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ClassicsOnline Home » OHGURI: Violin Concerto / Phantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes / Legend
Originally a horn player in the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, Hiroshi Ohguri was the leading composer of Osaka, a city with its own special culture and spoken language (Osaka-ben) very different in character from that of Tokyo. Much of Ohguri’s music reflects the sounds of Osaka-ben, the folk songs and nursery rhymes of the Osaka area, Buddhist and Shintoist music and other traditional sounds of Japanese music. The exciting, brilliantly orchestrated Violin Concerto uses many of these traditional elements in a way that is suggestive of Bartók, Kodály and Khachaturian.
By Barry Witherden
Hiroshi Ohguri (1918-1982)
Violin Concerto Fantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes Legend for Orchestra
Rhapsody on Osaka Nursery Rhymes
Hiroshi Ohguri was one of the leading composers in Osaka, the central city of the western part of Japan. Not only was he born and brought up there, but he also embodied its culture and traditions in his music. Osaka is some four hundred kilometres to the west of Tokyo. The city is 2.5 hours away from Tokyo by express railway and one hour away by air. Its eastern side is adjacent to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, where Emperors resided for some eleven hundred years from the eighth century, and its western side is adjacent to the harbour city Kobe. Osaka, which, like Kobe, is on the coast, grew as an important centre, and served practically as the capital when Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the most powerful samurai of the day, built a large castle there in the second half of the sixteenth century. After Hideyoshis death, his son Hideyori was defeated by Ieyasu Tokugawa and the centre of politics shifted to Edo, todays Tokyo, where the Tokugawas were based. Since then, Osaka has developed mainly as the centre of commerce, in competition with the capital Tokyo, where the Imperial family moved in the late nineteenth century.
In this context, Osaka has developed its own culture, which contrasts sharply with that of Tokyo. It has, for example, its own way of speaking, Osaka-ben, with intonation, stresses and vocabulary largely different from those in Tokyo, with its formality as the former city of shoguns, samurais and bureaucrats. Osaka-ben is more flexible, friendly and even ambiguous in some cases, as the language of a city of merchants. Their ways of communication are different, and while Tokyo people traditionally hide their feelings, and speak little but clearly, people in Osaka are talkative, lively and full of nuances in expressing their feelings, although they never disclose their real thoughts until they are persuaded after a good deal of discussion. If the Japanese are generally regarded as a people of few words, this is the impression given by Tokyo people. People in Osaka people are quite different.
The linguistic culture of Osaka, characterized by its talkativeness, gave birth to unique artistic styles. Kabuki in Osaka (Kamigata-Kabuki) has more speech than that in Tokyo and is dense and realistic in expression. Gidayu, a recitative-like play with a puppet show Bunraku, Kamigata-Rakugo, Kamigata-Manzai and Shochiku-Shin-Kigeki (Shochiku New Comedy) are also talkative, and are all performed in Osaka-ben, making the most of its own intonation and vocabulary. As to climate, the summer in Osaka is much hotter and more humid than that in Tokyo, although both lie at the same latitude. As a consequence, Osaka developed wilder summer festivals to lighten the heat and humidity.
Ohguri was born to a merchant family in Senba, the centre of commerce in Osaka with many rich merchants. His father was a good amateur Gidayu player. Ohguri grew up there, steeped in the traditional sounds of the place. It was in 1931 that he came to know European music, when he entered Tennoji Commercial High School in the southern part of Osaka. There he joined the wind ensemble and played the French horn. Frustrated by just playing an instrument, he started teaching himself composition. By the time he graduated from the school in 1936, he had made such progress that his works were performed by the school wind ensemble. Immediately after graduation, he followed tradition by working in his familys store instead of going on to college, but his enthusiasm for music eventually drove him to Tokyo. He studied the horn there and in 1941 started his professional career in the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, todays Tokyo Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, then led by Manfred Gurlitt. While performing many European classics in this orchestra, he was greatly stimulated by nationalist works by Japanese composers such as Akira Ifukube, Fumio Hayasaka and Urato Watanabe.
