About this Recording
8.557688 - FUKAI: Chantes de Java / Creation / Quatre Mouvements Parodiques
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Shiro Fukai (1907-1959)
Chantes de Java • Création • Quatre mouvements parodiques

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japanese westernisation in music led first to an interest in German musical traditions, while the Army Band, on the contrary, took France as its model, with many of its musicians trained in France. From this latter background emerged, in the 1920s, the self-taught composer Meiro Sugahara (1897-1988), who became an opponent of the German school musicians from the Tokyo Music School, such as Kósçak Yamada and Kiyoshi Nobutoki. Sugahara maintained that studying French music would be more appropriate, as Japanese traditional music was more linear than harmonic and more modal than tonal. Sugahara thus became the leader of the French school from the 1920s to the 1930s. Fukai was among his pupils.

Shiro Fukai was born to a medical family on 4th April 1907 in Akita, some 400 kilometres north of Tokyo. After graduating from junior high school there, he moved to Kagoshima, 1000 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, and entered Kagoshima Seventh Senior High School. Here he completed his studies, but was prevented from continuing at university by tuberculosis, from which he recovered in a period of two years of convalescence in Akita. In Kagoshima Fukai heard plenty of western music on records and was particularly fascinated by Stravinsky’s L’oiseau de feu. In Akita again, he became familiar with French music, and began to compose, moving to Tokyo in 1928, in defiance of his family’s wishes. There he attended several private music schools, and frequently visited Nanki Music Library, where many music scores and books had been assembled by Yorisada Tokugawa, a descendant of the Tokugawa shogun family that had ruled over Japan until the second half of the nineteenth century, and a student of Stanford in London. Starting his study of music late, Fukai memorised scores by the composers he was interested in, and later recalled learning every available score of Ravel and Stravinsky. This brought him skill in orchestration, and he also studied privately with Sugahara.

Sugahara and Fukai were, however, very different from each other. Sugahara, until the 1930s, was eager to combine Japanese tradition with the French style, while Fukai, ten years younger, no longer gave special attention to Japanese tradition. To him Japanese tradition provided material that might be used, but his principal interest was in French music, above all Ravel’s works, not because the French style had affinities with Japanese traditional music, but because he loved the artificial beauty of modern cities, and, as a modernist, no longer had special feelings for the old Japan. For him everything should be clear, precise, and light, which led him to dislike weightier music like Beethoven’s symphonies or sonatas. He valued most highly Ravel and Stravinsky, or Les Six and Ibert, although Stravinsky’s boldness and violence proved eventually incompatible with his taste, while Ravel remained his ultimate goal.

It was not long before Fukai’s music won high acclaim in Tokyo. Here he became a hero of the urban intellectual class, who did not like Germanic heaviness and were tired of excessive attention to Japanese tradition. It is true that he wrote music based on Japanese and Asian materials from the second half of the 1930s to 1945, complying with the demands of the wartime regime, but he still maintained a cool Ravelian eye, keeping his distance from ecstatic nationalism. His attitude never changed after World War II. He felt that the twelve-tone method was no more violent than Stravinsky’s music. Works by Messiaen and Jolivet seemed to return to savageness, little different from wartime nationalism. To Fukai the music that showed the most balanced musical ideals was still that of Ravel.

Apart from the three works included here, Fukai’s main works include ballet music Metropolis (1934) and Voice of Autumn (1950), Song of Manchuria - Symphonic Suite (1941), Trois mouvements pour un ballet imaginaire (1956), and Tokyo - Symphonic Picture Scroll (1957), the cantata Prayer for Peace (1950), Divertissement pour 13 exécutants (1955) and Four Japanese Folk Songs (1957). He also began to write music for films in the first half of the 1930s and it became his main source of income, with scores for nearly 200 films, including films directed by Kenji Mizoguchi and Tom Uchida. Fukai died suddenly on 2nd July 1959 in Kyoto, where he was staying while working on music for a film.

