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ClassicsOnline Home » YAMADA, K.: Nagauta Symphony / Meiji Symphony / Maria Magdalena
Kósçak Yamada was the first great composer to emerge from Japan after it had begun to accept western classical music. After studies with Max Bruch, Yamada was the first Japanese composer to write symphonies and operas. Nagauta Symphony is an epoch-making work that attempts the fusion of western music and nagauta, Japanese traditional vocal music performed with instruments including the three-stringed shamisen, fues (Japanese flutes) and percussion. In this work, Yamada takes a classic nagauta piece of 1857 to which he adds his original orchestral music. Sinfonia ‘Inno Meiji’ is effectively a symphonic poem which depicts Japan on the way to westernisation from the latter half of the 19th century through to the early 20th century. It combines a big orchestra with the hichiriki, an ancient Japanese double reed wind instrument, and other Asian instruments. The sumptuous Maria Magdalena, scored for a large orchestra and influenced by the symphonic poems of Richard Strauss, was first performed in Carnegie Hall in 1919.
By David Denton
Kósçak Yamada (1886-1965)
Nagauta Symphony 'Tsurukame'
Sinfonia 'Inno Meiji' • Choreographic Symphony 'Maria Magdalena'
In the sixteenth century, when the samurai (the warrior class) were struggling for supremacy (this period is called the Age of Civil Wars), Japan accepted Western civilisation to some extent and traded with Portugal, Spain and Holland. Christian missions were widespread, producing a large number of adherents, from the samurai to the peasant classes. In big cities churches equipped with organs were built and choirs were formed, which gave the samurai opportunities of hearing the harpsichord and the lute. But in the early seventeenth century, when the struggles of the samurai were over, Japan fell under the rule of isolationists, not ready to open the country to the world. Taking precautions against colonialism by the Western powers, they broke off relations with the outside world and limited foreign trade only to Holland. Christianity was also prohibited. Japan's isolation lasted a long time.
This peaceful state, however, was gradually interrupted in the nineteenth century, as the fleets of the Western powers began to frequent the waters off Japan. In 1953 America and Russia pressed Japan to open its doors to them, which brought confusion to the samurai regime. Conflict began between those who thought it better to open the country and those who wished to remain in isolation. It was accompanied by a movement to destroy the hierarchy established and maintained by the samurai class from the twelfth century. Finally in 1867 the age of the samurai came to an end with a new government led by the Emperor, who had ruled over Japan from ancient times, but whose power had been transferred to the samurai class from the twelfth century.
The new government's national policy was to bring Western civilisation to Japan. Many Western people were employed and every field, from the social system to scientific technology, was modernised rapidly and drastically. Music was no exception. The navy band was directed by German musicians and the army band by the French. National music schools were founded and Western music was taught even at primary school. As the country was opened up and religion was liberalised, Christian missions spread and Christian hymns became popular. From the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century Japanese musicians started to compose military songs, nursery rhymes, choral pieces and marches in the Western style, in addition to performing such music. This trend gave birth to pioneering composers such as Nobu Koda (1870-1946), who studied in Vienna and wrote two violin sonatas in the 1890s, or Rentaro Taki (1879-1903), who studied in Leipzig and wrote romantic piano pieces.
Kósçak Yamada belongs to the following generation and is considered the composer who made the most significant contribution to the development of Western music in Japan. He was born in Tokyo on 9 June 1886. His father was formerly a samurai of lower grade, but underwent various changes of fortune in the new Japan. When Yamada was still young, his family lived for some time in Yokosuka, near Tokyo, where he was intrigued by military bands that aroused his interest in Western music. He also became familiar with hymns sung in church, as his mother's side of the family was Protestant. From the very beginning of his life, Yamada was more familiar with Western music than with Japanese traditional music. When he was nine, his father died, which brought hardship. He had no adequate education in early adolescence and had to make his living as a printer or as an errand-boy in a station in Tokyo. When he was fifteen, however, matters changed when his sister in Okayama, a teacher at a girls' high school and her husband Edward Gauntlet, an Englishman, and a teacher at the Sixth High School of Okayama, one of the leading schools in Japan, took charge of him. His brother-in-law was an amateur musician and an organist for the Anglican Church. As Yamada played instruments and sang hymns with him, the composer's dream for Western music grew. His brother-in-law advised him to be a musician and helped him financially. Thus in 1904, after studying at Kwansei Gakuin High School (a missionary school), Yamada entered the national Tokyo Music School, the centre of Western music in Japan.
