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


Garth Trinkl said…
Very interesting post, pliable, as always. Thank you.

I regret that I missed Toshiro Mayuzumi and Yukio Mishima's "Kinkakuji" when it was performed at the New York City Opera in 1995.

(I also regret that the ill-fated New York City Opera hasn't been able to stage premieres here of Toshio Hosokawa's 'Hanjo' or 'Vision of Lear'.)
Pliable said…
Garth, thanks for that. I should have mentioned Yukio Mishima in the post.

There were parallels between his brand of Japanese nationalism and that of Mayuzumi in his later years.
saintrussell said…
This is one of eighteen LPs in a series that Earle Brown produced for Time-Mainstream. Here's an article with more information on the series:

I don't think any of this stuff is on CD. That's why I still have turntables.
Pliable said…
SR, many thanks indeed for that link which is very useful.

The collabarative contribution from readers with information like that is one of the many things that makes compiling the path so rewarding.
Pliable said…
Interesting random links to the unrelated Time magazine:,9171,896739,00.html,9171,939968,00.html
Unknown said…
Mayuzumi also wrote a wonderful "Concertino for Xylophone and Orchestra" which I have performed a few times and teach to a number of my students. There is only one recording with orchestra currently available and I find it somewhat lackluster.

Thanks for mentioning another unjustly neglected composer.

Recent popular posts

All aboard the Martinu bandwagon

Will this attract young audiences? - discuss

Whatever happened to the long tail of composers?

Who are the real classical role models?

Mahler that dares to be different

Great music has no independent existence

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour

A year of stories that had to be told

Master musician who experienced the pain of genius

Scott Ross and the paradox of genius