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8.555351 - YASHIRO: Piano Concerto / Symphony
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Akio Yashiro (1929-1976)

Akio Yashiro (1929-1976)

Piano Concerto • Symphony

"Turning their backs on the future, they invariably looked to the past for models. Yet, never content with past models, they endeavoured to put them in order and to unify them from the present-day viewpoint, with the result that their efforts crystalized into a number of works, thoroughly refined, flawless and, to an unequalled degree of perfection", wrote Akio Yashiro in paying tribute to Glazunov and Dukas. What he wrote, however, is to a certain extent, true of Yashiro himself. He was unmistakably a composer who, highly sceptical of the tendency of composers after the Second World War to look to the future in avant-garde experimentation, sought to learn more from the past. It may safely be assumed that what he did accept was the style of the immediate post-war period, up to Messiaen. His position was simply reflected in an episode in 1962, when John Cage visited Japan, and he kept on heckling Cage’s ‘performance’, saying "This is no music".

Akio Yashiro was born in Tokyo on 10th September, 1929. His father Yukio Yashiro was a leading historian of European fine arts in Japan. He had studied in Italy in the 1920s, and his work on Botticelli had won high esteem, even among European scholars. His mother was a pianist. Brought up in the artistic environment provided by his parents, Yashiro began his piano lessons at the age of five, and, soon turning to composition, became a pupil of Saburo Moroi when he was ten. Moroi had studied in Berlin, and was composing works of absolute music in the form of symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and similar established forms. A great admirer of Beethoven, Moroi believed that the organic and strict development of a motif was all in all in music. From 1943 on Yashiro studied under Qunihico Hashimoto. The modernist Hashimoto introduced his young pupil to Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. On the other hand, at Gyosei High School, run by French Catholic monks, where Yashiro had his secondary education, he was trained in the French language.

In April, 1945, towards the end of World War II, Yashiro entered the Tokyo music school, the present Faculty of Music, the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, and continued to study under Hashimoto. Under the same teacher was Toshiro Mayuzumi, who was later to become the champion of avant-garde music in Japan. Yashiro also joined the Kamakura Symphony Orchestra that Hashimoto conducted, and played the timpani.

In 1946, after Hashimoto had resigned from the Academy as a result of his war-time activities, he and Mayuzumi studied under Tomojiro Ikenouchi and Akira Ifukube, who replaced Hashimoto. Ikenouchi, who had studied under Busser in Paris and respected Ravel, taught his pupils to compose thoroughly polished music with perfect finish, while Ifukube, a pupil of Alexander Tcherepnin, who had particular attachment to ostinato and refrain, taught them precise and powerful orchestration using Stravinsky and Prokofiev for models, as well as inspiring them with a certain conciseness of expression. At the same time Yashiro became a pupil of the pianist Leonid Kreutzer, who had been living in Japan since the 1930s.

In 1951, Yashiro graduated from the Tokyo Academy of Music, and went on to study at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. Mayuzumi was with him also at the Conservatoire, but deciding that there was nothing further to learn from French academicism, returned home after a year. To Yashiro, however, who had a kind of perfectionist orientation drilled into him by Moroi, Ikenouchi and Ifukube, and had been inspired with longing for France by Hashimoto, Ikenouchi and his early schooling, study in France proved highly beneficial. He studied under Nadia Boulanger, Tony Aubin, Henri Challan, Noël-Gallon, and Olivier Messiaen, and in 1955, he submitted as his graduation work, which happened to be his only composition from this period, a string quartet in the manner of Bartók. This work was praised by Florent Schmitt, Henri Barraud, and others, and was given its first performance by the Quatuor Parrenin.

After returning to Japan in 1956, Yashiro wrote for documentary films and drama, in this connection in a highly important collaboration with Yukio Mishima in a series of works, while at the same time helping such young composers as Teruyuki Noda, Shin’ichiro Ikebe, Akira Nishimura and many others to develop their talents at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Yet, because of his perfectionism and his belief in less prolific activity as a composer, he was able to write relatively few concert works, as Dukas and Lyadov had done. The only works of this kind he wrote after his return home were a cello concerto, a sonata for two flutes and piano, a piano sonata, and the two works recorded on this disc, a total of five works in all of absolute music. Every one of them, however, was a fine work of art, and together with the string quartet from his French period and some works before that, a violin sonata, a piano trio, and other works, remains in concert repertoire. Yashiro died suddenly of a heart attack on 9th April, 1976.

Yashiro’s Piano Concerto was commissioned by NHK, Nippon Hoso Kyokai, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, and was composed between 1964 and 1967. It was first heard in a broadcast performance on 5th November, 1967, with Hiroko Nakamura as the soloist and the NHK Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Hiroshi Wakasugi, and was awarded the Odaka Award of the Year. Instituted in commemoration of the composer Hisatada Odaka, the award is the most important prize in Japan given to orchestral works. This work has ever since enjoyed particular favour in Japan among works written by Japanese composers, and has been played several times in the West. Among those who have conducted the concerto are Jean Martinon, Jean Fournet, and Michael Gielen.

