Japanese Imperial Court Music

Introduction to Gagaku

For listeners who are educated in Western classical music, one of the most striking features of gagaku music is its emphasis on timbre - the character or quality of sound distinct from it's pitch. Unlike Western classical orchestral works, which primarily use functional harmony and instrumental sound fusion, gagaku music employs fixed harmony and non-fusion.

The original sound of gagaku music results from the unique acoustical properties of ensemble instruments, as well as from compositional techniques used to mix them together. This research site focuses on orchestration in one of the three principal bodies of gagaku music: kangen. It is useful for listeners who would like to understand better the components of gagaku music, and for composers who would like to create new works in this style.

The authors wish to thank Ensemble Reigakusha whose generous participation made this project possible.