In 1946 Ohguri was appointed principal horn player of the Japan Symphony Orchestra, todays NHK Symphony Orchestra, but in 1949 he resigned and returned to Osaka, where in 1950 he joined the Kansai Symphony Orchestra, from 1960 known as the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, the orchestra here recorded. He continued with the orchestra until 1966. The Kansai Symphony was founded in 1947 by the conductor Takashi Asahina (1908-2001), and was the first professional orchestra in Osaka. The leading Japanese conductor Asahina studied with Emmanuel Metter, a pupil of Glazunov, who came to Japan by way of Harbin, and nurtured the orchestra from its foundation, serving as its artistic director until his death. He also appeared as guest-conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony. There was a close bond of trust between Ohguri and Asahina all their lives.
While working as an orchestra player, Ohguri always continued his early interest in composition. In 1955 his opera Akai Jinbaori (The Red Combat Jacket), a Japanese adaptation of Pedro Antonio de Alarcóns Three-Cornered Hat, the subject of de Fallas ballet, was first performed in Osaka under Asahina. It was a great success. Fantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes, composed for Asahina the following year, was also favourably received, and Ohguri established himself as the Composer of Osaka. He thereafter wrote many orchestral works for the Kansai Symphony, becoming its virtual composer in residence. He also wrote a variety of music, operas, cantatas, musicals, ballets, choral works, chamber works, music for radio and television, works for mandolin orchestra and Japanese traditional instruments, as well as works for the familiar wind ensemble. In addition to the works recorded here, Ohguris major works include the opera Meoto-Zenzai (A Wonderful Couple), Concerto for Orchestra, first performed by Asahina and the Weimar Orchestra, Jigoku-Hen (Transfiguration in Hell), a ballet based on Ryunosuke Akutagawas novel, Flight, dedicated to Asahina for the fortieth anniversary of his conducting career, and Kamen-Genso (Mask-Fantasy), for wind ensemble. Most of these works reflect the sounds of Osaka-ben, using folk-songs and nursery rhymes of the Osaka area, Buddhist and Shintoist music, and traditional sounds of Japanese music such as Noh, Kyogen, Kabuki and Bunraku, as well as suggesting the nationalist music of Bartók, Kodály, Khachaturian and Japanese composers of the same generation. The strong relationship between his music and provincialism has given rise to a legend that only players and ensembles from Osaka can interpret his music correctly. In fact his "talkative" Allegros, characterized by restless accents, are imbued with the spirit of Osaka.
Ohguris Violin Concerto was commissioned in 1963 by Mainichi Hoso (Mainichi Broadcasting Station) in Osaka and was first performed on 28th November of the same year, with the Osaka Philharmonic under Asahina and the soloist Hisako Tsuji. The work consists of three movements. The first of these, marked Allegro, is written in plain sonata form. The solo violin plays the vigorous first theme over a side-drum rhythm, suggesting typical Shinto festival music. The orchestra follows and the music becomes exciting, when a quasi-scherzo episode in the wind introduces the folk-song-like cantabile second theme on the solo violin, a skilful mixture of typical Japanese pentatonic scales, Inaka-bushi and Miyako-bushi. The development, which starts with the same rhythm on the side-drum, treats mainly the first theme in a dense musical texture. The recapitulation and the breathtaking coda are also introduced by the side-drum. According to the composer the main feature of the movement is the rhythm, not the two themes. The second movement, marked Lento, consists of variations on an old nursery rhyme, Ongoku, originally a song for a Buddhist ritual, Ura-BonE, held in the summer, when girls in line sang this song, praying that the souls of the dead might rest in peace. Reflecting the character of the song, this movement evokes a meditative and requiem-like atmosphere. The main theme appears in the opening twelve bars, followed by eight short variations, the third and fourth of which are played only by the orchestra. The former begins slowly and gravely on the muted brass and the latter on the xylophone. The third movement, Allegro vivace, is a wild dance in simple rondo form, based on the rhythm of Awa-Odori, otherwise known as Mad Peoples Dance, a traditional dance in the Tokushima, formerly Awa, district in Shikoku, across Osaka Bay, the two places closely connected. It is supposed that the dance was originally in fashion in Osaka and that Tokushima merchants introduced it to their district in the late eighteenth century. For Ohguri this must have been a natural rhythm to use.
