QUNIHICO HASHIMOTO (1904 - 1949)
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 14 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 Křenek, 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 6 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.