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8.555350 - YAMADA: Symphony in F Major, 'Triumph and Peace'
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Kôsçak YAMADA (1886-1965)

Kôsçak YAMADA (1886-1965)

Overture in D major • Symphony in F major ‘Triumph and Peace’

Symphonic Poem ‘The Dar Gate’ • Symphonic Poem ‘Madara No Hana’

 

Kôsçak Yamada belongs to the group of the first fully-fledged composers that Japan produced. He was also a prominent conductor, organizer, and leader of the Japanese music world. As a great pioneer, he played a definitive rôle in helping Western music take root in Japan. In the 1860s, after 250 years of isolation, Japan restored extensive contacts with Western civilization, including music. Military bands were formed and in 1879 Ongaku-Torishirabe-Gakari, a national research centre of Western music (later to become the Tokyo Music School), was founded. Japanese traditional musicians under the Emperor started to learn Western music, and Japanese people were eager to make up for lost time in every field.

 

Yamada was born in these surroundings on 9th June 1886, the sixth of seven children. His father was formerly a samurai of lower grade in the Mikawa district (today’s Aichi Prefecture), but the end of Japanese feudalism, with the collapse of the shogun regime, involved the disappearance of the samurai class. Yamada’s father started his new life as a speculator in Tokyo, which brought him a large amount of money and a life of debauchery, but it did not last long, and soon after Kôsçak was born, the family moved to Yokosuka, where his father started a bookstore. In this naval city, as the Sino-Japanese War drew near, Yamada was enchanted by military bands marching around the city, and he tirelessly followed them. He also became familiar with hymns sung in church, as his mother’s side of the family was devout Protestant and it is said that his family had a harmonium. Yamada’s starting-point as a musician was these sounds of military bands, melodies of hymns, and the timbre and harmonies of the harmonium.

 

Yamada’s life in Yokosuka was brief, as the family lost everything in a fire, returning to Tokyo when the boy was seven years old. In poverty, his brother left the family and his father died of cancer when Yamada was nine. Immediately after that, he was sent to a dormitory school (a night school with printing facilities), which was run by a clergyman in Sugamo, in the northern part of Tokyo. In this school he started a life of work, studies and hymns, dreaming of becoming a composer, but heavy work had a serious effect on his health, which forced him to spend two years in Kamakura, attended by his mother. After recovering from illness, he worked as an errand-boy in Shimbashi Station and when he was fourteen, he went to Okayama, in the West of Japan, where his thirteen-year-older sister lived. His sister had married an Englishman, Edward Gauntlet, who had come to Japan through his keen interest in the Orient and was teaching English at the Sixth High School of Okayama, one of the leading schools in Japan. This brother-in-law was from a well-connected family and was an amateur musician and an organist for the Anglican Church. Playing instruments and singing hymns with him, Yamada’s dream of becoming a composer grew. His brother-in-law advised him to be a musician and helped him financially. His mother was at first against the idea of a samurai’s child becoming a musician, but when Yamada was seventeen, she died, leaving a will that allowed him to follow this course. Thus in 1904 Yamada entered the Tokyo Music School, after studying at Kwansei Gakuin High School (a missionary school) and having experience in choral work and organ playing.

 

Although his desire was to become a composer, Yamada’s major study at the Tokyo Music School was singing, as the school had no composition department until the 1930s. It seems that the Japanese government in those days only thought of training performers and educators in the field of Western music. Students who hoped to be composers were left to their own devices. While studying the cello and theory under the two German teachers at the school, August Junker, who was a pupil of Joachim, and Heinrich Werkmeister, who was from the Berlin Musikhochschule, Yamada continued to write string quartets, piano pieces, violin pieces, songs and choral works, when in 1910 Werkmeister recommended him to his private cello pupil Koyata Iwasaki, who was among the leaders of the Mitsubishi Foundation. Iwasaki promised to help him financially with his studies in Berlin. Yamada left for Berlin in high spirits and entered the Musikhochschule, Werkmeister’s alma mater, in April 1910, studying there with Max Bruch and, among others, Karl Leopold Wolf.

 

Yamada’s studies in Berlin were quite fruitful and significant. He absorbed everything he could in Berlin, while continuing to study academic harmony and counterpoint at school. During this Berlin period, he made a series of epoch-making achievements in Japanese music history. Yamada’s predecessors had been attempting pieces for wind band, sonatas for solo instruments and piano-accompanied songs, but Yamada surpassed them in Germany, where he created orchestral pieces, a symphony, symphonic poems and a full-scale opera (including Heavenly Maiden fallen to Earth), all of which were the first-ever attempts of their kind by a Japanese composer. The present recording contains four pieces from this period.

 

The Overture in D major, completed on 22nd March 1912, is the first-ever orchestral piece in Japan. The instrumentation is for pairs of wind instruments, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings. This Allegro assai piece is written in sonata form, but without a development section. It starts with the first theme, which ascends up an octave from D. This ample, clear melody is a kind of challenge by the composer to Japanese traditional music, which often moves with less clarity within a narrow range. With this first theme, Yamada makes a bold step for Japanese musical westernization. The fact that the first work for Western orchestra starts like that is of historical significance. The second theme in A major, presented with soft staccato notes, is gallant in character, spiced with chromaticism. After the statement of the themes, the first theme in D major returns, followed by the second theme in D major this time, and the piece comes to a conclusion.

