Taikyoku (Symphony No. 4) for two pianos and six percussion

Sample 1: Taikyoku-Symph4 live performance.mp3

Sample 1: Taikyoku-Symphony No.4 live performance

Taikyoku-Symph4 Sample 2.mp3

Sample 2: Taikyoku-Symphony No.4 live performance

Taikyoku-Symph4 Sample 3.mp3

Sample 3: Taikyoku-Symphony No.4 live performance

Taikyoku-Symph4 Sample 4.mp3

Sample 4: Taikyoku-Symphony No.4 live performance

Taikyoku-Symph4 Sample 5.mp3

Sample 5: Taikyoku-Symphony No.4 live performance

Taikyoku-Symph4 Sample 6.mp3

Sample 6: Taikyoku-Symphony No.4 live performance




20 minutes


  • Instrumental/Chamber Ensemble
  • Percussion


2 pianos and 6+ percussion players

Taikyoku literally means a large scale work and is a series of moves in karate over which Standford applied the theories of Gagaku or 'refined music', scale structures, rhythmic cycles of 8, 4 and 2 and types of phrasing. This became the 4th Symphony for 2 pianos and percussion.

In Standford's words, 'In the old music of Japan, the title Taikyoku means 'a large, important work'. Original plans to use a typical orchestra soon became inappropriate to the musical ideas which were derived from old Japanese Gagaku and Bugaku rhythmic patterns, and the pentatonic modes; six called Togaku and three 'established' modes called Komagaku.

The shape of this symphony is derived from the Togaku pieces which all had at least three movements, and generally followed a four-part form: Jo, a prelude in free form; Ha, a large middle movement; EI, a vocal movement which was optional; and Kyu, a fast finale. 

Before each Gagaku piece, a short slow free-style Prelude was performed. This was to set the mode of the work and was only for kaki percussion. It was called Netori and a larger form of prelude (Choshi) could either follow or replace the Netori.

In my symphony, the first movement could be called Choshi - a large-scale prelude, setting the modes, Boh rhythmic and tonal, and introducing the percussion: first the wooden instruments, then the membranes and finally the metallic instruments. The pianos alone rise to an urgent climax with repeated notes without a break. This section introduces pitched percussion, xylophones, marimba, vibraphone, bells, glockenspiel and crotales which, with the pianos, mix into a wash of colours, before cascading into the third movement, EI. This is not, however, the optional vocal movement of the old Togaku pieces, but a sequence of suspended movement in which time stands still and the persistent sound of distant bells through a misty landscape slowly dissolves. The short finale, Kyu, recalls the prelude, Choshi, but with a more gentle nostalgia.'



Taikyoku First Performance

29th June 1983

Royal College of Music Percussion Ensemble, Simon Conning and Nicholas Unwin, piano duo, conducted by Edwin Roxburgh

Taikyoku First Broadcast

29th December 1983

Hilary MacNamarar and Howard Shelley, piano duo, Lontano percussion conducted by Nicholas Cleobury