One of the most prolific composers of the second half of the 20th century, Toru Takemitsu left over 180 concert pieces, 93 film scores, and several works for theater and dance at the time of his death. Prior to meeting John Cage in Hawaii in 1964, the two major influences on Takemitsu’s musical language were those of Debussy and Messiaen. Though these influences would become more pronounced from the 1960s onward, his use of modal melodies that emerge out of chromatic atmospheres, elimination of regular meter, and a predilection for timbre as a major force in formal delineation can be heard in as early a work as Lento in due movimenti for piano (1950).
Rain Coming falls into a series of works beginning in the early 1980s that are referred to as the Waterscape cycle. Takemitsu had become more and more preoccupied with a sense of tonality – not the functional progressive directed tonality of classical Western harmony, but one more fluid, one able to grow from rain drops into rivers flowing into what he came to call a “sea of tonality.” As a result, Takemitsu’s contemplation of water became a compositional metaphor for a more porous harmonic flow, able to carry with its current not only the inevitable famous mid-20th century ‘dissonances’ just able to keep their heads above swirling waters, but also earlier modalities and textures largely attributable to Debussy and Messiaen, which increasingly manifested themselves in his work into the “sea of tonality” from this point until his death. In a note to one of his compositions from the early 1960s Takemitsu wrote: “When I see and listen to flowing water, it reminds me of an old Japanese word, Tao (the Path)… My image of Tao is not a continuous road but many disconnected dots. Listeners will experience a feeling of stillness, motion, time, and space. These spaces and times are not the same as physics. They are rhythm of nature and time of mind.”
In Rain Coming one can hear echoes of not only Debussy (especially in the final section) but, at least to this writer’s ears, Alban Berg and Boulez of Le marteau sans maître as well, mostly in the opening sequence; the timbre and melodic line of the alto flute being most reminiscent of the latter. There may be more compositional tributaries contributing to this rain of sound flowing into the “sea of tonality” formed by the rhythm of nature and time in Takemitsu’s mind but we can’t know for sure; we must follow the Tao of its flow.