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ClassicsOnline Home » Japanese Melodies
In the autumn of 1994 I was in Japan with Marc Grauwels for
a range of concerts of French music from the beginning of the twentieth
century. He asked me to explain to him the meaning of a Japanese song called Jogashima
no ame, which we had decided to playas an encore. To my great regret I realised
that I was incapable of doing what he asked. How does one translate another
culture in a few words, another language, another history, isolated from the
rest of the world for centuries? The task seemed to me both too long and too
complicated. My surprise, then, can be imagined when I heard Marc Grauwels
perfectly imitating the sound of the shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese
bamboo flute, on his modern Western instrument. This inspired musician had
understood very well the traditional Japanese meaning and soul, beyond words
and language. 'There is something in this music that attracts me profoundly',
he told me.
I believe that there is something that Japan and
other countries need to learn. Today Japan is open to the rest of the world. Goods
circulate between all countries, but perhaps now, in the twenty-first century,
we need more contact from soul to soul.
The present recording consists of music written after the
revolution of 1868, that is to say, at a time when Japan started to open up to
the West. This meeting between the sounds of traditional Japan and of the West
is what Marc Grauwels, Ingrid Procureur, Vladimir Mendelssohn and I have wanted
to transmit through this record.
 Jogashima no ame was composed by Tadashi Yanada
and intended to be sung unaccompanied in a play by Hogetsu Shimura. Through the
interpretation of a famous singer of the time, the song won wide success
 Itsuki is a remote place in Kumamoto. The lullaby
Itsuki no komoriuta tells of the revolt of a young country girl, forced
by the ruling class to endure harsh working conditions.
 The story of Nambu ushioiuta is set in a
very rich region of Northern Japan in the paddy-fields of Iwate. A man is
leading his heavily-laden oxen over the Yamazaka Pass.
 Narayama is one of the masterpieces of
Japanese melody. Nara, the former capital, was both the end of the line for the
silk road and the market town where products from the West were bargained for.
 The composer Rentaro Taki, who died at the age of
24 from lung disease after brief study in Leipzig, was the first person to use
Western musical idiom in 1900 with the melody Koojo no tsuki (Moon at a Desolate
Castle). He was inspired by a poem of Bansui Doi which evokes the moon
reflected in the ruins of the Castle of Aizu-Wakamatsu and which reminds him of
the Castle of Takedu in his native town of Ohida-ken.
 The poet Hakushu Kitahara, known as the magician
of words, left tankas (short poems) and many songs and fairy-tales. The songs,
over a hundred in number, that came from the collaboration with Kosaku Yamada,
including Kono michi (This Road), are greatly appreciated by the public
 The composer Michio Miyagi lost his sight at the age
of seven but by the age of eleven was already teaching the koto. As a fervent
admirer of Ravel and Stravinsky he contributed to the emergence of music with
European influence in Japan. Haru no umi (The Sea in Spring) depict,
spring on the inland sea of Setonaiki.
 The composer Yasuji Kiyose was a great admirer of
Takuboku Ishakawa, for whom he set some fifty poems to music, including Nantonaku.
Takuboku was opposed to the accelerated Europeanisation of Japan at the
beginning of the twentieth century. The son of an impoverished Buddhist priest
in Iwate, he died in poverty at the age of 27.
 The sad melody of Defune evokes a port in Northern
Japan, Akitaken, covered in snow. The main theme of farewell, full of feeling,
is very popular in Japan.
 The poet Mafu Takemoto translated Dante's Divine
Comedy into Japanese. From this Yasuji Kiyose took the poem Pan for his Hue,
with its Japanese melody.
 Kosaku Yamada was born in Tokyo and studied
composition in Berlin. In 1918 he made a concert tour of the United States and
in 1936 was made a chevalier of the French Legion d'honneur, the first Japanese
musician to win an international reputation. His Chuugoku-chiho no komoriuta
(Lullaby from the Chugoku District) takes its name from Chugoku, the western
pan of the main island of Japan.
