Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pak Cokro

The Javanese composer, musician, and teacher KPH Notoprojo, who previously carried the title and name KRT Wasitodiningrat and was most familiar to his students as Pak Cokro, has died at the age of 103 (by western reckoning, and over 120 according to the Javanese calendar). He was an extraordinary figure in the history of 20th century music whose impact and reputation extended far beyond Indonesia.

Pak Cokro, the natural son of Prince Paku Alam VII and half-brother of Paku Alam VIII, was music director for many years at the Pura Paku Alam, the palace of the lesser principality in Jogyakarta, Central Java, a position inherited from his adoptive father (making Pak Cokro one of the last of the world's great court musicians). He was also gamelan director at the radio station RRI Yogyakarta and had a lasting impact on many Americans through his teaching activities on the West Coast (his first international experience was a tour of the Soviet Union as a young man). He once described Lou Harrison as his best friend in America, and Harrison in turn readily identified Pak Cokro as his best teacher, an astonishing compliment considering that Harrison studied with both Cowell and Schoenberg.

As a musician, Pak Cokro was a central figure in the development of the contemporary style of the Paku Alam Palace which, although maintaining some unique traditional elements, was increasingly marked by influences from the more refined style of the courts in the rival capital city of Surakarta. Although a master instrumentalist, I believe that Pak Cokro considered his most important work to have been that with vocalists, and we are fortunate to have had his students collect his vocal notation as well as to record performances -- via multi-tracking -- of a set of pathetan, "mood" songs in each of the Javanese tonalities. As a composer, his role was always that of a functionary, whether for the court, the new independent Republic of Indonesia, or the radio station. Although born into the typical courtly mix of Agama Jawa and Islam, he was a practitioner of Yoga and a confessed Buddhist and it was entirely unsurprising to discover a work of Pak Cokro's in the Javanese language Roman Catholic liturgical song book. His own compositions not only integrated the styles of the two Javanese capitals, but also experimented with techniques borrowed from Balinese music, and even part-singing, suggesting a nod to the west.

Here is a video of Pak Cokro playing gender in 2005.


Anonymous said...

The last great composer of the 20th century has died, and yours is the only blog to notice.

sfmike said...

What a cool eulogy. I'll be looking for recordings as soon as possible.

SiBuduhMan said...

He truly was a singular, seemingly larger-than-life musician. So sorry to hear of his passing.

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