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8.555881 - HASHIMOTO: Symphony No. 1 / Symphonic Suite
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Qunihico Hashimoto (1904-1949)

Qunihico Hashimoto (1904-1949)

Symphony No. 1 • Symphonic Suite “Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman”

 

Qunihico Hashimoto was one of the leading Japanese composers in the first half of the twentieth century. He showed a chameleon-like talent, commanding a variety of styles including romanticism, impressionism, nationalism, jazz and atonality. He was also active as a violinist, an accompanist, conductor and educator, but his career was marked by tragedy, through the vagaries of politics and war.

 

Hashimoto was born on 14th September, 1904, in Tokyo. When he was still young, his family moved to Osaka, where he came to know western music, playing in the school band at elementary school. At his secondary school he studied the violin with Kichinosuke Tsuji, the most renowned teacher then in Osaka, but he gradually turned his interests towards composing rather than performance. In 1923 he entered Tokyo Music School, the present Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, an establishment with the best facilities for studying western music, although his major study was the violin and conducting, as the school had no composition faculty before the first half of the 1930s. Composition students had to look for teachers elsewhere or to teach themselves. Apart from occasionally studying with Kiyoshi Nobutoki, a pupil of Georg Schumann in Berlin, Hashimoto acquired his ability as a composer virtually unaided. He was also a proficient pianist.

 

Establishing himself as a popular composer in the latter half of the 1920s, Hashimoto produced a variety of concert songs. His pieces Kabi (Mould) and Hanmyo (Tiger Beetle) were epoch-making in their demonstration of a Japanese composer’s command of the French Impressionists’ sense of harmony. Chansons like Okashi-to-Musume (Cakes and a Girl) caught the heart of urban people who longed for the modern culture of Paris. Folk-song-like simple pieces Fujisan-Mitara (Looking at Mount Fuji) and Taue-Uta (Rice Planting Song) evoked nostalgia among those living in big cities, who, in the rapid course of urbanisation, had been obliged to move there from the country. Mai (Dance) succeeded in creating a Japanese version of Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme by transferring the Joruri style, with its blend of songs and narrative, to an ordinary song style with piano accompaniment. The atonal elements in the piano part of Mai led to his reputation in Japan as an avant-garde composer. During this period Hashimoto, like Kurt Weill in Berlin, strove to break down the barrier between classical and popular music by his intensive work on songs for film, commercials, records and broadcasting, as well as writing jazz songs, while introducing Alois Hába’s microtonal music, such as his 1930 Etude for Violin and Cello, and composing impressionistic pieces for piano and orchestra. He enjoyed a reputation as an enfant terrible, but at the same time he had to be a representative of rigorous academicism, when he assumed the position of professor at the Tokyo Music School. He responded perfectly to this task by composing his Cantata Celebrating the Birth of the Prince in 1934, in the German romantic style of the nineteenth century. In addition to his feat of representing both modernism and academicism in composition, Hashimoto was active as a violinist until 1934.

 

From 1934 to 1937, Hashimoto studied in Europe, sent by the Ministry of Education. He spent a considerable time in Vienna, where he studied with Egon Wellesz, Schoenberg’s pupil, discussing with him the future of music, nationalism or international atonalism. Strongly impressed by Berg’s Wozzeck, Hashimoto attended concerts by Furtwängler, Toscanini, Walter, Weingartner and Erich Kleiber, visited Respighi, associated with Alois Hába and Ernst K˘renek, and met Schoenberg in Los Angeles before returning to Japan.

 

After his return to Japan, however, there was little room allowed for Hashimoto to establish his career as a free, uninhibited modernist. When Japan went to war against China, he was expected to meet national requirements, much as Shostakovich did in his Symphonies No. 5 and No. 7, as a composer in his prime from the national music school. What was immediately useful to him was not his knowledge of the Second Viennese School, but of German and Italian cultures dominated by totalitarianism. He composed a symphony celebrating the 2600th year of the Emperor, cantatas dedicated to the dead in the Japanese-Chinese war and the Pacific war, as well as a number of wartime songs, including Song of the Japanese Navy, Song of Dai Nippon, Students-Off-to-the-Front March and We Are Victorious Young Patriots. Some of them were songs of bravery and others of sadness. In addition to writing music, he was busy conducting domestic and foreign works, including his own pieces, in Japan, Korea and China.

 

In the year following Japan’s defeat in 1945, Hashimoto left the faculty of Tokyo Music School, accepting responsibility for his wartime musical activities. In this difficult period, however, he was to write some masterpieces. Winter Suite for solo voice and chamber ensemble depicts people despondent after the war, while Three Prayers of Japanese Buddhists for solo voice and orchestra, which strongly suggests the music of Mahler, expresses the deep regret of intellectuals for having misled many young people to their deaths by their advocacy of patriotism. Despite that, he was still expected to be a composer to represent Japan and he wrote his optimistic Symphony No.2, celebrating the democratic Constitution of Japan newly established with America’s assistance.

 

Japan underwent a complete change of values after the war. Living through these years, Hashimoto was never free from continuing stress, which undermined him both physically and mentally. In 1948 he was diagnosed with cancer. While struggling against the illness in bed, he converted to Christianity, and on 6th May the following year he died in Kamakura. His pupils include some leading figures in the post-war Japanese music scene, including Yasushi Akutagawa, Toshiro Mayuzumi and Akio Yashiro.

 

Hashimoto’s Symphony No.1 in D (1940) was written to celebrate the 2600th year of the Emperor. When the United States asked Japan to open diplomatic relations and trade in 1853, the Samurai régime, which had kept the country closed for some two hundred years, rapidly began to collapse, and a new government by the Emperor, who had before been a mere titular head, was established in 1868. Being aware of Japan’s inferiority to the West in economics, politics, military affairs, science and legislation, the new government strove to promote modernisation and westernisation, while anxious that this might bring a general feeling of inferiority. To solve this problem, the government adopted the Emperor year system in 1872. According to this system, the years started in 660 B.C., when the first Emperor Jinmu was enthroned, as mentioned in Nihon Shoki, a chronicle assembled in 720 A.D. Modern history puts the appearance of the first Emperor in the fourth century, which means that the Emperor year system is some thousand years out. This mattered little to the new government, however, as they believed that having their own history, 660 years longer than that of the West, would help Japanese people keep their pride, without feeling inferior to the West. From then on, this system was to be used until 1945. Following the system, the Western year of 1940 fell on the Imperial year 2600. Considering that this was the best opportunity to boost national prestige, the Japanese government made plans for the Olympic Games and an international Exposition in Tokyo. When they were cancelled because of the war, the government turned the project to a domestic purpose, to strengthen national solidarity. All kinds of artistic fields were called upon and music was no exception. Five composers from European countries were commissioned to write festival music: Richard Strauss’s Festmusik zur Feier des 2600 jährigen Bestehens des Kaiserreiches Japan, Ibert’s Ouverture de Fête, Pizzetti’s Symphony in A, Veress’s Symphony No.1 and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. Four of them, except for Britten’s work, which was considered unsuitable for the festivity, were performed in December in Tokyo, when Hashimoto conducted Veress’s piece. This year also saw many festival masterpieces by Japanese composers, including Kosçak Yamada’s opera Yoake (Dawn) and symphonic poem Kamikaze, Kiyoshi Nobutoki’s cantata Kaido-Tosei, Yasuji Kiyose’s Japanese Dance Suite and Fumio Hayasaka’s Overture in D.

 

Hashimoto’s Symphony No.1 was commissioned by Kenkoku-Sai-Honbu (National Foundation Festival Headquarters), an organization which held an annual ceremony in honour of the Emperor on 11th February, a national holiday Kigensetsu (National Foundation Day), when the first Emperor is said to have been enthroned, and was first performed on 11th June by the Tokyo Music School Orchestra under the composer’s baton. Hashimoto had to meet various requirements, as did the old Soviet composers of socialist realism; the music should be positive and nationalistic, as well as plain in sound to be acceptable to a wide audience, while maintaining the grandeur of the symphonic form, far beyond a mere occasional piece. Surmounting such difficulties, the work amounts to a masterpiece in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. Hashimoto was a versatile composer and was able to use a variety of styles, but he was essentially a lyrical melodist, which is manifest in this large scale work, brimming with melodies.

 

The first movement, Maestoso, is in sonata form, incorporating the concept of Emakimono, a picture scroll with narrative interspersed. The opening and the closing parts of most Emakimonos are painted with gradation effects, as if they were veiled in mist. Hashimoto adapts this technique both to the introduction and the epilogue, which frame the central section in sonata form, where panoramic sounds expressively depict Japan from time immemorial. The introduction opens with a delicate canon by the first and second violins. This is derived from Oibuki, a canonic technique often used in the opening of Gagaku, Japanese traditional court music. The main section immediately follows and the flowing, elegant first theme, consisting of a three-note motif (D-E-A), is introduced by the violin. As it grows in intensity, the oboe and the flute present the lonely second theme, which is based on Miyako-Bushi, one of the traditional Japanese pentatonic scales, and strongly reflects the vocal technique of the Utai style of Noh. This melody is repeated, with a restless counter-melody on the lower strings. The brief but tense development carries an ephemeral festive mood, with various episodes, including the March of Children, with side drum accompaniment, and other episodes, and frantic brass attacks appearing one after another, leaving the celesta alone after the festival. The recapitulation recalls the introduction and the exposition in reverse order. The second theme, with the harp repeating the three-note motif, precedes the first theme, leading to flamboyant anthem-like music. Finally the motifs of the introduction return and the music fades out solemnly into the realms of antiquity.