While studying the cello and theory under the two German teachers at the school, August Junker, who was a pupil of Joachim, and Heinrich Werkmeister, who was from the Staatliche Akademische Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, Yamada attempted to write string quartets and piano pieces, and in 1910 Werkmeister recommended Yamada to his private cello pupil Koyata Iwasaki, who was among the leaders of the Mitsubishi Foundation. Iwasaki promised Yamada financial help with his studies in Berlin. In April of the same year Yamada left for Berlin and entered the Staatliche Akademische Hochschule für Musik, studying with Max Bruch and, among others, Karl Leopold Wolf. In his student days in Japan, Yamada's models were Schubert and Schumann, while in Berlin he was deeply influenced by the new styles of Richard Strauss, Debussy and then of Scriabin, although he was at the same time studying academic harmony and counterpoint. These elements were to determine Yamada's style all his life. He wrote music in which German late Romanticism, French Impressionism, Scriabin's mysticism and Japanese traditional elements were integrated.
During this Berlin period Yamada wrote his Overture in D major, Symphony in F major 'Triumph and Peace' and the full-scale opera Heavenly Maiden fallen to Earth, the first works in these forms by a Japanese composer. He also composed two works for full orchestra: The Dark Gate and Mandarava, where Strauss's style, Japanese ambiguity and miniaturism are fused together. Some of these works can be heard on Naxos 8.555350 of this series. In 1913 Yamada returned to Japan, looking perhaps for some help that would enable him to continue his studies in Europe and to publish new works, but in 1914 World War I broke out. Forced to change his course of life, Yamada tried to establish a good orchestra in Tokyo to compete with major European orchestras. He had composed an opera, a symphony and symphonic poems in Berlin, but in Japan there were no ensembles that were able to perform them. Only the Tokyo Music School, the Imperial Court and the Army had orchestras, but they were mainly used for education and for ceremonial occasions. There were no professional orchestras even in Tokyo and in Osaka, that could give regular public concerts. The same was true of the operatic field. Starting from nothing, Yamada set up orchestras and opera companies. He worked at the same time as composer, conductor, educator and producer. Running into debt and meeting with failure repeatedly, he nevertheless persisted and eventually laid the foundations of the leading orchestra in Japan, known today under the name of the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
Yamada composed a huge number of songs and nursery rhymes that appealed to the public especially in the 1920s, earning the nick-name the "Japanese Schubert". Popular songs and nursery rhymes were easier to understand and sold well, and he produced many songs that remain popular today. He was also the first Japanese musician to show Europe and America that the Japanese could compose orchestral music and conduct orchestras. In 1918 and 1919 he conducted two concerts of his own works (music by Wagner was also included in the January 1919 concert) in Carnegie Hall, New York, with an orchestra made up of professional members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the New York Symphony Orchestra. While in New York, he met Prokofiev and Rachmaninov. In 1931 he conducted the Leningrad Philharmonic and some other Soviet orchestras in several cities in the Soviet Union, meeting the young Shostakovich. Immediately after returning to Japan, he gave the première of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 in Japan. In 1937 he gave concerts in several cities in Germany, when he recorded his own works, conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. In 1940 he gave the world première of Ibert's Ouverture de fête, commissioned by the Japanese Government, in Tokyo.
In addition to this Yamada made great efforts to promote education. He published many books on music and theory. Among his many pupils are Hidemaro Konoye, the Taiwanese-born Chinese composer Wenye Jiang (Bunya Koh), and Ikuma Dan. He was active, in fact, in every field of music, including composition, performance, and education. It is not too much to say that Yamada laid the foundations of the present prosperous state of Western music in Japan. After suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1948, his activities were limited. He died on 29 December 1965.
The Nagauta Symphony 'Tsurukame', written in 1934, is a work in which Japanese traditional vocal music is combined with the Western-style orchestra. Nagauta is one of the major fields of Japanese traditional music, having developed from the seventeenth century in close relationship with Kabuki, an amusement for the urban bourgeoisie. In Kabuki, where operatic singing of text, mime and dancing are integrated, Nagauta is responsible for dance music, and can be heard even today in Kabuki theatres, as accompaniment. Naga - means "long" and - uta means "song", so that Nagauta is literally a "long song" with ballade-like long text, lasting fifteen to thirty minutes. Its standard instrumentation consists of singers, shamisens (Japanese three-string lute), fues (Japanese flute) and percussion. In Nagauta, various elements from Japanese traditional music are integrated, music for Noh, Jiuta and Joruri. Noh is an ascetic and solemn form of music drama perfected in the medieval period, prior to Kabuki, and was loved by the samurai class. Its music is written for vocalist, fue player (flautist) and percussionist. Jiuta is a chamber-song created in Kyoto in the seventeenth century. Accompanied by the shamisen, it is music for the bourgeoisie. Joruri is a long musical story with songs and narrative, performed by an actor with accompaniment by the shamisen. Originating from street performance in the sixteenth century, it had shown diverse development. In this sense, Nagauta is a kind of composite art and has a comprehensive character. It was natural that Yamada paid attention to Nagauta, as he was eager to explore the relations between the Japanese language and music in traditional arts.
