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Toru Takemitsu is among the most important of those Japanese composers who have written music in the Western tradition, while preserving a fundamental Japanese identity, bringing his awareness of Japanese music and its traditions into a remarkable and very original synthesis. He makes use of Western or Japanese instruments, either separately or together, creating his own very individual sound.

Toru Takemitsu was born in Tokyo on 8 October 1930. Although he decided upon a career as a composer when only sixteen, he had little formal training and remained essentially self-taught. Perhaps owing to his having heard recordings of French popular songs in wartime, French music held a special attraction, notably that of Debussy and Messiaen, whose influence can be detected right from his earliest scores. International attention first came when his Requiem for strings (1957) was hailed as a masterpiece by Stravinsky, and his success abroad was consolidated over the following decade in such scores as November Steps (1967) which, as a 125th anniversary commission from the New York Philharmonic, broke new ground in employing indigenous Japanese instruments within a Western orchestral context.

At the forefront of musical experimentation during the 1960s and early 1970s, Takemitsu thereafter evolved a more approachable but hardly less individual idiom, one in which the fusion of an essentially Japanese ethos with Western techniques (as in the much-played orchestral work A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden) gained a following on both sides of the Pacific. Although he wrote the scores for almost a hundred films (such as Kurosawa’s acclaimed Ran), his reputation rests largely on his extensive output of orchestral and chamber music. He died in Tokyo on 20 February 1996.