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TEIZO MATSUMURA  

(1929 - 2007)

Teizo Matsumura reached the zenith of his creativity in Japan after World War II. He started his professional career as a composer later than such contemporaries as Toru Takemitsu, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Joji Yuasa, Akio Yashiro and Michio Mamiya, as he was forced to spend a long five-and-a-half years from the age of 21 convalescing from tuberculosis. This period, nevertheless, may have fostered the foundation of his unique thinking about musical creation. Lying in bed with nothing to do but ponder the very essence of things, he reached a state of mind akin to that achieved in Zen meditation. In hospital he composed Haiku poetry which, in its condensed form of five-seven-five syllables, attempts to express maximum meaning, including the concept of infinity. This exerted a profound influence on Matsumura’s thought and compositional processes as he strove for “primitive energy directly rooted in the very origins of life” and “music conceived of with an Asian mindset”. Melodies and melodic patterns are repeated persistently, interwoven heterophonically, and finally multiplied and accumulated.

Matsumura was born in Kyoto on 15 January 1929, the third of five children, to a family of kimono merchants. He grew up in the ancient city, with its numerous historic temples and steeped in Japanese tradition and religious feeling. When Matsumura was only ten years old, however, his father succumbed to cancer. It was in elementary school that Matsumura first expressed interest in Western music, listening to broadcasts and trying his hand at composing music. At his junior high school he first heard a recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, and was so swept away that he was completely unaware later of how he had arrived back home that day. This incident turned out to be his crucial encounter with music. Entering the Third High School in 1945, at the age of sixteen, he formed a music club and devoted himself to music more ardently than ever before. His mother died of tuberculosis in 1949, and in August of that year he travelled to Tokyo, turning to the composer Yasuji Kiyose for help in preparation for the entrance examination for admission to Tokyo University of the Arts.

In Tokyo, living and working in a kindergarten (happily, he was free to use their piano), Matsumura often visited Yasuji Kiyose’s home, where he became acquainted with Toru Takemitsu, one of Kiyose’s pupils. Kiyose also introduced Matsumura to Tomojiro Ikenouchi, the first Japanese composer to study at the Paris Conservatoire and to bring French compositional techniques to Japan. Taking Ravel’s music as a model, Ikenouchi trained many distinguished pupils, including Sadao Bekku, Akio Yashiro, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Michio Mamiya, Minoru Miki and Akira Miyoshi. The significance of his meeting with Ikenouchi can be seen in the portrait of Ikenouchi that stood on Matsumura’s work-desk all his life.

Matsumura passed the entrance exam for Tokyo University of the Arts and came top in the acceptance list. He was ultimately rejected, however, after a medical examination, which diagnosed tuberculosis. Utterly devastated, he wandered about for several days with sleeping pills at the ready in his hand. One day, however, a friend played him a recording of Ravel’s String Quartet, the beauty of which persuaded him to give up any idea of suicide.

During his long days in hospital, Matsumura wrote Introduction and Allegro Concertante, which anticipates the brilliance and feeling found in his later works, while alluding to influences from Ravel and Stravinsky. When this piece passed the preliminary stage of the judging in the Japan Music Competition, Matsumura checked out of hospital and once again started living in the kindergarten. The work ultimately was awarded first prize in the competition and was given its première by the NHK Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kazuo Yamada. This marked his début as a professional composer. Akira Ifukube, who sat on the jury, highly praised Matsumura for his “attitude of speaking sincerely in his own language”, and with that, Matsumura determined to study with Ifukube. A pupil of the Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin, Ifukube encouraged Matsumura to write music imbued with primitive energy, and Tcherepnin’s idea that “Western civilization is now stuck in history and Asian civilization will move to the forefront” further enhanced Matsumura’s inclination to create non-European music.

Role: Non-Classical Composer 
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