife longing for her husband. Nakakuni draws his flute from his sash and plays with her. We hear his flute, her cries of anguish, her koto, his fists banging repeatedly on the door. She tells him that she cannot return with him to the palace. Arrested, she is forced, at age 23, to become a nun, her beauty imprisoned by a black robe, living in the wilderness of Saga. The words sung during the movement are those Nakauni had in mind when he set out to find Kogō. She remembers the words of Tokuko (“Ici, sur la montagne – / La lune que j’ai l’habitude de voir / Dans le ciel dessus le palais?”) as she thinks of their shared destinies as nuns. At the end, she is alone, praying.
— Description by Daron Hagen
From the first installment of “Songs of Heike,” Appassionato.