Yamada's Nagauta Symphony 'Tsurukame' makes us of the classic piece 'Tsurukame', composed by Rokuzaemon Kineya X in 1851, which is played by traditional musicians of Nagauta. Yamada made no alteration to this part. Nagauta 'Tsurukame' is based on a Noh piece of the same title; tsuru means "crane" and kame means "tortoise". These two creatures are thought in Japan to symbolize long life. Its text is festive, relating how, at the festival of New Year in ancient China, a crane and a tortoise gave eternal life to the Emperor. Both in Noh and Nagauta, 'Turukame' is for New Year festivity or a wedding. To this Yamada added music for symphony orchestra with double winds and harp, to compete contrapuntally with 'Tsurukame', like a concerto, and he called the work Nagauta Symphony. In Nagauta, the variety of colours and inflection are often produced by changing tuning of the strings in the course of the work, giving an effect equivalent to modulation in Western music.
The Nagauta Symphony had its première in 1934, with Yamada himself conducting the Nippon Broadcast Symphony Orchestra (today's NHK Symphony Orchestra) and Nagauta musicians, including Kosanzo Yoshizumi and Bunji Kineya.
The Sinfonia 'Inno Meiji' had its première in Tokyo on 1 May 1921, with the composer himself conducting a provisionally assembled orchestra. The work was often performed in Japan until World War II, as well as in Berlin, London and Moscow, as one of Yamada's masterpieces. There exist 78 rpm recordings of Yamada conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. This single-movement epic work depicts Japanese history from the 1850s, when Japan was in confusion as to whether to open the country or to remain in isolation, to the early twentieth century, when the country was drastically westernised. It is a symphonic poem rather than a symphony, although it evokes the first or the last movement of the traditional symphony, in that it is in sonata form, where two themes expressing Japanese civilisation and Western civilisation respectively, conflict and harmonize. 'Meiji' of the title denotes the Meiji Period (1868-1912), during which Emperor Meiji ruled over Japan. For Yamada, who was one of the most important composers in Japan and who adored Richard Strauss, the great composer of symphonic poems, it was an inevitable task to depict Japanese history in orchestral music. The instrumentation consists of triple winds with additional percussion, including hichiriki and other Asian instruments.
In his Berlin days from 1910 to 1913, Yamada was absorbed in operas by Wagner and Richard Strauss. In addition to that, he showed interest in Russian ballet performances with music by Debussy and Ravel, and modern dance by Isadora Duncan. In 1912 he even took lessons himself at the dance school Jacques-Dalcroze founded in Dresden. After returning to Japan, he also became the leader of ballet and modern dancing in Japan. Japanese Noh and Kabuki integrate music, acting and dancing. Yamada was ambitious for such a composite art. In fact his operas Ayame (1931) and Dawn (1941) both contain important scenes for ballet.
The Choreographic Symphony 'Maria Magdalena', written in Yamada's early days, is one of such works. In 1916 Yamada conceived a half-hour large-scale ballet, based on Maeterlinck's play Marie-Magdeleine. The completed piano sketches, which are now lost, are said to have been made up of two acts: The Sermon on the Mount and Joseph's House in Arimathaea. It was difficult to stage such a work in those days and the sketches were left as they were. The materials were used, however, during Yamada's stay in the United States from the end of 1917 to spring 1919, when he orchestrated the sketches for Act II in New York and gave the first performance under the title of Choreographic Symphony 'Maria Magdalena' at Carnegie Hall on 16 October 1918. The work is scored for a large orchestra with triple to quadruple winds, two harps and percussion. The plot of Act II is as follows:
On the night Jesus Christ was captured, his followers, including Mary Magdalene, assemble at Joseph's house in Arimathaea. They feel uneasy and confused. A Roman officer, in love with Mary, urges her to accept his love, if she wishes to save Jesus. In anguish, Mary eventually turns down his proposal. The officer starts to threaten her, when the procession of the captive Jesus passes by the window. The procession is lit by torches, seemingly wrapped in an aura of divinity. Mary continues to reject the officer and tells him to leave. The officer goes, as if persuaded by the nobility of Jesus and Mary. Mary's image shines in the light.
The score carries no annotation, explaining the plot, but it seems the music and the plot coincide in detail. This symphony shows influences by Wagner and Richard Strauss, and affinities with Yamada's works in his Berlin days. In any case, the music is restless, hectic, rich in dynamics and timbres, and silence and pauses are effectively used. This elusive quality reflects the Japanese aesthetic sense, where ephemerality and subtle changes of moments are preferred to logical construction.
Abridged and edited from notes by Morihide Katayama
English Translation: SOREL
The complete English note may be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/557971.htm
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