 

The Symphony in F major ‘Triumph and Peace’, which amounts to the first-ever symphony by a Japanese composer, was completed on 8th November 1912. It may be that the symphony initially had no title and was given the name after the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In any case, the work is true to its name. It contrasts and unites the triumphant hymn to victory and a calm prayer for peace. A pair of musical memories of high-spirited military music and devout hymns in his early days in Yokosuka has now grown into this symphony. The instrumentation is the same as that of the Overture, with an additional three trombones. The first movement has a Moderato introduction. Its F major motif, which later develops into the first theme, contains part of the national anthem Kimigayo (1880) in its latter half (the descending notes C-A-G-F-D). The fact that he began the first Western-style symphony with the national anthem witnesses Yamada’s determination and confidence in supporting the westernization and modernization of Japan. Yamada was strongly attached to the Gagaku-like, beautiful melody of Kimigayo, which meant to him a symbol of the strength and sublimity of Japan, and a link between ‘triumph’ and ‘peace’. All his life he continued to use the melody of Kimigayo or its fragmented motifs in many of his works, as a metaphor for Japan. The second theme, contrasted with the Kimigayo first theme, is presented in C major. Ascending in a wide range from G through C to an octave higher C, it expresses longing and hope. After the thematic statement, the two themes are developed and recapitulated, following the structure of sonata form. In the second movement, a slow march in B flat major appears three times, with two gentler episodes in G major and in D major. The music strongly seeks for peace, although the major tonality of the march implies triumph. The slow march itself sounds like a pastiche of the Adagios of Symphonies Nos. 6 and 9 by Beethoven or the final movement of his Symphony No. 3. Here Yamada shows his skill of quotation and variation, in which Japanese artists traditionally excel. The third movement is a Scherzo. An urgent triple time melody in G minor, like a European country dance, appears three times, and two trios are inserted. The first trio in E flat major is slightly slavonic and the second in G major consists of a canzonetta-like melody and its brief development. The fourth movement Finale in F major expresses refreshed feelings after triumph and the joy of peace. After an imposing almost Beethoven-like introduction, the main sonata form Allegro starts. The first theme, led by a serene brass fanfare ascending an octave, is smooth and flowing, while the second theme in C major is both dynamic and wide-ranging, developing into a marching song characterized by dotted rhythm. This hectic second theme suggests the melody-writing of Yamada’s many songs, written after the 1920s and winning much popularity. The two themes are related to each other by sharing the starting notes of ascending fourths. .

 

The two symphonic poems The Dark Gate and Madara No Hana (Mandarava) were written in the same period. The former was started about March 1913 and was completed in October of the same year, while the latter was started in July and was finished in November. Despite the fact that these works were written only a year after the Overture in D and the Symphony in F, their styles are quite different. In 1912 Yamada was modeling his work on Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Dvorˇák, while in the following year he was under the influence of Richard Strauss, Debussy, even Scriabin, and was pointing to the future. What made Yamada’s musical background change so drastically in a year? The real fact is that the Overture and the Symphony were written for Professor Wolf at the Hochschule, which inevitably required academic composition, following the traditional rules, while his symphonic poems were written freely, with no restraints imposed. It is true that he was absorbed in Schubert and Mendelssohn in his Tokyo days, but after he moved to Germany his main interest shifted to Wagner and post-Wagnerian composers. The two symphonic poems account for his challenge to the new trends.

 

The Dark Gate is based on a poem of the same title by Rofu Miki, a Japanese poet stimulated by European Symbolism. The story is as follows:

 

There are many blind people in a room, and there is a big dark gate in front of them. The blind, driven by uneasiness, knock on the door violently. But the gate does not move at all. One of the blind men murmurs that they might die. All the people stop talking and silence reigns. Meanwhile some begin to cry, yet the gate is kept closed.

 

This poem was written under the influence of Maeterlinck’s play Les aveugles (The Blind), in which the blind get lost and wander about during their walk. Maeterlinck was Yamada’s favourite writer. Yamada also felt that the contrast between the noisy sounds of knocking on the gate and the silence when they stop talking would be appropriate for a piece of music. In addition to that, finding a meaning in silence would conform to the aesthetic sense of Japanese, disciplined by Zen and Noh. Yamada thus chose Miki’s poem for the text of the first symphonic poem in Japan. The “triumph and peace” of the Symphony have been replaced here with “noisy sounds and silence”.

 

This work is written for a big orchestra requiring quadruple wind each. At first the blind are quiet, where a diatonic motif (A-G-F-C sharp) and a chromatic one (A-G sharp-G-F), both descending, are repeated, and a gloomy atmosphere is created. Then the music drastically changes into a cacophonous Presto, dominated by percussion. It calms down for a while, when the sforzando of the timpani brings about another explosion. This part depicts the repeated knocks on the door. After this, silence comes again, which is soon followed by an ascending four-note motif made up of the inversion of the descending motif, now tonally stable by containing a perfect fifth. This ascending motif is combined with the descending motif, and they sing out resignation to death or ecstasy of death. The piece is concluded with the softest sounds of a group of low register instruments.

