About this Recording
8.557162 - MOROI: Symphony No. 3, Op. 25 / Sinfonietta, Op. 24 / Two Symphonic Movements, Op. 22
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Saburo Moroi (1903-1977)
Symphony No. 3 • Two Symphonic Movements • Sinfonietta

A pioneer in Japan in the development of abstract music, Saburo Moroi was born in Tokyo on 7th August 1903. His family was from Honjo of Saitama Prefecture, adjacent to the north of Tokyo. His father Tsunehei Moroi (1862-1941) was a leading industrialist. founder of the Chichibu Cement Company Limited, an enterprise later taken over by Kan’ichi Moroi (1896-1968), Saburo’s older brother, a leading economist and businessman. Saburo grew up, influenced and stimulated by this seven-year-older, scholarly brother, who had a good knowledge of arts in general and was able to play the piano. Saburo was given piano lessons by him in his early years and began composing simple pieces as a child. It was in his third year of Junior High School in Tokyo that he made up his mind to become a composer. His brother took him to a series of recitals by the pianist Sueko Ogura, who had just returned to Japan after her studies in Berlin under Heinrich Barth and her stay in the United States. The programme was the Beethoven sonatas.

While studying at Urawa High School and later in the Literature Department of Tokyo Imperial University (his major was aesthetics and art history), Moroi took piano lessons from Eiichi Hagiwara at first, and then Willy Bardas (Schnabel’s pupil, who had lived in Japan since 1923) and Leonid Kochanski (Leonid Kreutzer’s pupil, who became professor of Tokyo Music School in 1925), as well as teaching himself composition and theory. His father wanted him to enter the business world, but gradually came to understand his son, finally agreeing in 1930 to his becoming a musician.

It was during his third year at university, Moroi formed a music group “surya” (the “sun god” in Sanskrit) with his friends. It served as an organization for performing his own works, and by 1931 seven concerts had been given there. The first one was for orchestral works and the series included Moroi’s Piano Concerto in F sharp minor, Symphonic Fragment, Piano Quintet, String Quartet “Voice of Dream”, two violin sonatas, two cello sonatas and five piano sonatas. His activities with “surya” brought wider recognition, and it also became a society for young literary men and artists, including Tetsutaro Kawakami, Hideo Kobayashi, Chuya Nakahara, Tatsuji Miyoshi, Hidemi Kon, Shohei O’oka and Kenzo Nakajima, many of whom were later to become renowned literary critics, poets and novelists.

Feeling that his compositional skills were not fully developed, Moroi went to Germany in 1932 to study at the Berlin Musikhochschule under Leo Schrattenholz (who had been an assistant to Karl Leopold Wolf, during the distinguished Japanese composer Kósçak Yamada’s period of study with him) and Walter Gmeindl. Greatly stimulated by the music of Bruckner and Hindemith, he returned to Japan in 1934, now a mature composer, both technically and mentally, with his Berlin days a great turning-point in his creative career.

Moroi’s creative life, in its true sense, started from his Berlin days, as he himself claimed. Works from this period include Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 5, String Quartet, Op. 6, Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 7, and Symphony No. 1, Op. 8, all of which were composed and first performed in Berlin. After returning to Japan, he produced his Viola Sonata, Op. 11, Cello Concerto, Op. 12, Bassoon Concerto, Op. 14, Flute Sonata, Op. 15, Symphony No. 2, Op. 16, String Sextet, Op. 17, Violin Concerto, Op. 18, String Trio, Op. 19 and Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 20. They were written during the fruitful period between 1933 and 1939. His reputation was also enhanced during this period, especially by two successful premières: the Japanese première of Symphony No. 1 and the world première of Symphony No. 2. In these works, Moroi assimilated the solid framework of German music and tried, little by little, various ways of reflecting a Japanese sense of beauty within it, from the 1940s turning to a more acceptably Japanese way of musical thinking, as can be heard in the three orchestral works on this disc, which date from 1942-44.

Sinfonietta in B flat, Op. 24, was composed in a short period between the 6th and 31st October 1943, and was broadcast only five days after its completion with the composer conducting the Tokyo Broadcast Orchestra. The instrumentation consists of double winds, brass, timpani and strings, and the work is subtitled “For Children”. The first movement, Allegro grazioso, is in B flat, 3/4 time and sonata form. It is followed by the ternary Andantino quasi Allegretto, a minuet in G. The third movement, marked Lento affabile, in 4/4 time, starts in B minor and shifts to B flat major afterwards. It is in ternary form, with a coda. It contains thematic elements clearly of Japanese inspiration.

