About this Recording
8.572869 - HASHIMOTO, Q.: Symphony No. 2 / 3 Wasan / Scherzo con sentimento (Fukushima, Tokyo Geidai Philharmonia, Yuasa)

Qunihico Hashimoto (1904–1949)
Symphony No 2 • Three Wasan • Scherzo con sentimento


Qunihico Hashimoto was one of the leading Japanese composers in the first half of the twentieth century. He was also active as a violinist, an accompanist, conductor and educator, but his career was marked by tragedy, through the vagaries of politics and war.

Hashimoto was born on 14 September 1904, in Tokyo. When he was still young, his family moved to Osaka, where he came to know western music, playing in the school band at elementary school. At his secondary school he studied the violin with Kichinosuke Tsuji, the most renowned teacher then in Osaka, but he gradually turned his interests towards composing rather than performance. In 1923 he entered Tokyo Music School, the present Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, an establishment with the best facilities for studying western music, although his major study was the violin and conducting, as the school had no composition faculty before the first half of the 1930s. Composition students had to look for teachers elsewhere or to teach themselves. Apart from occasionally studying with Kiyoshi Nobutoki, a pupil of Georg Schumann in Berlin, Hashimoto acquired his ability as a composer virtually unaided. He was also a proficient pianist.

Establishing himself as a popular composer in the latter half of the 1920s, Hashimoto produced a variety of concert songs, reflecting both French influence and in Mai (Dance) succeeding in creating a Japanese version of Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme by transferring the Joruri style, with its blend of songs and narrative, to an ordinary song style with piano accompaniment. The atonal elements in the piano part of Mai led to his reputation in Japan as an avant-garde composer. During this period Hashimoto, like Kurt Weill in Berlin, strove to break down the barrier between classical and popular music by his intensive work on songs for film, commercials, records and broadcasting, as well as writing jazz songs, while introducing Alois Haba’s microtonal music, such as his 1930 Etude for Violin and Cello, and composing impressionistic pieces for piano and orchestra. He enjoyed a reputation as an enfant terrible, but at the same time he had to be a representative of rigorous academicism, when he assumed the position of professor at the Tokyo Music School. He responded perfectly to this task by composing his Cantata Celebrating the Birth of the Prince in 1934, in the German romantic style of the nineteenth century. In addition to his feat of representing both modernism and academicism in composition, Hashimoto was active as a violinist until 1934.

From 1934 to 1937, Hashimoto studied in Europe, sent by the Ministry of Education. He spent a considerable time in Vienna, where he studied with Egon Wellesz, Schoenberg’s pupil, discussing with him the future of music, nationalism or international atonalism. Strongly impressed by Berg’s Wozzeck, Hashimoto attended concerts by Furtwängler, Toscanini, Walter, Weingartner and Erich Kleiber, visited Respighi, associated with Alois Haba and Ernst Křenek, and met Schoenberg in Los Angeles before returning to Japan.

After his return to Japan, however, there was little room for Hashimoto to establish his career as a free, uninhibited modernist. When Japan went to war against China, he was expected to meet national requirements, much as Shostakovich did in his Symphonies No 5 and No 7. What was immediately useful to him was not his knowledge of the Second Viennese School, but of German and Italian cultures dominated by totalitarianism. He composed a symphony celebrating the 2600th year of the Emperor, cantatas dedicated to the dead in the Japanese-Chinese war and the Pacific war, as well as a number of wartime songs, some of them songs of bravery and others of sadness. In addition to writing music, he was busy conducting domestic and foreign works, including his own pieces, in Japan, Korea and China.

In the year following Japan’s defeat in 1945, Hashimoto left the faculty of Tokyo Music School, accepting responsibility for his wartime musical activities. In this difficult period, however, he was to write several masterpieces. He was still expected to be a composer to represent Japan and he wrote his optimistic Symphony No 2, celebrating the democratic Constitution of Japan newly established with America’s assistance. Japan underwent a complete change of values after the war. Living through these years, Hashimoto was never free from continuing stress, which undermined him both physically and mentally. In 1948 he was diagnosed with cancer. While struggling against the illness in bed, he converted to Christianity, and on 6 May the following year he died in Kamakura. His pupils include some leading figures in the post-war Japanese music scene, including Yasushi Akutagawa, Toshiro Mayuzumi and Akio Yashiro.

© Naxos Japan, Inc.

Symphony No 2 is the crowning achievement of Hashimoto’s later years, along with Blossoms of Acacia, which was written for radio broadcast (1948). Retiring voluntarily from the Tokyo Music School in 1945, ostensibly for the purpose of concentrating on composition, Hashimoto was commissioned to compose a symphony for celebration of the country’s new constitution. Unlike his Symphony No 1 in D (Naxos 8.555881), written in celebration of the 2600th year of the Imperial reign (1940), the resulting Symphony No 2 is a work couched in Hashimoto’s unique language. Hashimoto spoke about the work in the following terms:

This work represents a song, dance, and march of the joy of peace, in sonata and variation forms. Throughout the work, the same theme is incorporated consistently in every movement, and at the final apex of the march, bells of peace, made up from the motif of the theme, are sounded and the symphony is concluded amid great jubilation.