In 1933 Fukai wrote Cinq parodies, a suite consisting of five movements dedicated respectively to de Falla, Stravinsky, Malipiero, Ravel and Bartók. It was first performed in a broadcast in May of the following year, with the composer conducting the New Symphony Orchestra (today’s NHK Symphony Orchestra). In 1936 he reassembled this work into Quatre mouvements parodiques by removing the Malipiero movement and changing the name of the Bartók movement to Roussel, to enter a New Symphony Orchestra competition for orchestral works. The work won a prize, together with works by Saburo Moroi, Bun’ya Koh (the Taiwan-born Chinese Wen-ye Jiang, a Japanese citizen) and Kishio Hirao, and had its première in Tokyo on 27th January 1937 with Joseph Rosenstock and the New Symphony Orchestra.

Of the first movement, Falla, the composer wrote: “Dear Manuel de Falla. Your homeland has become a battle field. If you stand on the ruins and look over the beautiful gardens and hills you once depicted in your work, you will not be able to subdue your tears. This piece of music is your portrait, a man weighed down by grief, looking on all sides at heaps of rubble.” As the word “gardens” implies, this movement is an adaptation of de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain (above all its first movement), from its piano obbligato, mainly formed by arpeggios, to its Spanish nocturnal atmosphere. The second half of the movement, a canon on a sad theme written in the Dorian scale, is an elegy for Spain destroyed by the civil war of 1936.

The second movement is Stravinsky: “Dear Igor Stravinsky. Your eccentric, unexpected way of composition reminds me of Chin-Dong-ya (a Japanese advertising group, consisting of sandwich-men, clarinettists and bass drummers, walking the streets as they play). This piece is your portrait, who performs Chin-Dong-ya, dressed in a tail coat, wearing a silk hat.” The prototypes of the main rhythm patterns and melodies are found in the first movement March and the final movement Galop of Suite No.2 for small orchestra. Fukai uses these materials in the style of Petrushka, and adds a barbaric and abrupt coda, imitating Le sacre du printemps.

The third movement is Ravel: “Dear Maurice Ravel. You were never to get married. You laughed at the innocent peacock (Le paon) in your Histoires naturelles, saying that it was like a man deserted by his fiancée on the very day of marriage. You appear to me the alter ego of the peacock.” This movement follows the styles of Ma mère l’oye, Le tombeau de Couperin and Pavane pour une infante défunte. The flute tenderly sings the quite Ravelian theme in the Phrygian scale, over the strings and the piano. The theme develops freely and then returns to the original form. This music is a lullaby for a solitary unmarried man.

The fourth movement is Roussel: “Dear Albert Roussel. I always admire you, who can write music full of energy, despite your old age. This piece depicts you eating four beefsteaks. As you sometimes try to swallow the steak forcibly, the music undulates in an unnatural way.” This movement was originally called Bartók in Cinq parodies. The music itself was not changed at all and only the title was altered to Roussel. The opening theme is considered a variant of the motif of Bartók’s Dance Suite, but the way of maintaining and developing the theme in vigorous rhythms, or the melodies in the middle part, is based on the style of Roussel’s Symphony No. 3 or Bacchus et Ariane. In sum this movement is a product of a Rousselian process of Bartókian materials, suiting either title.

In this work, Fukai shows a great deal of modernism. Modern artists should be encouraged to hunt for diverse models and quote and transfigure them. The personality of an artist should speak for itself in a fine manipulation of materials. Fukai was proudly confident that his Quatre mouvements parodiques showed a great deal of his own personality, despite its fundamental parodic quality.

