Monday, January 05, 2009
Imagine there's no artwork
Here is an interesting variation on my musician as artist thread. The sleeve of this 1962 recording of Toshiro Mayuzumi's Nirvana Symphony uses artwork by none other than Yoko Ono. Although better known as John Lennon's wife and as a notable conceptual artist in her own right, Yoko Ono has some interesting connections with classical music. While majoring in philosophy at Gakushuin University in Tokyo she also studied music, specialising in German lieder and Italian opera.
After moving to the US with her parents Yoko dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY (which was then not coed), and aged 23 eloped with the Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi (b. 1933) whose teachers included John Cage. The marriage did not last; Ichiyanagi returned to pursue his career in Japan while Yoko Ono stayed in New York to become a central figure in the Fluxus group which pioneered muti-media 'anti-art'. Other members of the group included Cage and La Monte Young. The 1962 date of the Nirvana Symphony LP coincides with the emergence of Fluxus as a new art movement.
The composer of the Nirvana Symphony, Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929-1997) studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and he is probably Japan's best known classical composer after Toru Takemitsu. Mayuzumi's early compositions were influenced by Edgar Varèse and other members of the European avant-garde. But, from the late-1950s Mayuzumi's music increasingly reflected his Japanese roots and used Buddhist references in a reaction against Western influences. His output includes two operas and two symphonies. The Nirvana Symphony is scored for orchestra, male chorus and electronics.
The Time Records recording of the Nirvan Symphony has disappeared from the catalogue, as has a later Denon version. But Naxos comes to the rescue with a CD of Toshiro Mayuzumi's music that includes his 17 minute Mandala Symphony. Sadly, sleeve art is just a box to be ticked in today's world of downloads and there are no budgets for Yoko Ono commissions. Which means the CD art of the otherwise excellent 2005 Naxos Mayuzumi disc falls somewhat short of the Fluxus vision of Nirvana. But the good news is that Yoko Ono continues her classical connections by contributing to Sarah Cahill's Sweeter Music piano cycle.
My samples of Yoko Ono's artwork used for the paragraph breaks lead us to some Japanese erotic variations.
To keep the record straight (sorry for the pun) the overall design for the album sleeve of the Time Records Nirvana Symphony, which incorporates Yoko's artwork, was by Murray Stein. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk