KOMEI ABE (1911 - 2006)
Komei Abe was born on 1 September 1911 in Hiroshima. He studied the cello with Heinrich Werkmeister (1883-1936) at the Tokyo Music School (today's Music Department of Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music), at the time the best facilities in Japan for studying Western music. Abe formed a chamber ensemble and worked on Beethoven's music in particular.
Abe played in the Music School's orchestra under conductor/composer Klaus Pringsheim who he admired. Pringsheim, appointed professor at the Tokyo Music School in 1931, had been a pupil of Gustav Mahler and had conducted operas in Geneva, Prague and Bremen in the 1910s, and a cycle of Mahler's symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic. Abe began to study German-style harmony and counterpoint with him, and decided he wanted to become a composer, not a cellist. Abe was strongly influenced by this teacher's view and knowledge of the late romanticism period represented by Mahler and Richard Strauss, and neo-classicism by Hindemith and Kurt Weill.
At the age of 34 Abe had already written some works including several orchestral pieces, four string quartets, one flute sonata, choral pieces and film music, and had established his name as a master neo-classicist. In 1948 he was appointed music director of the imperial orchestra, a position he held for six years. The ensemble performed waltzes and serenades for guests from foreign countries at parties held by the Emperor. The members of the imperial orchestra however were originally musicians of Gagaku, performing Japanese ancient music. From them Abe learned Japanese traditional music, with which he was not very familiar in his younger days. It broadened the horizons of his compositional style.
Abe's works in the postwar days include Symphony No. 2 (1960), Clarinet Quintet (1946) and String Quartets Nos. 5-15 (1947-1993). He died at the age of 95 in Tokyo, in the morning of 28 December 2006.