Rhapsody on Osaka Nursery Rhymes was written in 1979, celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the music club Osaka Shin-On, and was first given on 24th November of the same year by the Osaka Philharmonic under Yuzo Toyama. The work consists of four parts. The first part is a prelude in festive mood. A western fanfare and earthy music, inspired by Shinto rhymes Norito, which a priest recites in rituals, alternate, offering the club the modern and the old. The second part is a vivid Allegro, based on two nursery rhymes, Botan-ni-Karajishi (Peony and Lion) and Tenjin-san-no-Kago (Tenjin-sans Basket). The first, with the melody first appearing in the clarinet, is a game song, popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century in Osaka and all over Japan. Tenjin-san-no-Kago is also a game song used for lulling babies. Its title refers to the Tenma-Tenjin Shrine in Osaka or the ancient aristocrat Michizane Sugawara, worshiped there as a god. The melody is first played by an oboe and a clarinet, accompanied by a glockenspiel. The main material of the third part Andante is Tenma-no-Ichi, a traditional lullaby with many variants, known in every area of Osaka. In the fourth part Finale, all the materials in the preceding movements reappear, leading to a brilliant conclusion.
Legend for Orchestra was composed in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Osaka Municipal Symphonic Band and was first performed on 26th September 1973 by the band under Keisaku Nagano. In 1978 the piece was arranged for symphony orchestra at Asahinas request. The orchestral version saw its première on 8th January of the same year, with Asahina conducting the Osaka Philharmonic. This is a symphonic poem on a very popular episode of the Japanese legend. The sun god Amaterasu reigns over the Heaven. His younger brother Susano, who lives on the earth, visits him. Susano is a wild god and caused turmoil in Heaven. Furious, Amaterasu shuts himself up in the rocks. The world is shrouded in darkness, as the sun god has hidden himself. The music begins, depicting the darkness. Perplexed gods discuss what to do. The resourceful god Omoikane thinks of a way out: a cock announces dawn (a trumpet and a trombone crow over a triangle and cymbals), the goddess Ame-no-Uzume dances naked and all the gods join in an exotic dance. Amaterasu wonders what is going on in the darkness outside (a flute and a clarinet play a monologue). Omoikane orders that the feast be more boisterous (the dance reappears). As soon as Amaterasu, in impatience, slightly opens the door of the rocks, the strong god Tajikara wrenches it open. The world is full of light again and the music comes to a solemn conclusion.
Fantasy on Osaka Folk Tunes was written in 1955 and was first performed on 28th May 1956 by Asahina and the Kansai Symphony, to be heard soon after in Berlin with Asahina and the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra. It proved to be a great success and Asahina conducted it many times both in Japan and in Europe. The piece was revised in 1970 and was arranged for wind ensemble in 1974, becoming popular among amateur bands all over Japan. The work begins with an Andante introduction, with materials from Kagura (Shintoist music for solemn rituals) and Goeika (Buddhist prayers). In the following Allegro three main themes appear successively. The first is based on a buoyant rhythm Danjiri-Bayashi, which is used for Tenjin-Matsuri, the summer festival held by the Tenma-Tenjin Shrine. Tenjin-Matsuri is the biggest festival in Osaka, a symbol of its identity, even quoted in Kabuki. Danjiri is a big wooden cart covered with various religious decorations, carrying several people playing traditional instruments. The cart is dragged around the town during the festival. In Tenjin-Matsuri, many Chanchikis (gongs) are attached to the cart, played with sticks made of antlers. For his piece, Ohguri employs Chanchikis and the characteristic rhythm. The second theme, introduced by a flute and an English horn, sounds like a geisha song. The third one quotes the melody of accompanying music for Shishi-Mai (lion dance) danced in the summer festival of Ikukunitama Shrine in the southern part of Osaka, the melody played by the piccolo. Shishi-Mai was introduced into Japan from China in ancient times. The lion is considered as a being to exorcise evil spirits. After the three themes appear, the music calms down for a while, but it becomes wilder again, using the thematic materials, ending with music that evokes the hot, glaring summer in Osaka.
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