is being upgraded. Visit our new video service.

Japanese Melodies : Work information

Anon ( Music, Images,)
Folk Traditional ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Yo-yo Ma (Recording Artist), Patricia Zander (Harpsichord), Masami Mamiya (Arranger), Sumire Yoshiwara (Percussion), Hiroaki Naka (Bass), Yo-yo Ma (Cello), Tetsuri Kaneko (Producer), Pro Musica Nipponia (Orchestra), Michio Mamiya (Conductor), Michio Mamiya (Arranger)

This work

Work name
Japanese Melodies
Work number

This recording

Recording date

The Composers


A piece of music is attributed to "Anon" if we do not know who wrote it. There are several ways this can happen.

Some music, particularly folk songs, have been handed down for centuries without being written down. Presumably someone composed them, but by the time people like Bartók, Vaughan Williams and Percy Grainger  went around collecting folk songs, many attributed the tunes as "traditional". Thanks to the "Chinese Whispers" effect of passing on a tune by ear, the music had been shaped and changed with the times.

There are also written pieces that are difficult to identify. Before photocopiers existed, most music was copied by hand, making the age of the paper and handwriting not reliable indicators of age or provenance. If the title page gets lost, we can only listen to the music to see if the style is familiar. If the work is by somebody obscure, or if it isn't a good example of their work, it becomes more difficult to identify.

Copyright violation was abundant in the classical period, with many copying pieces and pretending that they had written them, or producing forgeries of the works of famous composers. As with paintings, once a piece has been identified as a fake, it can be virtually impossible to work out the composer.

There is a lot of debate about certain "anonymous" works. There are claims that "Greensleeves" was written by King Henry VIII although, having listened to some of the other things attributed to him, this seems rather unlikely. One must use a good sense of judgment and have a good musical ear to properly attribute these anonymous works to a particular composer.

Related: folk Traditional

Folk Traditional

The desire to establish un-equivocally the identity of the composer of a piece of music has only become an issue in the last couple of hundred years. This means that for much music written before the 19th century, we cannot categorically say who wrote it or, indeed, whether any one person is responsible for the piece as we now know it. In the former category, we might label the composer as 'anonymous'; in the latter we might well refer to the music as 'traditional'. In effect this is to say that a piece of music, or more likely a melody, has been passed down from generation to generation in the manner of a tradition.

Often melodies or pieces of music can undergo changes as they travel through history with each succeeding generation choosing to adapt the tradition to fit more appropriately with the current social situation. With folk music, this is often an oral process that doesn't write down the music but retains it in the collective memory of a community. In this case, we have no way of reconstructing what the melody used to sound like. Often, though, the same melody will be remembered by two different communities, and remembered differently as time goes on. Eventually the two versions of the melody, having passed through many generations of variants, may eventually sound substantially different, though we can say that they derive from the same source. In the 20th century, composers like Vaughan Williams and Bartók wrote some of these down, anxious to preserve the repertoire before the folk tradition died out.

'Traditional' could also be applied to music that was composed by an un-identifiable individual. Where as 'anonymous' might be a more accurate way to describe its composer, the piece may well have entered our cultural language to the extent that its performance constitutes a tradition to be passed to succeeding generations. Certain Christmas carols perhaps fall under this bracket. Essentially, though, the word is a way of making music from a time when the individual was less important than the act of music-making itself, fit in with our composer-dominated view of music.

Track listing

  • Matsushima-Ondo 2:59 min
  • Kojo-No-Tsuki 4:34 min
  • Zui-Zui-Zukkorobashi 2:25 min
  • Defune 4:59 min
  • Nara-Yama 5:00 min
  • Chin-Chin-Chidori 4:40 min
  • Sakura, Sakura 4:20 min
  • Oroku-Musume 3:15 min
  • Chugoku-Chiho-No-Komoriuta 4:09 min
  • Chiran-Bushi 4:32 min