This work is based on a style of traditional Japanese music to be played with a shakuhachi, a kind of bamboo flute that is very versatile and has a rich color palette.

RYO NODA (Amagasaki, Japan, 1948) is a saxophone player who, after had being graduated in Osaka, studied with Frederick L. Hemke in Chicago (USA) and Jean-Marie Londeix in Bordeaux (France). His compositions, the most for saxophone, have a great influence from the traditional Japanese music and contain lots of elements from the occidental contemporary music.

Details of FANTAISIE ET DANSE

Alphonse Leduc, Paris (F). 3 pages. About 6:00. Contemporary music based on traditional Japanese music.

INTERMEDIATE-HIGH level. Range (written): A2 – C6

Technical skills: Glissandi and portamenti. Vibrati and ondulations. Bisbigliandi. Flexibility: large intervals. Fast excerpts. Tonguing precision and clear articulations. Slaps. Control on the altissimo register. Control on dynamics (specially in pp) in all registers.

Performance skills: Play according the characteristics of the traditional Japanese music. Play with a rhythmic precision.

Meaning and structure of FANTAISIE ET DANSE

I remember that the first piece of contemporary music I played with my (alto, then) saxophone was the Ryo Noda’s Improvisation 1 and I liked very much that kind of fusion between Western and Far Eastern music. A few years later, when I discovered FANTAISIE ET DANSE and realised that there was a low A (optional), I thought that it could be great to play some music by Noda with the baritone although it perhaps sounds like a too low shakuhachi (bigger shakuhachis usually long about a meter, like an alto saxophone more or less). Anyway, the reason because I recorded this work on my album Believer was to tribute to the composer of the first contemporary piece I played with my saxophone long time ago.

FANTAISIE ET DANSE and lots of pieces by Ryo Noda are strongly based on a style of traditional Japanese music called Honkyoku, a collection of pieces originally written for shakuhachi solo. Shakuhachi is a kind of bamboo flute extremely versatile and able to produce dramatic contrasts in its sound palette. Almost like a saxophone!

This work is structured in three very clear parts. The first and third ones show the deeply expressive character of the honkyoku music and the second one is very rhythmic and fast. The AL edition doesn’t have bars:

  • PART 1 (1st page): The prevailing long notes and large silences, the “mysterious” character and the slow tempo in this section evoke us a state of meditation. As this section progresses, there appear some fast figures and silences shorten, giving a sense of movement. The more used technical elements are sound ondulations, portamenti, bisbigliandi and specially the attacks on the grace notes that precede some of the main ones.
  • PART 2 (pages 2 and 1st half of 3): The dance has a great amount of articulations (accents, staccatti, slaps, etc) and dynamics contrasts. Eighteenths are the prevailing figures and the tempo is medium fast. This is the shorter part of the work.
  • PARTE 3 (2nd half of page 3): The character of this part is quite similar to the first one. This section is a little bit shorter than the first and contrary to what happened there, the sense of movement diminishes as the work comes to the end, with longer and longer notes and silences.

Watch the video:

How to work on it?

FANTAISIE ET DANSE is not a technically difficult work although it contains some demanding excerpts and its performance should be based on the playing of this genre of pieces.

In order to play well the second part of the piece, you should have a light and very precise tonguing, well coordinated with your fingers and a good variety of articulations (accents, slaps, sforzandi, etc.) in all registers: from low B flat (or A, optional) to high F sharp (or, optional, the excerpt on the altissimo register till C). In spite of some accents are not written in the score, I added some ones in order to reinforce the rhythmic character of this section.

Dynamics contrasts are also important in the second part. Sometimes, I added some crescendos and decrescendos in order to give more expressivity to my version.

A non-easy technical skill in the slow parts of FANTAISIE ET DANSE is the control of the low notes playing soft and with the ondulations (or vibratos) and portamenti. You have to focus your warm air very well and control the position of your throat to play these notes without problems.

The way to play accurately music from a country so far geographically and culturally for a western European like me was to look for some references of performers of the original instrument. I liked this video of Horacio Curti very much and got ideas for the interpretation of some technical elements as the attacks on the grace notes, the space of the silences, the “woody” sound (including air) of the instrument, etc. I found it very helpful and useful.

The tempi of the different parts of FANTAISIE ET DANSE are not strict and I think that the character is more important than the speed. Furthermore, I think that the duration of the notes and silences in the slow parts of the work are not strict and depend on how the performer feels at the moment and what he want to produce in the audience.

I like to play FANTAISIE ET DANSE by heart (I think it is an easy piece to memorize) and look for situations to surprise the public (although you do not look for them, it is a very good piece to play in concert).

Do you feel like to working on this piece?