Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

Western art music. (i) To 1945

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2. Western art music.

(i) To 1945.

European music was introduced to Japan by Portuguese and Spanish missionaries in the mid-16th century, but the ban on Christianity (1588) and the isolationist policy (after 1639) stopped the development of imported music (see §IV, 4 above). When the restrictions were lifted at the Meiji Restoration (1868), European music was again imported, with fresh vigour and unusual rapidity, in the form first of military band music and then of Protestant hymns. The Meiji government actively encouraged the broad diffusion of Western music, and the new school system (1872) adopted a European style of singing in its curriculum. The Music Study Committee, founded by the government in 1879 and headed by Izawa Shūji, welcomed the cooperation of foreign teachers such as Luther W. Mason, Franz Eckert and Rudolf Dittrich; in 1887 it became the country’s first music academy, the Tokyo Music School. Ongaku zasshi, the first music journal, began publication in 1890; the first opera performance, a scene from Gounod’s Faust, took place in 1894. By 1900 concerts were popular, particularly piano, violin and song recitals.

Japanese composers of Westernized music, who began to be active around 1900, at first specialized in songwriting; Taki Rentarō’s Kōjō no tsuki (‘Moon at a desolate castle’, 1901) is probably the most famous song of the period. Yamada Kōsaku, who studied in Germany and became the leading composer of the time, made the first attempt to compose orchestral works and operas (about 1912). After 1915 an increasing number of European visitors (some of them, like Prokofiev, refugees from the Russian Revolution) further encouraged musical activities. By 1930 the list of visitors included the violinists Zimbalist, Kreisler, Heifetz and Thibaud, the pianists Godowsky and Levitsky, the singers McCormack, Fleta and Galli-Curci, the guitarist Segovia, and opera companies from France and Russia.

Yamada and his contemporaries were strongly influenced by German Romanticism. After World War I other European schools, such as French impressionism, were influential, and some composers began to use elements of traditional Japanese music in their works. For example, Shin Nihon Ongaku (New Japanese Music), led by Yoshida Seifū and the koto performer and composer Miyagi Michio, aimed to perform compositions in European styles with Japanese instruments. Vocal compositions in folksong style or for children were particularly popular.

By 1930 contemporary European movements were quickly transmitted to Japan, and as a result Japanese composers began to write in a variety of styles, including nationalist and futurist. The Shinkō Sakkyokuka Renmei (organized in 1930 by 16 younger composers) rapidly grew into a large organization and in 1935 was renamed the Nihon Gendai Sakkyokuka Renmei and became the Japanese branch of the ISCM. Several smaller composers’ associations that had been organized at this time were dissolved at the beginning of World War II, when all musical activities were strictly controlled by the military government.

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