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DIFERENCIAS on an Old Spanish Song for Wind Band by YASUHIDE ITO (Japan, 1960)

[#247] April 15, 2024

2020 | Wind Band | Grade 4 | 10’ – 15’ | Theme and Variations

 American composer Michael Torke

“Diferencias on an Old Spanish Song” by Japanese composer, conductor, and educator Yasuhide Ito is our Composition of the Week.

The work was commissioned by the World Music Contest of Kerkrade as a test piece for the 2nd division in 2022.

It has a duration of 11 minutes, and it is scored for standard wind band setting.

The music is available at Brain Music.

“I am immensely happy that my Gloriosa, symphonic poem for band (1990), has been performed by so many bands in the last thirty years. During this period, the growth of the internet has made it much easier to access information. When I composed Gloriosa, I only had limited information about the period when Christianity and Western music was first introduced to Japan and had to rely a lot on my imagination. However, nowadays, it is easy to obtain various source materials and to read interesting studies on the music of the past. In recent years, the music of Luis de Narvaez (born ca.1500 - died between 1555-1560), Spanish composer and vihuela player, has become increasingly known, and several CDs of his music are now available. Narvaez composed the earliest-known set of “diferencias”, a forerunner of the variation form. One of his works is “Seys diferencias” sobre el himno "O gloriosa domina" [Six differences on the hymn "O gloriosa domina"] (1538), based on the Spanish Marian hymn, and it was this melody I used in the first movement of my Gloriosa. Western music has been my musical roots since childhood, and throughout my career as a composer, it has continued to fascinate me. One could say that this has provided the inspiration for “Diferencias on an Old Spanish Song”, my own take on the “diferencias” form. Actually, such music from the early sixteenth century could sound fresh to our modern ears. So, I decided to quote the melody from Narvaez's “Sey diferencias” at the beginning and end of the piece, in order that people can get the feel for the period. The main section (bars 42-390) is formed of 13 “diferencias”, similar to the first movement of the Gloriosa. In the middle section, which begins after the eighth diferencia(from bar 187), one should be totally absorbed in the tranquility and the beauty of the music. Although it's in the style of a sarabande, it should be taken slower and played as pianissimo as possible. This is followed by folk-style dance music. (As only standard percussion instruments are used, try to be creative with tonal colors and sense of rhythm). The structure of the work is simple but be aware of the connection between the sections when constructing the whole. Also, think about the tonality. Overall, the work is in F minor. The main section is basically in D minor, but from bar 102, it modulates to A flat minor and G minor, and then in the middle section it suddenly switches to A flat major (which is the furthest key from D minor, and the relative major of F minor). From bar 219, it modulates to F minor and then to C minor, then back to F minor by way of A minor. N.B. The Oboe II part can be substituted by the English Horn (as indicated in the parts). One can choose according to the player's skills or preference. Recent new compositions for wind band are often full of rhythm, dynamism, and tonal color, and compositional techniques and orchestration have also evolved greatly. Yet on the other hand, they tend to feature fewer melodic or expressive elements. Since this work is the test piece for WMC Kerkrade 2022, I had to think about what "tests" or "challenges" to set, and I decided to compose something that doesn't involve a lot of technical display, but requires beautiful sounds and harmonies, and above all, musical expressivity. I didn't put many expression markings in the score because I wanted the performers to think about how best to express this music. If it is played merely as notated, it's not going to sound very interesting. Christianity was introduced to Japan in the mid-16th century, but it was subsequently banned, and Japan entered a period of national isolation, which meant that there was hardly any international exchange for two hundred years. As a result, the Christian hymns that were introduced prior to the isolation became almost unrecognizable over the centuries. This was the theme I explored in my Gloriosa thirty years ago.” Program notes from the score by Yasuhide Ito


Yasuhide Ito graduated from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music in 1986, where he studied composition with Professor Teruyuki Noda.


He has composed more than 1000 works, including more than 90 for wind band. His Gloriosa is one of the most frequently performed masterworks in the world, having the distinction of appearing in a standard Japanese high school music textbook. Ito won 3rd prize in the 51st Music Competition of Japan with a work for orchestra, and in 1986, he won the 1st prize of the competition for the Composition for Saxophone. As a pianist, Ito won 1st prize in the 5th Music Competition of Shizuoka in 1980. Ito is a member of the Japanese Society for Contemporary Music and the Japan Band Association.


Ito's lectures about Japanese band music at WASBE in 1995 (Hamamatsu) and 1997 (Austria) have had a great influence on the band world. Besides his composition career, Ito is well-known as an author and translator. He has written "Kangakki no Meikyoku Meienso" ("The Masterpieces and Great Performances of Wind Instruments") and translated Frank Erickson's "Arranging for the Concert Band." He teaches at Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, Sakuyo Music College, and Tokyo Conservatoire Shobi. In addition, he is the regular conductor of the Tsukuba University Band.



Other wind band works include:


·      Festal Scenes (1986)

·      Gloriosa (1990)

·      La Vita – Symphony (1998)

·      Morning Songs in Hiroshima (2009)

·      …yet the sun rises (2011)

·      Moonlight Dragon (2012)

·      Festal Ballad for Band (2016)

·      As time is passing on (2020)


View the score here:


More on Yasuhide Ito



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