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8.555071 - Japanese Orchestral Favourites
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Japanese Orchestral Favourites

In the second half of the sixteenth century Japan, for a time, accepted European music, but this acceptance was cut short by the policy that rejected all European influences. It was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that the door was opened again to Europe and that European music once more found a place. In 1921 the first Japanese work for a European-style orchestra was composed, the Overture by Kôsçak Yamada, who had studied in Berlin. Thereafter the number of orchestral works by Japanese composers increased steadily, so that, from the later 1930s until today, there are annually some thirty such compositions, mounting sometimes to as many as a hundred. The present collection includes six of those best known in Japan, with four of them based on the traditional Japanese pentatonic scale.

Yuzo Toyama was born in Tokyo in 1931. He studied composition under Kan’-ichi Shimofusa, a pupil of Hindemith and a conducting student of Kurt Wöss and Wilhelm Loibner, both of whom conducted the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo in the 1950s. Toyama has served as the principal conductor of a number of orchestras in Japan. As a composer he has been under the influence of Bartók and Shostakovich in particular, and like Kodály he attaches great importance to the use of folk melodies in his works. Among these are two symphonies, three piano concertos and two violin concertos. His Rhapsody was written in 1960 as an encore piece for the European tour of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in which he took part as a conductor. It starts with repeated sounds from the hyoshigi, a pair of wood blocks, as used in Kabuki theatre, and is followed by the melodies of a series of well-known Japanese folk-songs. The tune of Antagata dokosa (‘Where are you from?’) is heard from the trumpet, the Hokkaido fishermen’s song Soran-bushi from the brass, a banquet song Tankou-bushi (‘Coalminers’ song’) from Kyushu on the strings and another banquet song from the Kansai area, Kushimoto-bushi from the flute. A pack-horse driver’s song, Oiwake-bushi, from the highlands of central Japan, the Nagano region, softly played on the flute, constitutes the central section of the whole work, which ends with Yagi-bushi, a festival song handed down in the Kanto area, providing an emphatic finale.

Hidemaro Konoye was born in 1898 into a high-ranking aristocratic family, the brother of the prime minister of Japan about the year 1940. He studied composition under Kôsçak Yamada in Tokyo and later in Europe under Vincent d’Indy and Max von Schillings, with conducting under Erich Kleiber. He was not only an important conductor in Japan but also conducted orchestras in abroad, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the orchestra of La Scala, Milan and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the first recording of Mahler’s Symphony No.4 and was part of a social circle that included Furtwängler and Richard Strauss. He died in 1973. Konoye wrote original compositions, but was more deeply interested in arranging existing music, including, for example, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Schubert’s C major Quintet, which he orchestrated. Etenraku is an arrangement of a gagaku piece of the same title. Gagaku is the traditional music of the Japanese Imperial court, handed down from ancient times, played by an orchestra of woodwind, plucked instruments and percussion. This music was introduced from China, Korea and Vietnam between the fifth and eighth centuries and adapted to the taste of Japanese people of the day, with original Japanese music added to the repertoire. Sometimes said to have been introduced to Japan from China, Etenraku is of uncertain origin. Its melody, however, has long been familiar to people in Japan, adapted in popular songs and today often used as background music in wedding receptions. Konoye’s arrangement cleverly produces something approaching the orchestral effect of a Western orchestra in his version for gagaku orchestra. In ternary form, the arrangement was first performed under the direction of the composer in Moscow in 1931, to be performed subsequently in more than fifty cities throughout the world. Leopold Stokowski included the work in his repertoire and in Europe the piece was often regarded as akin to Debussy. Whenever this comment was made, however, Konoye refuted it by pointing out that the truth was the opposite and that it was Debussy who was influenced by gagaku, which had been introduced to Europe at the Paris International Exposition of 1889.

Akira Ifukube was born in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, in 1914, and was prompted to devote himself to music after hearing Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Virtually self-educated, he completed his Japanese Rhapsody in 1935. The work won the prize instituted by the Russian émigré Alexander Tcherepnin, who had moved to Shanghai to study Asian music and who sought to make Japanese music more widely known throughout the world. The judges, Roussel, Ibert, Honegger, Tansman, Harsányi, Ferroud and Gil-Marchex, were unanimous in their decision. The work was first performed in 1936 under Febian Sevitsky by the Boston People’s Orchestra, and in 1939 won the approval of Sibelius at its first performance in Helsinki, events that gave valuable encouragement to Japanese composers, whose work was still little heard abroad. The Rhapsody consists of Nocturne and Fête. The first of these is in ternary form, its first section dominated by a sad, folk-song-like theme, presented in an extended viola solo. The central section is a tense evocation of the night. In Fête themes from traditional Japanese festive music are presented. In both movements an important element is provided by the nine-man percussion section, while the second movement involves special techniques, including bowing on the fingerboard and the plucking of violins held downwards, like guitars. No specific folk melody is used. As a result of the award of the Tcherepnin Prize, Ifukube became a pupil of Alexander Tcherepnin. His subsequent works include Symphonic Ode to Buddha, Sinfonia Tapkaara, two violin concertos, a marimba concerto and about three hundred pieces of incidental music for films, including Godzilla.