The Piano Concerto consists of three movements, and there one can recognize the influence of Bartók, Prokofiev, Jolivet and others, as well as that of a Japanese composer who also studied in France and whom Yashiro regarded as his rival, Akira Miyoshi, notably his Piano Concerto of 1962 and Concerto for Orchestra written two years later. The first movement is marked Allegro animato and is in free sonata form. The piano abruptly starts playing the first theme like an incantation in irregular time, supported by the vibraphone and the strings, with characteristic interjections of two chromatically descending notes on the brass repeatedly thrown in. This is followed by a vigorous quasi-cadenza passage for the piano. Then the flute takes up the meditative first part of the second theme, which is followed by the piano playing the lament-like second part, in cadenza style. The development mainly takes up the first theme but only briefly as if it merely serves as an introduction to the recapitulation. The first half of the recapitulation, taking over from the development, treats the first theme, but with an increasing intensity, until it reaches the climax, which is highly reminiscent of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The second part of the recapitulation recalls the vigorous quasi-cadenza passage and the second subject group. The second movement is marked Adagio misterioso. The rhythmic pattern of seven notes in three bars in C only is repeated 43 times with a persistence that would overshadow Ifukube and Ravel’s Boléro. The motif of the second part of the secondary theme of the first movement joins in and the movement is brought to a climax, after which the music gradually fades away and is brought to an end. The composer describes his rhythmic pattern as a reproduction of the sound he continuously heard in a childhood nightmare while he lay in bed with a fever. The third movement, Allegro - Andante - Vivace molto capriccioso, is in free rondo form. An eloquent motif characterized by very vigorous ascending motion and a humorous motif played on the muted brass are first presented, but the main character of this movement is the vigorous cadenza-style passage for the piano which follows these motifs. The concerto is brought to a brilliant end, with these motifs, together with reminiscences of the motivic material of the preceding movements.

Yashiro’s Symphony was commissioned by the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and was written between January and May, 1958. It was first performed in June of the same year by this orchestra, under the direction of Akeo Watanabe. In 1963, it was given its European première by the Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F., under the baton of Charles Brück.

The Symphony consists of four movements, which are organically co-ordinated into a close-knit unit, more so than his Piano Concerto, by several recurrent motifs. Of these the most notable are the three-note motif descending from B to F and then rising by an augmented octave, or augmented prime interval to F sharp; a three-note motif ascending from C to E and descending from there by an augmented seventh to F, and a chordal motif composed of the chords B - D - F sharp and B flat - D flat - F - D flat. The central note of the whole work is B, and the perfect fifth interval of

B flat - F, and B - F sharp forms the core of the whole work both in melody and harmony. The first movement is a Prelude, marked Adagio - Moderato. It is believed that an unfinished orchestral work the composer started to write inspired by Oscar Wilde’s Salome while studying in Paris, has been put to use here. It has a mystical and splendid ring to it, reminiscent of Florent Schmitt and early Stravinsky. The mesmeric introduction on the strings is immediately followed by the first motif played on the brass and the lower strings, and the second on the clarinet, both of which are developed for some time, before the third motif is presented on the brass. The second movement, Scherzo, is marked Vivace. In a humorous novel entitled Jiyu Gakko (School of Freedom) by Bunroku Shinshi, the pseudonym of the writer Toyowo Iwata, who studied in France and was regarded as an authority on French theatre, there is a scene in which some of the characters rehearse Kagura-bayashi or the ritual music of Shintoism, the indigenous Japanese religion, beating time with the onomatopoeic syllables ten’ya ten’ya tenten’ya ten’ya. From this the composer devised the irregular time of 6/8 + 2/8 + 6/8, using this rhythm throughout the movement, just as in the middle movement of his Piano Concerto one rhythmic pattern is persistently followed. Here the second motif also joins in. The third movement, marked Lento, is a sonata form variation movement with two themes. The English horn and the bass flute play in simple form the first theme, which is derived from the first and third motifs. The theme is accompanied by the vibraphone and is developed into a variation by the woodwind group. Then the celesta and the strings present the mystical second theme, which is combined with the variation of the first theme, and then is followed by the brass with fragments of the third thematic element. The extended variation of the second theme, with frequent interjections on the percussion, rises to a climax, and then fades away, a variation that recalls the style of Messiaen. Finally the third motif and the first theme of this movement, and the interjections on the percussion accompanying the second theme are recalled, and the variation serve as the recapitulation and the coda of the sonata form. The fourth movement, marked Adagio - Allegro energico, is in sonata form with an introduction. The lower woodwind plays the first motif, two piccolos play repeatedly the tune suggesting the traditional Japanese Kagura-bayashi, and then the piccolos and the bassoons announce the theme of the main part. In the following Allegro, the first theme is immediately presented on the strings. The melody is a development of the first and second motifs. The second theme on the piccolo and the double bassoon adapts the material in semitone, fifth and seventh intervals, and is closely related to the three motifs. After this, the two themes of this movement and the main motifs that run through the whole work appear in splendid combination, and bring the symphony to a brilliant end.

Morihide Katayama

Translation: Yuriko Ohtsuka

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