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ClassicsOnline Home » HAYASAKA: Piano Concerto / Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right
Well known in his native Japan as a composer of over 100 film scores, including the The Seven Samurai, and acknowledged by Takemitsu as one of his most formative influences, Humiwo Hayasaka sought to combine common elements of Western gregorian chant and Oriental, Gagaku-like melodies. His 1948 Piano Concerto is written in a romantic style suggestive of Chopin and Rachmaninov. The first movement is a requiem for his brother and an elegy for the victims of World War II. By way of contrast, the second movement is light-hearted and played staccato almost throughout. Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right takes its inspiration from ancient Japanese courtly dance music, Bugaku, while the Overture in D moves forward relentlessly to a furioso conclusion that recalls the music of Stravinsky and of Hayasaka’s friend and fellow composer Akira Ifukube (Naxos 8.555071 and 8.557587).
Humiwo Hayasaka (1914-1955)
Piano Concerto • Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right • Overture in D
Humiwo Hayasaka was born on 19 August 1914 in Sendai, a city in the northeastern part of the Japanese mainland. His family was rich, but lost their wealth and in 1918 moved to Sapporo, the central city of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the four main parts of Japan. Hayasaka's father loved old works of art and his mother played the piano. He began to study the piano and the organ at the age of fourteen, and soon aspired to be a musician. When he was sixteen, his father abandoned the family, and his mother fell ill and died the following year, making it necessary for Hayasaka to leave school in 1932 and work to support his younger brother and sister, with jobs in a laundry and in a printing company. Despite continuous poverty, he did not give up music. He practised instruments, read scores and theory books, and started the serious composition of music before he was twenty. In 1934 he formed the Shin Ongaku Renmei (New Music League) with the future composer Akira Ifukube and Atsushi Miura, later to become a critic, students at Hokkaido Imperial University, and held a concert in Sapporo to introduce twentieth-century music. Hayasaka played solo works by Satie on the piano, and together with Ifukube on the violin, played Satie, Stravinsky, de Falla, Milhaud and Ferroud. In 1935 he was appointed organist of a Catholic church in Sapporo, living in the church and studying Gregorian chant.
Influenced by his father, Hayasaka became interested in ancient Oriental art, above all designs with indistinct outlines, obscure colours in full gradation, and compositions making much of white space. He also found the same feeling in Gagaku, ancient imperial Japanese music. Gagaku is characterized by delicate melodies which seem to go nowhere, obscure harmonies and timbres, and indistinct forms. While studying the piano, he had been intrigued by Chopin, Debussy and Satie, in whom he found resonances of the Orient. He found common elements between some Western music and what he considered to be Japanese and Oriental, while in Gregorian chant he found many elements of Oriental, Gagaku-like melodies. He expressed his vision as follows: "Strangely a Christian saint looking like an Oriental man began to play the harmonium, without saying anything. I was astonished that its melody was certainly that of Gregorian chant, while its harmony was Japanese, which I had been painstakingly seeking day and night. His music-making was unique and nothing felt out of place; the harmony, which was delicate, dense and fluent, supported the melody of the chant in a perfectly natural way". Since both Gagaku and Gregorian chant derive variously from foreign sources, Hayasaka came to believe that the East and the West were fundamentally connected in their origins. His music, therefore, became characterized by flexible melodies, freely combining tritonic or tetratonic scales found in Japanese children's songs, diverse pentatonic scales in Japanese folk-songs, Gagaku, Kabuki and Chinese music, heptatonic scales such as the Dorian, Phrygian or Lydian modes used in Gregorian chant, and hexatonic scales linking pentatonic and heptatonic scales.
However, Hayasaka's friend from adolescence, Ifukube, always tried to persuade him that music should be more distinctive and powerful. Ifukube worshipped Stravinsky and was influenced by the climate of Hokkaido, with its cold, wild natural environment, greatly different from that of central Japan, where sense of beauty in finer nuances was fostered. In Hokkaido Ifukube nurtured his own longing for striking contrasts with the links between Japan and Europe not in Gregorian chant, but in wild Slavic folk-songs. He was unhappy that Hayasaka was imbued with a "mainland" sensibility, despite having grown up in Hokkaido. Hayasaka attempted to come nearer to Ifukube, with the result that his music often sounded like Debussy leaning towards Stravinsky.
Hayasaka's official début was in 1936, when his orchestral Prelude for Two Hymns won an award in the NHK competition for orchestral works, and his small piece for piano, Nocturne, was published in Europe and in the United States by Alexander Tcherepnin. In 1938 Ancient Dance won first prize in a competition for orchestral works by Japanese composers arranged by Felix Weingartner. Hayasaka's reputation was thus established in Japan. Weingartner tried to perform this piece in Europe, but the outbreak of World War II prevented it and brought an unfortunate break in international musical exchange. The Weingartner prize brought Hayasaka to Tokyo, where he was invited to write music for films by Toho, one of the leading film companies in Japan. From then on he published many concert works, mainly making a living with his film music. After World War II, he formed Shin Sakkyokuha Kyokai (the New Composers Association) with Yasuji Kiyose and Yoritsune Matsudaira (Naxos 8.555882). The young Toru Takemitsu also joined the group. Hayasaka continued the above-mentioned style until around the 1950s, but seeing that music by Schoenberg and Webern, or Messiaen and Jolivet, was becoming popular in Japan, he again began to seek new directions. Forgoing Gagaku and chant-like melodies, he approached atonality, while maintaining his aesthetics (ambiguity, space and silence, and melodies that seem to go nowhere). In his later years, he commented as follows: "A new style of Oriental music should be conceived to compete with new Occidental music. For that purpose and as a Japanese composer, I want to create music which combines atonality and Japanese characteristics". Hayasaka, however, did not have sufficient time left fully to put his ideas into practice. He had suffered since 1942 from tuberculosis and died on 15 October 1955, only four months after publishing his fifty-minute-long symphonic suite Yukara, the virtual beginning of his exploration of the "new Oriental style". In addition to the works already mentioned and those contained in the present CD, Hayasak's important works include: Movement in Metamorphosis for orchestra (1953), Pastorale of the Night (1938), Capriccio (1949), String Quartet (1950) and Suite in Seven Parts (1952) (chamber works), 17 Pieces for Piano (1941), and Four Unaccompanied Songs on poems by Haruo Sato. He also wrote music for over 100 films, which include some of the best from the 1950s, such as Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai and Rashomon, Kenji Mizoguchi's Chikamatsu Monogatari (The Crucified Lovers) and Ugetsu (Tales of Moonlight and Rain).
