Three Noh Songs: Takasago, Kamo, and Kantan


This large manuscript book dates from the middle of the Edo period (1600–1867). The title is found on the endpaper, inside the front cover. The book contains libretto and music notations of three Noh chants or songs, Takasago, Kamo, and Kantan, accompanied by six colorful illustrations of Noh actors. The paper has gold-painted designs underneath the text. Noh, a classical form of Japanese musical drama, developed in the middle ages. Actors, chorus, and musicians all appear on the stage together. The music, like the movement, is stripped down to create a simple, concentrated atmosphere. Takasago is a masterpiece by Zeami (1363–1443), who established Noh as a classic theatrical art. It is a story of a Shinto priest’s encounter with the spirits of two ancient trees, one at Takasago in Harima Province and the other in Settsu Province. The spirits reveal that they are husband and wife, and although separated by a great distance, their hearts are united. Kamo is said to be by Konparu Zenchiku (circa 1405–69), who further developed Noh theater after Zeami. Kamo tells the origin of Kamo Shrine, in Kyoto, with grace and gallant chants. Kantan is a moral enlightenment fable, based on Zhenzhong ji (Record within a pillow), a Chinese tale from the Tang Dynasty (618–907). A young man, napping at an inn having borrowed a magical pillow, has a dream of his glorious life, in which he reigns for 50 years. Awaking from his brief dream, he understands that life itself is only short and fragile.

Last updated: February 14, 2012