 

Madara No Hana is based on a poem of the same title by Kazo Saito, Yamada’s close friend, who showed versatility in music composition, architecture, painting, design of furniture and clothes. Saito studied in Berlin during the same period as Yamada, and was influenced by Kandinsky and Bruno Taut. “Madara no hana” denotes beautiful flowers growing in Buddhist Heaven. The poem reads as follows:

 

The sun is shining red in the night. I see the lights of the palace and an old man washing his eyes in the lake. I walk about this strange land. Then the old man passes me by and hurries to the palace. I walk after him only to lose sight of him. Feeling isolated and crying, I still go on walking and come up to a place, where madara no hanas lie scattered on the ground. The palace in the distance now shines brightly and I am enchanted by its beauty. But soon after that, it gets dark and only madara no hanas continue to go.

 

Immediately after Saito wrote this poem in Berlin, he was informed that his father had died suddenly in Japan. Yamada, a mystic, interpreted the poem as an omen of death of Saito’s father: his father (namely the old man) was called to Buddha’s paradise (namely the palace) covered with madara no hanas. Yamada thus composed this piece.

 

The work requires a big orchestra with triple or quadruple wind, with a tenor saxophone. The music is quite melodious and is basically dominated by two intervals, a perfect fourth, an ascending C-F, and a major third, a descending C-A flat. The opening augmented triad, made by ascending harp and violin, expresses the “sun shining red in the night”. The following vague oboe melody evokes the dim, mysterious world. The music gradually becomes excited, depicting the son chasing after his father, and provoking uneasiness of death. The descending chorale-like melody (F-C) suggests the madara no hanas falling and scattering. The abruptly inserted ff represents “the palace shining brightly”. The music concludes in ecstasy.

 

These two symphonic poems, dealing with death, amount to a prototype of Japanese ways of composition, leading to Toru Takemitsu’s music. While absorbing various elements from late Romanticism, Impressionism and his favourite military music and sacred hymns, Yamada also showed keen interest in miniaturistic architecture, brief and fragile melodies, complex timbre, asymmetrical rhythm, soft tones and silence, and ambiguous sensibilities (which he had once rejected in his Overture in D major).

 

These four orchestral works marked the beginning of Japanese orchestral music, but Yamada had no opportunities of performance in Germany. He temporarily returned to Japan in late 1913, when World War I broke out, forcing him to stay in Japan against his will. He strongly hoped to establish himself in Europe, but he eventually made up his mind to support the world of Japanese music. In those days, there were no full-time symphony orchestras or opera companies in Japan. Yamada thought it necessary to foster music ensembles and to enlighten people in order to have his works performed and listened to. He organized a temporary orchestra in Tokyo and he gave the first performances of his Overture, Symphony and Madara No Hana under his own baton between 1914 and 1915. In 1918 and 1919 he performed his works twice in Carnegie Hall, New York, conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra, now New York Philharmonic. This included the première of The Dark Gate. During his stay in the United States, he met Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Ornstein. Continuing to polish his compositional skills and to improve his typical style shown in Madara No Hana, he finally completed an epoch-making symphony “Inno Meiji” (1921), in which he used Japanese traditional instruments for solos in a Western symphony orchestra. He also laid the foundations of the leading orchestra in Japan, today’s NHK Symphony Orchestra, conducted a variety of works ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to contemporary young Japanese composers, tried to perform operas of his own and Wagner’s, created numerous songs and nursery songs still loved widely in Japan, wrote books on music composed for the first talking pictures in Japan, and as a prominent Japanese musician, conducted the Berlin Philharmonic and the Leningrad Philharmonic in the 1930s. Among his many pupils are Hidemaro Konoye, Tamezo Narita, Kiyomi Fujii, Toraji Onaka, Teiji Miyahara, Wen-ye Jiang and Ikuma Dan. He was also quick to discover talented young musicians, such as Kazuo Yamada, Urato Watanabe, Fumio Hayasaka and Akira Ifukube. Leading a hectic life, he gradually inclined to opera, as he thought that music dramas, rather than symphonies, would be more suited to the Japanese, who traditionally loved Kabuki and Noh. After producing two operatic masterpieces, Ayame (Iris) of 1931 and Yoake (Dawn) of 1940, his dream grew bigger towards the end of World War II. He thought of writing a grand opera The Princess Shian-Fei (based on Chinese history) and performing it in Beijing under Japanese occupation, in collaboration with the Chinese people. His intention was to demonstrate the quality of Asian musicians to the world, but Japan lost the war and the opera was left unfinished. (This was completed by his pupil Ikuma Dan and was first performed in 1981.)

 

After becoming disabled, owing to a cerebral haemorrhage in 1948, Yamada mainly composed small songs. He died on 29th December, 1965. The Japanese have respected him as a giant of Western music in Japan and his life has even been dramatized for television.

 

Morihide Katayama


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