Traditional court and religious music of Japan. It first appeared in Japan as an import from Korea in the 5th century AD and had become established at court by the 8th century. Though little notation from before the 12th century survives, a mostly later body of music continues to be performed at Shintō ceremonies. Gagaku employs transverse flute (ryuteki), double-reed pipe (hichiriki), mouth organ (shō), gong (shōko), drums, and stringed instruments including the biwa (see pipa) and koto. It may accompany dance (
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Gagaku, the oldest classic music in Japan, was introduced into Japan with Buddhism from the Korean Peninsula. In 589, Japanese official diplomatic delegations had been sent to China (during the Sui dynasty) to learn Chinese culture.
Komagaku and togaku arrived in Japan during the Nara period (710-794), and settled into the basic modern divisions during the Heian period (794-1185). Gagaku performances were played by musicians who belonged to hereditary guilds. During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), military rule was imposed and gagaku was performed in the homes of the aristocracy, but rarely at court. At this time, there were three guilds based in Osaka, Nara and Kyoto.
Because of the Ōnin War which was a civil war from 1467 to 1477 during the Muromachi period, gagaku in ensemble had been stopped playing in Kyoto for about 100 years. In the Edo era, Tokugawa government re-organized the court style ensemble which is the direct roots of the present one.
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, musicians from all three guilds came to Tokyo and their descendants make up most of the current Imperial Palace Music Department. By this time, the present ensemble style which consists of three wind instruments i.e. hichiriki, ryūteki, and shō (bamboo mouth organ used to provide harmony) and three percussion instruments: kakko (small drum), shoko (metal percussion), and taiko (drum) or dadaiko (huge drum), supplemented by gakubiwa, gakuso had been established.
Today Gagaku is performed in two ways. Togaku can be performed as kangen, concert music for winds, strings and percussion, or as bugaku, or dance music for which the stringed instruments are omitted. Komagaku survives only as bugaku. ...overview, University of California site
Contemporary gagaku ensembles, such as Reigakusha (伶楽舎), perform contemporary compositions for gagaku instruments; this sub-genre of contemporary works for gagaku instruments, which began in the 1960s, is called reigaku (伶楽). 20th century composers such as Tōru Takemitsu have composed works for gagaku ensemble, as well as individual gagaku instruments.
One of the most important gagaku musicians of the 20th century, Masataro Togi (who served for many years as chief court musician), instructed American composers such as Alan Hovhaness and Richard Teitelbaum in the playing of gagaku instruments.