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Decentering Gagaku. Exploring the multiplicity of contemporary Japanese Court music

Andrea Giolai defended his thesis on 3 May 2017.

Andrea Giolai
03 May 2017
Leiden Repository

The word gagaku indicates a vast repertoire of music and dances brought to Japan through the Silk Roads from the 6th century CE. Japanese conservative intellectuals and international organizations like UNESCO often portray gagaku as timeless and immutable, equating it with the music performed by the Japanese Imperial Household.

But gagaku is much more than “Japanese court music”.

This thesis offers an alternative perspective on gagaku, presenting it as a “multiple object”, a dynamic genre with porous boundaries. The examination of the activities of professional musicians in Tokyo and of amateur practitioners in Kansai at the end of the 19th century forms the basis for two ethnographic sketches of gagaku in contemporary Japan: a portrait of Nanto gakuso, an amateur group based in Nara; and a discussion of the dispute concerning the threat to the materials used in the making of a gagaku instrument by the construction of a highway between Kyoto and Osaka.

Theoretically ambitious and based on over two years of apprenticeship, this thesis skillfully combines historical, musicological, and anthropological approaches to music. Advocating a new ontological paradigm for the study of gagaku, it proposes to shift the question from what music is to what music can do.

Supervisors: prof. K. Cwiertka and prof. B. Ruperti from Ca' Foscari University in Venice

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