 The poem Hutsu koi by Takuboku Ishakawa
recalls his first beloved. The setting by Koshigaya was made in 1925.
 Sunayamano (Hill of Sands), from an
anthology by Takuboku Ishikawa, was set to music in 1943 by Yasuji Kiyose, from
hi, hospital bed.
 Tokaino was the first of Takuboku
Ishikawa’s poems to be set by Kiyose, in 1927. Here the composer was able to
distil the essence of the original poem.
 Sarasarato is also taken from Ishikawa's
anthology, under the title Kita-no-abi (Journey in the North).
 In Karatachi no hana (Trifoliate
Orange-Flowers), with a German dedication to his dear friend Ayako Oghino and
dated 1925, Kosaku Yamada evokes his childhood, depicting the flowers of the
hedge next to the factory where he worked when he was young.
 Chin chin chidori is by Hidemaro Konoye,
who conducted the ABC Orchestra on its first tour of Japan. With an essentially
folk rhythm, the piece suggests the song of a bird near the water.
 The pastoral song Oborozukiyo depicts the
banks of the river Chikuma, the home district of the composer, Tatsynki Takano,
where, in the old days, all that could be seen were the yellow flowers
of the colza plant, the oil from which was used for light.
 Kaya no kiyama no (On the Hill of the Kaya
Trees) was written in July 1922 for the cover of the magazine Shi to ongaku (Verse
and Music), started by Yamada and Kitahara.
 The lullaby Yurikugo wa, written by Kozaboro
Hirai, who favoured the less complex forms of modern music.
 Awatetokoya was written in 1918 on the
first anniversary of the movement for the promotion of the children's song Akai-tori
Internationally acclaimed as a flautist, Marc Grauwels has
appeared as a soloist with major orchestras throughout the world and in 1986
was chosen as principal flautist in the World Orchestra under Carlo Maria Giulini.
His career in chamber music includes collaboration with ensembles of great
distinction. His many recordings have brought releases for major companies, including
the complete flute music of Mozart for Hyperion. Marc Grauwels is professor of
flute at the Brussels Royal Conservatoire and was in earlier years principal
flute in the Brussels National Opera Orchestra, followed by ten years in a similar
position with the Belgian Radio and Television Orchestra Since 1987 he has
devoted himself to a career as a soloist.
The Belgian harpist Ingrid Procureur began her studies at
the Mons Conservatoire, where she was awarded the harp Premier Prix, as, subsequently,
in 1983, at the Conservatoire National Superieur in Paris. She has appeared as
a soloist and in chamber ensembles throughout Europe and has undertaken regular
engagements with the Belgian Radio Symphony, Belgian National and Belgian
National Opera Orchestras as well as in leading international festivals.
The Japanese soprano Hiroko Masaki won first place in the
solo singer division of the NHK-Mainichi All-Japan Students' Music Competition
at the age of eighteen. She took her Master's Degree at Tokyo National
University of Fine Arts and Music in 1987 and made her debut as Despina in Tokyo.
She studied with Mady Mesple and Gabriel Bacquier in Paris, thereafter moving
to Brussels with a Rotary International Foundation scholarship. There she was
awarded the Diplome Superieur of Opera at the Royal Conservatoire. She has also
studied with some of the most distinguished performers and teachers and since
1993 has worked as an assistant in the singing department of the Brussels Royal
Vladimir Mendelssohn moved to Holland in 1979 and teaches at
the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, in Rotterdam and at the Folkwang Hochschule
in Essen. He had his musical training in Bucharest, where he won major prizes
in viola and in composition, and has since then himself served on international
competition juries. In his work as a player and as a composer he has an
interest in new music, balanced by tradition in his performance of major
repertoire from the classical and romantic periods. He has collaborated in many
recordings including a prize-winning release of Brahms Lieder and has given
master classes throughout Europe. As a performer he has participated in major
international festivals, notably Gidon Kremer's Lockenhaussen and Dimitry Sitkovetsky's
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