Création is music for a ballet, commemorating the 2600th year of the Emperor. In 1868, the collapse of the samurai regime, which had ruled over Japan for a long time, brought a new government, whose policy of westernisation also involved attempts to preserve elements of Japanese tradition, not least by the use of the Emperor year system, starting from 660 B.C., the supposed first Imperial year. It was decided, in the political circumstances of the time, to use the year 2600 as an opportunity to bolster nationalism. Music was commissioned from abroad and from Japanese composers, among the latter Fukai’s Création. The work was first given in Tokyo on 30th September of the same year, with the composer conducting the Central Symphony Orchestra (today’s Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra). The libretto was by Natsuya Mitsuyoshi and choreography by Takaya Eguchi. Two other ballets, Bun’ya Koh’s Song of East Asia and Toroku Takagi’s Rhythm of Progress, were also performed. The plot of Création is made up of a combination of Japanese myths, the theory of evolution and current international affairs. For this ballet Fukai manages to write minute and elaborate music, where the fourths and the minor seconds symbolize chaos and confusion, and the fifths and the major seconds represent order.

The work consists of three scenes. The first scene, Naissance des dieux, opens with the repetition of a fournote motif in the lower strings, dominated by fourths and depicting primitive chaos. Then an elegant triplemetre violin melody, based on the pentatonic Ritsu scale of Gagaku, starts to bring order out of chaos. It is accompanied by four notes, a combination of descending and ascending perfect fifths on the horn. The first scene is based on the Japanese myth of Creation, in which gods stirred up the muddy sea into land. In sum, the fourths depict the muddy sea and the fifths represent the gods’ activities.

The second scene, Naissance des êtres vivants, introduced by rhythmic ostinato on the strings col legno, develops into a primitive dance in the style of Stravinsky, culminating in an ascending trumpet pattern made up of a major second and a perfect fifth, symbolizing human beings. The fourths and the minor seconds represent primitive living things, and the perfect fifth and the major second signify intellectual living things.

The third scene, Naissance des êtres humains, occupies a little over half of the entire work. The ‘human notif’ of three notes is paraphrased by solo flute and is imbued with the mood of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. This process implies lovers’ excitement, but the moment they seem to achieve their desire, the chaotic mood of the first scene returns and the music stagnates, dominated by fourths. It reflects the confused state of international affairs of the day, when this ballet was produced. Then the march-like Dance of Construction breaks up chaos into order again. The third scene implies that the Emperor and his people should cooperate to surmount the current difficulties of 1940 to construct a new country. The music ends optimistically.

Image symphonique “Chantes de Java” was composed in 1942 and was first performed in a broadcast on 18th January of the following year by Takashi Asahina and the Japan Symphony Orchestra. The work was soon released on a recording and enjoyed great popularity in wartime Japan. Asahina conducted many performances in Tokyo, Shanghai and cities in Manchuria. Here too Fukai pays his respects to Ravel, referring to Ravel’s Boléro. Fukai builds up the main part of Chantes de Java by persistently repeating a single melody in a crescendo in his magical use of orchestration. The same procedure had already been followed by Sugahara in his 1939 work The Straits of Akashi, where he repeats the melody of a boatman’s song of Akashi in a crescendo and then in a decrescendo, and by Qunihico Hashimoto in his 1940 Symphony in D, works that Fukai would have known. The repeated melody in Chantes de Java is taken from Javanese folk-music, Es Lilin, a folk-song of the Sunda district in the western part of Java. The choice is significant, as folk-songs of the Sunda district are melodically similar in many respects to those of Japan, and Japanese scholars and artists in those days paid much attention to the fact, suggesting a historical affinity or identity between the two. The brilliant ostinato by string tremolos, glockenspiel, vibraphone, piano and celesta creates a sensual image of the southern sea, over which the Es Lilin melody soars. Then comes an episode on another Javanese melody, which is just like Ryukyu music. The Es Lilin melody returns and the music reaches its climax, but it ends as if an ephemeral dream melted away. This ending might foresee the collapse of the scheme of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, as Fukai was well known for his ironical view of history and culture.

Abridged from notes by Morihide Katayama
Translation: SOREL

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