The Percussion Music of Toshi Ichiyanagi: A Performance Guide of Select Works from 1984-2002


            This document examines select percussion works of Toshi Ichiyanagi (b. 1933), in order to create a resource that brings exposure and sparks interest in his percussion music. Ichiyanagi has long been one of Japan’s leading composers. However, despite having a successful career since the 1960s, he is not well-known in the United States. Furthermore, his close associations with celebrated American avant-garde composers and performers like John Cage, David Tudor, and La Monte Young, make Ichiyanagi’s virtual obscurity in the United States even more striking. Particularly, for a field birthed in the avant-garde, it is surprising that many of his percussion compositions avoid mainstream recognition.[1]

            For the study, the author prepared and performed a recital of the five works that are discussed: Wind Trace (1984), Trio Interlink (1990), Rhythm Gradation (1993), Perspectives II (1996), and Ballade (2002).  The document is a performance guide that also provides background information on each piece. The guide discusses technical and interpretative issues uncovered through firsthand preparation and performance, and provides suggestions to solve them. At the conclusion, the author draws connections between these pieces, to highlight similarities that will be helpful to consider when preparing performances of any of his works involving percussion. Finally, an exhaustive catalog of known Ichiyanagi percussion works is provided as a resource for further performance and research.

            Ichiyanagi has been writing for percussion since the 1970s. His catalog includes solos, chamber pieces, ensemble pieces, mixed-chamber pieces, and concerti. With recent compositions like Marimba Scenery (2011), Concerto for marimba and orchestra (2012), and the duo Two Dimensions (2012), Ichiyanagi continues to write for percussion. Virtuosi such as Sumire Yoshihara, Atsushi Sugahara, Momoko Kamiya, and Mutsuko Taneya have commissioned and premiered works by the composer. These pieces are on par with the challenging repertoire that has dominated percussion literature since the mid-twentieth century. Nonetheless, the author has found no existing document that is fully devoted to Ichiyanagi’s percussion work.

May 18, 2018
Philippos Nakas Conservatory
Athens, Greece

[1] As of February 2017, the programs database on the Percussive Arts Society website returns only twenty-nine reports of Ichiyanagi percussion works being performed, whereas Toru Takemitsu, who was a contemporary of Ichiyanagi, has over 100.