Two Symphonic Movements, Op. 22, was completed on 9th May 1942, and was first given on 9th April of the following year by Hisatada Odaka and the Japan Symphony Orchestra (today’s NHK Symphony Orchestra). The first movement, Andante grandioso, in sonata form, is opened by the first theme in straightforward unison of horns and strings. This theme, made up of seven notes (which can be regarded as the constituents for C minor or E flat major), starts with G, which is repeated three times with a half note and two quavers. It is followed by a string of scale-like notes in even rhythm of quavers. These three characteristic elements of the theme (repetition of the same note, even rhythm and scale-like notes) are omnipresent throughout the two movements. A secondary theme is based on the Miyako-bushi pentatonic scale often used in Kabuki and Geisha music. The second movement, Allegro con spirito, has a flashy introduction. Then the viola, clarinet and flute play the main theme one after another. It is formed by combining a scherzo-like motif (consisting of two perfect fourths and a descending minor scale) and a hectic one (made up of even rhythm in semiquavers and the repetition of the same note). The latter motif is a variant of the rhythmic motif which drove the first movement. The two movements are closely tied by this design. Moroi’s intention in this work was to fuse two themes into one, or to maintain music with only one theme. Why he tried this might have something to do with the traditional nature of the Japanese, who do not like friction of different opinions, and with the fact that Japan was going to build a totalitarian, homogeneous, and friction-free society not only in Japan but also throughout Asia. His attempt was to be explored further in his next symphony.

Symphony No. 3 Op. 25 was written between 11th April 1943 and 26th May 1944, which means that he set about this symphony immediately after the première of Two Symphonic Movements, producing Sinfonietta on the way. The instrumentation is woodwinds (3-3-3-3), brass (4-3-3-1), timpani, side drum, bass drum, strings and organ. The first movement is made up of an introduction subtitled “A Tranquil Overture” and marked Andante molto tranquillo e grandioso, in 3/2 time. This is followed by an Allegro vivace in 6/4 time, with the title “Birth of Spirit and its Growth”. This is in the quasi-sonata form devised by Moroi. The violin suggests the first motif made up of three notes (E-F-G), which is repeated in various positions. Then, as if to interrupt it, the trombone plays the second motif, which is strongly accented and moves up and down awkwardly. The two motifs are developed for some time, when the chromatic, chorale-like third motif is added by the oboe and the trombone. At this point something strange happens. The three motifs, which appeared quite different from each other, are now arranged and connected together into a long single melody, amounting to the true theme of the main part. This is an evolved form of the idea for the first movement of Two Symphonic Movements, a device better suited to the Japanese tradition of harmony rather than conflict. The second movement. Allegretto scherzando, with the title “About Humour and Wit”, is in 5/8 time (2/4 + 1/8). This strange rhythmic pattern suggests Japanese folk-songs and festive music. Towards the end the trumpet and percussion play the theme violently, which obviously evokes military music. This movement expresses violence and fever of war. The third movement, with the title “Aspects of Death”, is a songful slow finale, where the composer meditates on the souls of the war dead or of those who are going to die. It is in a free form, evolved from the idea for the third movement of the Sinfonietta, and begins Adagio tranquillo. A hymn-like motif is heard, developed solemnly and leading to a trumpet fanfare. Then comes a chromatic double fugato, marked Andante tranquillo, perhaps a depiction of wandering souls in dim light, before their final illumination as they appear now enveloped by light, attracted by a majestic sunset, and depart peacefully for the land of the dead.

The symphony reflects the desperate state of mind of Japanese intellectuals in the last stage of war. From 1943 to 1944, when this work was written, the situation was turning for the worse and the whole nation was conscious of death. Moroi was no exception. In this sense, this symphony amounts to his swan song. Immediately after completing this work, Moroi was called up and served in the army till the end of war, August 1945. The symphony, as if to commemorate the end of the Japanese Empire, was never to be performed in wartime. In those days works by Japanese composers were frequently performed to boost national prestige, but large-scale works requiring long rehearsals were no longer taken up in the confusion of war. When the symphony was eventually premiered on 26th May 1950 by Kazuo Yamada and the Japan Symphony Orchestra, Japan had already started its new life full of hope as a democracy-oriented nation, turning its back on the past. The work, representing an earlier period of national identity, was no longer welcomed, and was not performed again until 1978.

Moroi survived the war, and in the following 32 years wrote only eight works, including two symphonies, a piano concerto in the twelve-tone technique and a horn sonata. He spent much more time educating young people and writing books on music theory. He was well known as an educator from the 1930s on, and his pupils included Minao Shibata, Yoshiro Irino and Ikuma Dan. His second son Makoto Moroi also became a composer. Saburo Moroi died on 24th March 1977.

Adapted from a note by Morihide Katayama

Translation: SOREL

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