The symphony, also known as the Celebration Symphony, was written to a commission from the Conference for Constitutional Promotion, to mark the formation of Japan’s new Constitution, which would serve as Japan’s new guidepost on its path following World War II. The première of the symphony was on 3 May 1947, performed by the Toho Symphony Orchestra (now the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra), with Hashimoto as conductor. The performance started with an opening address by Hitoshi Ashida, chairman of the Conference for Constitutional Promotion, followed by Hashimoto’s Celebration Symphony, Hasegawa’s cantata Great Morning, Nejiko Suwa’s solo violin performance of Chausson’s Poème and Paganini’s Moto perpetuo, and Kikugoro Onoe the Sixth’s kabuki performance of Musume Dojoji (The Maiden at Dojo Temple).

Hashimoto composed the Celebration Symphony during the period from 4th March to 16th March, 1947, although he seems to have had the work in mind during the war. The symphony is in two movements, the first in strict sonata form, and the second movement, the Finale, in variation form, a theme and six variations, followed by the independent Scherzando and Maestoso sections, so that this one movement itself can be regarded as actually three movements. The first movement is marked Allegro moderato and in 3/4 metre. Its main key is F major, and, accompanied by harp, the first violin plays the yearning and romantic first theme, based on a motif in disjunct motion and marked dolce e cantabile. Through the piece’s two movements the harp is used to great effect. With a transition characterized by a rhythm of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) sharing elements with the first theme, the second theme, in A minor, is introduced by the flute and treated contrapuntally. The development section begins by making use of chromatic harmony and advanced contrapuntal techniques, and is duly followed by a recapitulation. The second movement is marked Finale, and includes a theme and six variations, a Scherzando, equivalent to the symphony’s third movement, and the Maestoso, its fourth. The theme is an alla marcia, followed by variations marked Allegro assai, Allegro brillante, Dolce calmato, Allegro ma non troppo, Allegretto rustico and Allegretto risoluto. The Scherzando is in 6/8 metre, incorporating a transitional theme from the first movement and elements of the second theme. The Maestoso is a revival of the second movement’s opening and, at the same time, this section functions as the finale of the symphony, recalling earlier thematic material. The theme of “peace bells” is performed by tubular bells, with the first theme of the first movement overlapping with the bell theme, reaching a final climax and concluding fff. The whole work is thematically unified, reflecting César Franck’s cyclic form.

Three Wasan represents Buddhist music for baritone or alto with accompaniment by dual-wind orchestra. As indicated by the title’s reference to wasan (the chanting of Buddhist hymns), this work takes a form in which Hashimoto merged bel canto and chant-like singing, in what was probably a deliberate attempt to reproduce the chant-like singing of wasan. The texts were selected from three of the 48 verses of the San-Amidabutsuge Wasan, compiled in the venerable Shinran’s Jodo Wasan (Songs in Praise of Heaven), and the work was composed in 1948, commissioned by the Japan Religious Music Society. It had its première on 24 April 1948, in a special concert under the title Japan’s Four Sacred Works with the Toho Symphony Orchestra. The concert also included Etenraku, Hidemaro Konoye, Bonnon-Koru, by Kósçak Yamada, and the première of Rennyo, a cantata composed by Osamu Shimizu. The programme described Hashimoto’s work as follows: “Although there are objections to adding new compositions to wasan, considering the fact that Shinran took up his pen to retell in plain Japanese the abstruse sutras of classical Chinese, thus attempting to gain the understanding of the general public, we believe that the covering of such sutras in new musical clothing to reveal their true meaning has deep significance.” The selected three wasan honour the beautiful scene of pure land (heaven), in terms of sounds, light, and fragrance.

In the first song, The delicate, wondrous sounds of jewel-trees in the jewel-forests, the world of heaven is described in chanting amid the sounding of beautiful music. The second song, Pure winds blow in the jewel-trees, is characterized by the colourful use of the celesta, and the third, Shine brilliantly from within each flower, tells how light is emitted from each of the lotus flowers blooming in heaven, with 36 colours illuminated by countless light sources, depicting a pure land with no corner to which the light does not reach.

Three Wasan

No. 1
The delicate, wondrous sounds of jewel-trees in the jewel-forests
Are a naturally pure and harmonious music,
Unexcelled in subtlety and elegance,
So take refuge in Amida, the music of purity.

No. 2
Pure winds blow in the jewel-trees,
Producing the five tones of the scale;
Those sounds are harmonious and spontaneous,
So pay homage to Amida, the one imbued with

No. 3
Beams of light, thirty-six hundred
Thousand billion in number,
Shine brilliantly from within each flower;
There is no place they do not reach.

Scherzando e sentimentale was composed in 1927 as the second of Three Characteristic Dances for Strings (1927), and scored for orchestra in 1928 as Scherzo con sentimento. In the orchestral version the score for strings was given a completely new melody. The work is characterized by its innovative attempt to meld Japanese music and a Japanese mood with the neoclassical idiom of contemporary Western music. Hashimoto worked on this piece during his first year at the Department of Instrumental Music of the Tokyo Music School (majoring in the violin), at a time when he was interested in European trends of the time. Here he makes use of traditional Japanese scales and in his use of the harp suggests the Japanese koto.

Based on notes by Mari Saegusa
(Assistant Researcher, Music Research Center, Tokyo University of the Arts)

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