I'm reading The Rough Guide to Classical Music (2010 5th ed.) by Joe Staines. On p. 563 bottom, left column, he writes:

Takemitsu’s orchestral works vary considerably, but his overriding preoccupations – sonority and slow-paced musical unfolding – are ever-present. In November Steps (1967) an almost competitive dialogue between the Japanese instruments takes place well in front of the orchestra, which ebbs and flows in and out of the soloists like a multi-voiced and eloquent chorus. The language is gestural and splintered (not unlike Boulez), greatly increasing the overall impression of highly coloured abstraction.

  1. What does the bolded phrase mean? What do "language", "gestural", "splintered" mean?

  2. How does such "language" of Takemitsu's mirror Boulez's?

  3. How does "gestural and splintered" "language" increase "the overall impression of highly coloured abstraction"?

  • Just curious, have you listened to any Boulez's or Takemitsu's music? I have some ideas that the critic, views some type of an abstract painting in his mind's eye when he listens to the music with splotches of color....
    – Karlomanio
    Mar 14, 2019 at 21:04
  • @Karlomanio Some of them, yes, but only a few times.
    – user1055
    Mar 15, 2019 at 1:50

1 Answer 1


Language" in this context, refers to the characteristic phrasing and patterns of the song, which is being compared metaphorically to the rhythms and tonalities of speech. It's a good pairing with the immediately preceding description of the orchestra as a chorus. Vocal terms are used very frequently for instrumental music, to the point where they might be considered more as adapted terms than as live metaphors.

"Gestural language," AKA "talking with your hands" is what we associate with Italians and members of many other cultures who use a lot of expressive hand gestures when speaking. In reference to this piece of music, I'd venture that it refers to the way the phrasing is not primarily melodic or harmonized, but comes in short bursts of sound are are largely self contained. The same meaning is metaphorized in a different way with the descriptor "splintered," which indicates a whole that has been divided into small piercing segments. Again, the reference seems to be to the little, disconnected musical phrases that compose the song. Boulez' music has a very similar quality of being composed of little disconnected musical phrases that are neither melodic nor harmonized.

Abstraction in music is music that is neither programmatic (representational and/or narrative based) nor melodic, nor based on a harmonic progression. As with abstract visual art, it is not depicting something, it is a more raw and direct interaction with the raw material, in this case, sound. Musical color is a visual metaphor and is largely governed by the overtones and the dissonances, which are said to "add color." Some musicians and artists are actually synesthetic, meaning they see musical notes in different colors, or hear colors as different notes.

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