In 2006 I composed the song cycle Little Songs of the Geisha based on four traditional ko’uta Japanese poems (literally meaning ‘little songs’). Seven years later and after becoming a little more familiar with the Japanese language, I decided to revisit the remaining ko’uta and create a new song cycle consisting of four songs. The original ko’uta were sung with the accompaniment of samisen and would not last more than three or four minutes. The poems often rich in pivot words or otherwise words with double meanings can be filled with erotic overtones as they were sung at the geisha world. One concept essential to the understanding of ko-uta is that of iroke. Consisting of two words, iro ‘colour’ and ke or ki ‘feeling’, express an aesthetic associated with sensuality, intimacy, subtlety and most importantly understatement.
The music setting attains in a free manner the spirit of elegant simplicity reflected in the poems without being programmatic. The last piece of the cycle, ‘Longing’, lasting just over nine minutes, breaks free from the idea of brevity and develops as an autonomous entity creating an intentional imbalance both structurally and stylistically as a means of creating an expressive tension.
First performance: 2 November 2013, Canterbury Festival, Shie Shoji, Naomi Sato, Stelios Chatziiosifidis.