Hayasaka's Piano Concerto was written between November 1946 and 5 May 1948, and had its première in Tokyo on 22 June of the same year, with the soloist Hiroshi Kajiwara and Toho Symphony Orchestra (today's Tokyo Symphony Orchestra) under Masashi Ueda. The work, written for orchestra with triple winds, consists of two movements. In the Lento opening of the first movement the double bass repeats arpeggio-like motions over a cello chord, a homage to the Piano Concerto for Left Hand by Ravel, one of Hayasaka's favourite composers. Then the horn slowly plays the five-note theme (D - E - F - G - A), suggesting Dorian or Aeolian scales, although G of the five notes only appears transitionally. The other notes are identical with the first four notes of a Ritsu scale, a pentatonic scale derived from Gagaku. Hayasaka liked this type of melodic writing. The theme is then freely metamorphosed for as long as twenty minutes, as if to last endlessly, suggesting that beginning and ending do not exist. The solo piano part is written in a romantic style suggesting Chopin and Rachmaninov. The theme was originally inspired by a portrait of Hayasaka's dead brother, and the work was written at a time when the old values were being denied. This movement, a requiem for his brother and an elegy for the victims of war, finally reaches an overwhelming chorale praying for relief and is concluded calmly in D minor. If the first movement is dark, the second movement is light. It has the title Rondo, and is described by the composer as follows: "I intended to combine modern mobility with the innocent epicurean character of Oriental people, a little different from Occidental humour". Most of the piano part is played staccato, which makes a contrast with the thicker texture of the first movement. The rondo form offers three thematic elements, the first based on a Ryo scale, the second on a mixture of a Ritsu scale of Gagaku and a Miyako-bushi scale used in Kabuki, and the third based on a Ritsu scale. To a Japanese ear this movement suggests Chinese rather than Japanese music.
Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right was composed in 1941 and was first given in Tokyo on 3 March 1942, by Manfred Gurlitt and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra (today's Tokyo Philharmonic). The instrumentation features celesta, harp, diverse percussion and orchestra with triple winds. The title of the work is derived from Gagaku, one of the many forms of which is Bugaku, which accompanies dancing in addition to orchestral performance. Bugaku consists of Dance on the Left and Dance on the Right. Each side has some tens of numbers. In Dance on the Left, the dancer always appears from the left of the stage (if seen from the audience) and emphasizes the left side of the body. Most of the music for this dance is solemn and elegant. In Dance on the Right, the dancer always appears from the right of the stage and emphasizes the right side of the body. Most of the music for this dance is simple, with its rhythms and harmonies distinct in character. The stage of Gagaku is set up in front of the throne of Ten'no (the Emperor). Ten'no seats himself facing south. So the left means the east (where the sun rises) and the right means the west (which symbolises the moon). It can be thought that Dance on the Left implies dignity and elegance of Ten'no (who is the son of the sun) and that Dance on the Right evokes secular festivals at night. It is said that Dance on the Left has its origin in the music and dance of West Asia, Central Asia, India and China, and that Dance on the Right is derived from the music and dance of Korea and the Maritime Territory of Russia. Thus Bugaku integrates the sun and the moon, day and night, emperor and people, what is obscure and what is distinct, and every kind of music throughout Asia.
Hayasaka noted that Dance on the Left has an indistinct character, and that Dance on the Right has an innocent and light-hearted character, as he showed in the second movement of the Piano Concerto. He also tried to find the seeds of music which was to spread from the Orient to the Occident in ancient times. Bugaku was, to him, a kind of model for global music, in which everything in the world would be fused harmoniously. In this original work, inspired by Bugaku, Hayasaka again seeks connections between East and West, looking to a time when Gagaku and Gregorian chant were not differentiated
The year 1940 fell in the imperial year 2600, and NHK held a competition for orchestral works to celebrate the imperial year 2600. Hayasaka's Overture in D won a prize and was first performed on 17 March 1940, by Kojiro Kobune and the Japan Broadcast Symphony Orchestra (today's NHK Symphony Orchestra). The instrumentation includes piano, diverse percussion and orchestra with triple winds. Hayasaka explains the work as follows: "This is an attempt at bolero form. It begins in lontano and gradually goes forward to the fortissimo climax. Consistent rhythm and an unchanging theme are combined. It is also an experiment in creating a Japanese feel without using Japanese pentatonic scales". The work is a symphonic march made up of a single theme and its variants, opening Allegretto and moving in relentless excitement to a furioso conclusion. This is the nearest to Ifukube and Stravinsky that Hayasaka came in his orchestral works, although it is still quite Hayasaka-like in some respects, notably in the derivation of its melodies.
Adapted from notes by Morihide Katayama
English Translation: SOREL
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