 

The second movement is in A-B-A’ form (Allegretto - Scherzando - Allegretto). The A section reflects music of the southern part of Japan. In the southern islands, especially in Okinawa, cultural and economic interrelations with China and Southeast Asia gave birth to their own music, which is quite different from that of the mainland. The singing theme of the A section is based on a pentatonic scale from the southern islands. Hashimoto repeats it over and over again in a crescendo, like Ravel’s Boléro, until reaching the climax, where he uses Nihon-Daiko, a Japanese big bass drum. The process of developing music evokes Japan’s “aspiration for the South”, both in politics and economics. The B section is filled with the light-hearted mood of folk-songs sung in feasts in the mainland. The stress on the fourth beat reflects the fact that this type of folk-song often accompanied shouts like “Heave-ho”.

 

The third movement consists of the theme, variations and a fugue. The theme is made up of Kigensetsu, which was virtually a second national anthem sung on 11th February every year by the whole nation and therefore the most suitable for celebrating the 2600th year of the Emperor. This Gagaku-like anthem is based on three notes, D, E and A, from which the motif of the first theme of the first movement is also derived. Eight variations follow the exposition of the theme. The cradle-like first variation in 5/8, played in unison by the celesta and the harp, develops into a powerful canon, which forms the second variation. The third variation is consoling music over the soft pizzicato of the strings. The fourth is a light dance, where the flute plays the theme here and there. A cadenza-like gesture by the clarinet introduces the singing fifth variation, while in the sixth this wholesomeness gradually darkens and leads to the sentimental seventh. The dignified eighth variation serves as a prelude to the following triple fugue, with the theme on the strings, from Kigensetsu and the three-note motif, bringing the lyrical symphony to a grandiose conclusion.

 

Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman was written before Hashimoto left for Europe. It was his fourth orchestral ballet score, preceded by Hydrangea Otaxa, Yaya the Witch (both composed in 1927) and Yoshida-Goten (Yoshida Palace, 1931). These four works were all written for a woman dancer of Nihon-Buyo, although they are called “music for ballet”. Nihon-Buyo is one of the traditional dance forms developed after the seventeenth century, keeping a close relationship with Kabuki and Geisha. After 1920 this genre saw many woman dancers who were influenced by the Western ballet. They preferred the orchestra and the piano to Japanese traditional instruments and adopted the method of the Ballets Russes in choreography and sets. Hashimoto was one of the most important composers to work with them. Heavenly Maiden and Fisherman was written for Sumi Hanayagi I and was first given in Tokyo on 13th October, 1932, with Sumi Hanayagi playing the Heavenly Maiden and San’nosuke Hanayagi the Fisherman. Recorded here is the concert suite compiled by the composer the following year. The story is based on folklore The Legend of Hagoromo, passed down from generation to generation, becoming the Noh play Hagoromo. A Heavenly Maiden descends to earth and has her Hagoromo (a magic robe which enables her to fly) stolen by an earthly man. They marry, but after some years the Heavenly Maiden finds her Hagoromo again and returns to Heaven. The story is associated with that of the swan maiden, familiar all over the world.

 

The work opens with impressionistic music depicting dawn. The flute soon presents the theme of the Fisherman quietly and the music gradually becomes rhythmical, as if waking up from sleep. The Fisherman’s Dance follows. On the morning beach, fishermen are working, joking and sometimes quarrelling, over Japanese percussion Yotsudake. They soon disappear, leaving only one behind (represented by the bassoon). He finds a Hagoromo on a branch of a pine-tree and tries to take it home. Music expressing his joy, combined with the theme of the Fisherman, grows in excitement, when the Heavenly Maiden appears (represented by a sentimental melody on the violin) and implores him to return the Hagoromo. The Fisherman promises to do so, on condition that she shows him a heavenly dance. The solo violin plays the elegant and delicate Heavenly Maiden’s Dance. Strongly impressed the Fisherman returns the Hagoromo to her and the Heavenly Maiden, led by the ascending notes on the violin, departs for Heaven. The Heavenly Maiden’s Dance is played once more, but powerfully this time, and the curtain comes down. In this work, ancient Japanese songs and dances mingle with the styles of Dukas and Pierné.

 

Morihide Katayama

Translation: SOREL


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