KOSAKU YAMADA (1886 - 1965)
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 rle 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 (todays Aichi Prefecture), but the end of Japanese feudalism, with the collapse of the shogun regime, involved the disappearance of the samurai class. Yamadas 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 Ksak 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 mothers side of the family was devout Protestant and it is said that his family had a harmonium. Yamadas starting-point as a musician was these sounds of military bands, melodies of hymns, and the timbre and harmonies of the harmonium.
Yamadas 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, Yamadas 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 samurais 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, Yamadas 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, Werkmeisters alma mater, in April 1910, studying there with Max Bruch and, among others, Karl Leopold Wolf. Yamadas 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. Yamadas 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.
Despite his musical achievements, 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 fulltime 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 premire 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, todays 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 Wagners, 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.