Yasushi Akutagawa was born in Tokyo in 1925, the son of one of the leading Japanese writers of the first half of the century, Ryunosuke Akutagawa. He studied in Tokyo with Ifukube and Kunihiko Hashimoto, guided by the aesthetic philosophy of rough manliness of the former and the lyricism of the latter. He was greatly influenced by the music of Shostakovich and Prokofiev, which was widely heard in Japan after the war, and he played an important part in the musical exchange between Japan and the Soviet Union. He died in 1989. Some of Akutagawa’s works were played under the direction of leading Russian conductors, including Anosov and Gergiev. His compositions include an opera, Orpheus of Hiroshima, Ellora Symphony, a cello concerto, and some hundred examples of music for the cinema. Music for Symphony Orchestra was first performed in 1950 by the NHK Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Hidemaro Konoye and was soon taken up by Thore Johnson and the Symphony of the Air, to be heard in cities all over the United States, leading to immediate world-wide recognition. The first of the two movements, marked Andantino, is in ternary form, with witty motifs appearing one after another in the first section, supported by the snare drum, framing a central section of more melancholy hue. The following Allegro starts with a clash of cymbals, introducing a rondo-form movement, with an urgently aggressive principal theme, a scherzo-like contrasting episode and a second, lyrical episode, both making use of the characteristic interval of a minor second, typical of the composer.

Kiyoshige Koyama was born in Nagano in the central highlands of Japan in 1914, and studied composition under Kornei Abe, a pupil of Klaus Pringsheim, and Tornojiro Ikenouchi, a pupil of Henri Bussel. His career started late and it was not until after the war that his works began to be performed. His style is based on Japanese folk tradition, the result of the influence of the nationalist group of composers in the 1930s and 1940s, including Ifukube, Fumio Hayasaka, and Urato Watanabe. His compositions include an opera, Sanshyo-Dayu, and a symphonic suite, Masque of Noh Play. Kobiki-uta (‘a wood-cutter’s song’) is a set of variations based on a traditional work- song of wood-cutters in the western region of Kyushu. It was first performed in 1957 by the Nippon Philharmonic Orchestra under Akeo Watanabe. The theme is offered by a solo cello, while violin and viola, playing sul ponticello, imitate the sound of the wood-cutter’s saw. The first of the three following variations is based on the traditional drum shime-daiko and yagura-daiko. The second transforms the theme in various ways, accompanied by glockenspiel, celesta and harp, leading to the bold and lively final variation, after which the theme quietly returns.

Takashi Yoshimatsu was born in Tokyo in 1953, at a time when Japanese composers had embraced the trend towards avant-garde techniques. While absorbing these, Yoshimatsu opposed the general fashion, returning to popular rhythms and romantic melody and coming to be regarded as the standard-bearer of Neo-Romanticism in Japan. He studied under Teizo Matsumura, a pupil of Ifukube, for some time, but acquired much of his craft by himself. He is a great admirer of Sibelius and his works include five symphonies, and concertos of piano, for saxophone, and for bassoon. Threnody to Toki was originally written in 1979 for eleven string instruments and piano but in 1980 was revised for a larger orchestra and piano, a version first performed by the Nippon Philharmonic Orchestra under Kazuo Yamada and included here. Toki, the Japanese crested ibis, has, from the early twentieth century, been on the verge of extinction. In this work the composer treats the bird as the symbol of natural beauty, oppressed by inorganic contemporary civilisation, and at the same time he sees there the state of tonal music, widely neglected. Lamenting the fate of both, he made the work into a prayer for their revival. The Threnody starts with the harmonics of the viola, cello and double bass, followed by the violin, again with harmonics, playing a heart-rending fragmentary motif suggesting the cry of the toki. In the central part of the work the piano plays the threnody in the style of jazz. A descending figure in the violin suggests the downward flight of the bird, together with the motif of the cry of the toki, the whole work a prayer for its revival, as the music climbs to a height and then fades away to a close. In the cluster technique of the string writing the influence of Takemitsu and Penderecki can be heard.

Morihide Katayarna
English version by Yuriko Obstuka


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