About this Recording
8.557587 - IFUKUBE: Sinfonia Tapkaara / Ritmica Ostinata / Symphonic Fantasia No.1
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Akira Ifukube (b.1914)
Sinfonia Tapkaara • Ritmica Ostinata • Symphonic Fantasia No. 1

Akira Ifukube was born in 1914 in Hokkaido into a family whose ancestry could be traced back at least to the seventh century, serving as hereditary Shinto priests at the Ube Shrine in Tottori. The political and cultural changes in Japan in the nineteenth century and the loss of traditional aristocratic power led Ifukube’s grandfather to move to the relatively neglected northern island of Hokkaido, where his father held an official position. Hokkaido brought contact with the music of the inigenous Ainu and of other more recent settlers. Schooling in Sapporo introduced him to the latest western music through records and scores of Ravel, de Falla and Stravinsky, to whose styles he felt close, suggesting that it might be possible for him to create North Asian music, where the ethnic sounds and aesthetics of Ainu and Japanese were to be combined with his sympathy for Slavic elements. Particularly fascinated by Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps, he began composing by teaching himself in his late adolescence.

In 1935, when he was a student majoring in forestry at the Agricultural Department of Hokkaido Imperial University, Ifukube applied for the Tcherepnin Awards with his Japanese Rhapsody for full orchestra (Naxos 8.555071) and was chosen by the Paris jury for first prize. The work received its world première in Tokyo in 1936, by Fabien Sevitsky (Serge Koussevitsky’s nephew) and the Boston People’s Symphony Orchestra. This success brought Ifukube an opportunity for studying briefly with Tcherepnin in Yokohama. In 1938 his first work, Piano Suite, received an award at the Venice International Contemporary Music Festival. Some of Ifukube’s works were published in the United States and Europe, sponsored by Tcherepnin, with success that astonished the musical world in Tokyo. Ifukube, however, remained a “Sunday composer” for a long time, becoming a forestry officer after graduation and living in the deep mountains of Hokkaido. He read about musical theories and studied scores, composing only at night lit by the lamp in his hut. His way of life reflected his antipathy to the Occidental concept of modern urban life. In these surroundings he studied the music of northern races and wrote some important works, including his Symphony Concerto for piano and orchestra (1941) and Symphonic Ballade (1943).

After World War II Ifukube eventually became a professional composer and moved to Tokyo. In those days, many of his contemporaries were eager to assimilate avant-garde music from Europe, but Ifukube was against the movement and kept composing consistently in an ethnic style, finally winning acceptance. His music, brimming with multi-cultural melodies and rhythms, persistent ostinato and violent rhythms, has exerted influence even on Japanese pop music. Ifukube is a cult figure for those who aspire for and advocate Asian music in modern Japan. It is also possible to define his repetitive music in relation to minimalist or post-minimalist music. He taught at Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music and Tokyo College of Music, even assuming the post of dean of the latter. His pupils include Yasushi Akutagawa, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Akio Yashiro, Teizo Matsumura, Sei Ikeno, Minoru Miki and Maki Ishii. Ifukube is a prolific composer and his list of works covers music for orchestra, cantatas, music for ballet, pieces for chamber ensemble, piano and guitar, music for Japanese traditional instruments, songs based on northern folkmusic, and some three hundred film scores. In addition to that, he wrote a definitive work on orchestration, used by most Japanese composers. The present release contains three works representing Ifukube’s compositions after the war.

Sinfonia Tapkaara was completed in 1954 and had its première in Indianapolis in January of the following year by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under Sevitzky. The work was later revised and the new version was first given in Tokyo in April 1980, with Yasushi Akutagawa and the New Symphony Orchestra. It has since been played widely in Japan. It is scored for triple wind, harp, varied percussion and strings. Tapkaara denotes a dance style of the Ainu, danced by the tribal leader on rituals and feasts, often expressing gratitude for the blessings of nature. This would be familiar to Ifukube, who, while not making such full use of Ainu music, reflects his antipathy towards modern civilisation and avant-garde music. The first movement in quasi-sonata form starts with a Lento molto introduction, leading to an Allegro, its second theme presented by trumpet over clarinet, harp and strings, sounding like a primitive lullaby or nursery rhyme commonly found in Ainu and Japanese traditional music. There is an Andante development, where the two themes are treated in a slow march tempo. After slow episodes by solo horn and solo cello, the music moves to the recapitulation and conclusion. The ternary-form Adagio has a first theme that suggests the traditional ryo or ritsu pentatonic scales, together with a descending figure that reflects miyako-bushi, a traditional pentatonic scale symbolizing sadness. The composer describes this movement as an impression of a calm night in Otofuke. The third movement, Vivace, vividly evokes Ainu celebration, with overt use of the Tapkaara dance and scale.

Ritmica Ostinata for piano and orchestra was completed in 1961 and had its première in Tokyo in October of the same year with the soloist Yutaka Kanai and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra under Masashi Ueda. The composer later revised part of the score and the present version appeared in 1972. The instrumentation is the same as Sinfonia Tapkaara. This concertante work has four chief characteristics. The first is the persistent use of ostinato. The second is the reliance on the hexatonic scale, a potential for the basis of pan-pentatonic or pan-Asiatic music, if extracted and employed appropriately, a possible link between the pentatonic and heptatonic scales, Orient and Occident. The third feature is the frequent use of metres of five and seven beats, reflecting literary tradition, and the fourth is the non-pianistic treatment of the solo part, suggesting the dulcimer or the santur, or even the koto and biwa. The work is in a form suggesting a rondo, with an Allegro framing slower sections.

Ifukube later made his living mainly by teaching and by writing music for films, particularly between 1947 and 1970, although he continued to write such music from time to time after that date. The film directors he worked with include Akira Kurosawa, Mikio Naruse and Joseph von Sternberg, and he held a position parallel to that of Toru Takemitsu and Fumio Hayasaka. His music for the cinema includes many monster films like Godzilla. Symphonic Fantasia No.1 is a medley-like concert arrangement by the composer himself of his music for monster films represented by the Godzilla series. The work, first given in Tokyo in August 1983 by Yasuhiko Shiozawa and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, has been performed all over Japan. The introduction is based on the Appearance of Godzilla motif frequently used in the Godzilla series. It is grotesque chromatic music, using all the twelve notes of the octave. Then follows the title music for Godzilla (1954), the title music for King Kong versus Godzilla (1962), the love theme from Battle in Outer Space (1959), the Varagon motif from Frankenstein versus Varagon (1965), and the battle music of Godzilla and the monster Radon from Ghidrah (1964), where Godzilla is depicted by the motif used in the introduction and Radon by a chromatic motif on the trumpet. After a fanfare comes the march section, where the march from Battle in Outer Space and the quasipentatonic pastoral march from the 1968 film Destroy All Monsters are interwoven.

Abridged from notes by Morihide Katayama
Translation: SOREL


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