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A Samba Cover


The Death of
Yukio Mishima
- 1972

(soprano & chamber orchestra)

-One act chamber opera

Music by: Andrew Thomas

Copyright © 1972 & 2013

Information available through: AndHow Arts
Recording: Opus one No. 28, Jeanne Ommerle, Peter Leonard/ Michael Parloff, Randy Wolfgang, Curtis Macomber, Woody Mann, Andrew Violette, Gordon Gottlieb, Ken Hoscly & Joseph Passaro

The Death of Yukio Mishima

Part one
Dame, uselessness, otoko, man; nichi, day, sun, getsu, moon; otoko, man; onna, woman; bushido, military code; gaikoku, foreign land; ban, night; dede, death; seppuku, ritual suicide; dede; bushido; Bukkyo, Buddhism; bushido; dede; Seppuku; dede; onna no, feminine; onna ko, girl; dede; bushi . . . ; shinu, to die; bushi . . .’ dame; dede, death.

Part two
is the reason for this preparation
this swelling of the muscles
this worship of the sun and steel –
to make our bodies perfect.
fit to receive
is the highest honor
the glorious goal
the perfect sought-for lover –
who deigns to receive us
if we make our bodies perfect
fit to receive
accepted Sebastian
the Roman soldier
at the height of his powers
at the peak of his life.
received his perfect body
as he died a martyr
firm in his convictions . . . firm in his convictions
a martyr
his fellow soldiers
took him captive captive
strung him
to a tree in the somber forest
his hands tied above his head
his white flesh, his smooth
rippling in the last light of day
as his fellow soldiers
shot their arrows into
his white flesh, his smooth
his dark blood tracing
the subtle curves of his chest
the blood of the dying sun
vying with the blood of the
------dying youth
to stain the dying flesh
to mark it to be received –
a perfect body, a perfect time-
by death.

Part three
Oda Nobunaga, great shogun
riding in victory with his closest retainers
on a bright autumn day
was cut off by his enemies,
Defeat and disgrace imminent,
he saved his honor in seppuku
and death embraced him
still riding in victory.
The sky was blue, intoxicating blue
as death surrounded him.
Blue filled his eyes as death thrust through his victor’s flesh.
Burnished steel sun
swooning blue sky
drunken red blood.

Part four

Part five
Sonnet CXXIX by William Shakespeare

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjur’d, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy’d no sooner but despisèd straight;
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
A bliss in proof – and prov’d, a very woe.
------All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
------To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Program Notes:

Yukio Mishima, 1925-1970, one of Japan’s outstanding modern writers, published about 228 works including 20 novels, 13 articles, 143 short stories, 21 full-length and 31 one-act plays. Only a small portion of this output has been translated into western languages. In addition, he acted in several films, and, in his last years, he tried to reactivate the Japanese samurai traditions.

At the age of forty-five he committed seppuku (hara-kiri) in the office of the commanding general of Japan’s military headquarters, following an emotional address to an assemblage of troops in which he praised militarism and condemned the supposed decadence of modern Japan. Suicide was a major theme of his writing: it appeared early in works like Confessions of a Mask and Forbidden Colors and most directly in Sun and Steel, a late, autobiographical work. It is hard for westerners to view suicide as an honorable act. For Yukio Mishima, attempting to go beyond the realities of words to a higher reality of the flesh, the most important and dignifying grace of the body was the fact that it must perish. The fact of death-in-life defines life; in joining the samurai gesture with the idea of Christian martyrdom (for Yukio Mishima was tremendously knowledgeable about western literature, and fascinated with stories like the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian), he blended two traditions into the sought-for death: an heroic acceptance of mortality, and a total expression of the logic of his thought and personality.

Yukio Mishima’s suicide came at a time when I was attempting to understand a death close to me. His act shocked me into an examination of his writing, which in turn provided the inspiration to come to terms with my own feelings on death in this stage work.

The music is a stylized re-enactment of his death following certain conventions of the Japanese theater and suggesting, in places, music of the gagaku ensembles – the traditional court orchestra music of Japan. The instrumentation is a westernized equivalent of one of these ensembles. Thus, the flute corresponds to the bamboo flute, the oboe to the hichiriki, the violin and guitar to the koto, and the electric organ to the sho-mouth organ, which creates a transparent, many-toned veil of sound behind the solo instruments. The three drums of the gagaku ensemble, the ko tsuzumi, o tsuzumi, and the taiko, have been replaced with three percussionists playing a large battery of western percussion instruments.

The melodic form of gagaku music is essentially a highly decorated single line and I have attempted an eastern imitation and western interpretation of the style throughout my work. The percussion instruments play stereotyped rhythms that define the phrase lengths, and, in traditional sung music, the phrases correspond to breath length and the number of syllables in the text-line. The percussionists also shout one- syllable exclamations to define the divisions of the line. I have expanded this technique so that all the instrumentalists make these short cries, and the words they utter comment upon the action of the story. Thus the words “Waste! Shame! Lust in action!” and so forth, are taken from the Shakespeare sonnet that is the text for the fifth section of the work in which the moral is drawn.

The many references to the East in this work are intended as a western homage to Yukio Mishima and his deep, cross-cultural understanding of the West. In addition, a compositional purpose was intended. This work was one in a series of works that I might describe as compositional quotations. At the time (1968-1972) I was interested in defining my own musical language through the study of other musical cultures. Thus, on another OPUS ONE recording (number 8) I examined and transformed in a woodwind quintet a madrigal of Gesualdo. In The Roman de Fauvel, a song cycle of mine, I examined many other early western forms. In The Death of Yukio Mishima, I have examined and absorbed what I could of an even more foreign musical culture in the belief that by examining a foreign language one comes to a more profound discovery of the roots and organization of one’s own native tongue.

The music of the first section is for the entrance of the actress portraying Mishima (a reversal of the Kabuki tradition where male actors play the female roles). The singer, in an intense, agitated mood, sings Japanese words and speaks their English translation. The words reflect a conflict between masculinity, femininity, and death.

Sections two and three are songs on death: one religious/erotic; the other, militaristic.

In the fourth section, the act of seppuku is portrayed. This section is entirely instrumental.

In section five, after his death, Mishima reappears as a shade (again, following Kabuki tradition) and recites and sings a Shakespeare sonnet that in this context provides a final comment on the action of the drama. The five sections are performed without pause. The choice of the sonnet reflects my ironic disapproval of Yukio Mishima’s act, and the entire work is a troubled homage to the integrity of his death.

- Andrew Thomas

Premiered: The Juilliard School 1972 (performance) Elise Ross, soprano
The Juilliard School (
Pierre Boulez master class)

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