Part VIII - Good Music is Always Simple


Akira Ifukube at work in 1955.

With the monster's triumphant roar still ringing in his head, Ifukube fully completed his "Ainu Symphony" on November 28, 1954, less than a month after the unimaginably successful première of Godzilla. Dubbed Sinfonia Tapkaara, this work - which would be the composer's first and only true symphony - appeared relatively late in Ifukube's career, roughly twenty one years after the completion of his first published composition, Piano Suite.

It was Alexander Tcherepnin during his stay in Japan in 1936 who advised his young, enthusiastic protégé to take as much time as he needed to perfect his craft before attempting to take on that most venerated type of musical form, the symphony. Tcherepnin explained to the young Ifukube that Johnnes Brahms needed twenty one years before finishing his first symphony and the Russian composer Mily Balakirev required thirty four years before achieving his. Although Ifukube did not work on his own symphony anywhere near as long as either Brahms or Balakirev - he had likely begun it in early 1954 - the fact that he completed Sinfonia Tapkaara at the age of 40 does seem to indicate that, in the context of his career in general, he heeded Tcherepnin's suggestion and took his time.

Tapkaara (or tapkara, as it is sometimes spelled) is a general word for dance in the Ainu language, usually performed by men. (The sister dance to the tapkaara is called rimse, which is performed by women.) In composing Sinfonia Tapkaara, Ifukube took his inspiration from the myriad Ainu dances that he observed during his youth in the town of Otofuke, Hokkaido. In particular, he based his symphony on a dance in which the men would outstretch their arms and stamp their feet to worship the kamui (or god) of the earth. [1]


A traditional Ainu dance.

Sinfonia Tapkaara is in three movements: Allegro, Adagio and Vivace. The first movement, which is in a "quasi-sonata form," as the Japanese musicologist Morihide Katayama once said [2], bursts forth with an infectious ferocity before segueing into a much more tranquil middle section, complete with a part for guiro, a Latin American percussion instrument used here ostensibly to imitate an Ainu instrument. After the momentary calm, the storm returns and the first movement ends with tremendous force.

Incidentally, one of the main themes used in the Allegro movement was sourced from the first movement of his Symphony Concertante, written over a decade earlier in 1941. Ifukube liberally "borrowed" this theme for use in Sinfonia Tapkaara as it was believed that Symphony Concertante was lost: The only known complete version of that work had been burned during an Allied bombing campaign in Tokyo in the thick of the Second World War.*

The gorgeous and melancholy second movement, Adagio, is an evocation of a calm night in Otofuke, according to the composer. The middle section of the movement has an extended ostinato melody, played by a cor anglais and an oboe, that seems to imitate an ancient Ainu chant.

Ifukube goes out with his trademark bang in the third and final movement, the Vivace. If the music seems to paint pictures of an ecstatic - and even slightly intoxicated - Ainu celebration, that is likely no coincidence: Ifukube once remarked that the Vivace movement "shall be played as if carrying a bottle of sake by the waist." [3] In this movement, with its furious forward pace and bounty of heavy accents, the crazed dance of the Ainu men stomping on the ground comes to vivid life.


Cover page of Sinfonia Tapkaara.

Ifukube dedicated Sinfonia Tapkaara to one of his oldest friends and colleagues, Atsushi Miura, who had become one of Japan's best known music critics.


Akira Ifukube and Atsushi Miura, 1957.

From the earliest stages of its conception, the first performance of Sinfonia Tapkaara was promised to Fabien Sevitzy, the American conductor who played the début of Japanese Rhapsody in 1936 and who had remained a pen friend of the composer since that time. Immediately upon its completion, Sinfonia Tapkaara was sent to Sevitzky who was then acting as the conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony. Sevitzky wanted to give the première of Sinfonia Tapkaara as a part of that orchestra's final performance of the 1954-1955 season in a concert called A Salute to Tokyo, Japan.

Sinfonia Tapkaara was played for the first time on the evening of January 26, 1955 in the Murat Theater in Indianapolis. The concert, which was billed as "America's first cultural contribution to the people of Japan since the end of hostilities," also featured the Egmont Overture by Beethoven, a Suite by G.F. Telemann, Batuque (Danza di Negri) by Oscar Lorenzo Fernández (a piece characterized by Afro-Brazilian rhythms and ethnically inspired melodies, not at all unlike Sinfonia Tapkaara) and, oddly for a "salute to Tokyo," An American in Paris by Gershwin. Incidentally (and unfortunately), the concert program incorrectly spelled the name of Sinfonia Tapkaara's composer: He is listed as "Ificube."


Flyer for A Salute to Tokyo, Japan.

The entirety of the concert was recorded and subsequently flown to Japan for broadcast in that country as a "musical greeting from the people of Indianapolis." Ifukube, upon hearing the recording himself - this was of course the first time that he had heard an actual performance of Sinfonia Tapkaara - felt an amount of dissatisfaction with the over-all quality and cohesion of the piece. If the composer was initially skeptical of his achievement, however, it was obvious that the attendees of the Indianapolis concert were more than satisfied with the symphony: The recording reveals that their applause was nothing short of wildly enthusiastic and, in fact, they were so enthralled by the exciting conclusion of the first movement that they could not help but break concert etiquette and offer a raucous ovation then and there. In a thank you letter that Sevitzky sent to Ifukube, the conductor apologized for this unruly outburst from his audience!

If Ifukube was having his doubts about the merits of Sinfonia Tapkaara, Toho was, on the contrary, quite assured of the success of Godzilla as the yen had not ceased to pour in since its début in early November. It was as early as December 1954 that the studio, wanting to stay firmly perched atop the wave of extraordinarily relentless profit, began devising an immediate sequel to their monstrous hit and, therefore, Iwao Mori ordered Tomoyuki Tanaka to form a team to whip together the follow-up production. Eiji Tusuburaya was ready, willing and able to lend his talents to the Godzilla sequel but Ishiro Honda could not return as he was in the midst of directing another film, Love Makeup. Therefore, Tanaka chose an experienced (if not particularly talented) director to helm the picture who was, apparently, available on short notice and had one previous science fiction film, The Invisible Man (1954), under his belt: Motoyoshi Oda. The screenplay, which was written by Shigeaki Hidaki and Godzilla veteran Takeo Murata, after an original story by Takeshi Kimura, was called Godzilla's Counter Attack (Gojira no gyakushu).

Like Honda, Ifukube, who was surely instrumental to the success of the first Godzilla, would not participate in this production and it is not exceedingly clear why. One must figure that the composer was simply too busy: After Godzilla's release on November 3, Ifukube had been working on the scores for no less than nine additional films before the close of 1954. This steady stream of film assignments spilled over without pause into early 1955, which is when production on Godzilla's Counter Attack was in full swing. Additionally, Ifukube had also been occupied arranging for the Japanese premiere of Sinfonia Tapkaara, which was to take place in March.

With Ifukube unavailable, the production chose a comparatively inexperienced composer, Masaru Sato (1928 - 1999), to score Godzilla's Counter Attack. Sato, a native of Hokkaido who had been a student of Fumio Hayasaka, scored his first an only film, Santa to chidai no yama (1952), about two and a half years previously with Oda. It seems likely that Oda lobbied for Sato based on his previous experience with him.

Godzilla's Counter Attack would eventually open in Japan on April 24. The film sold 8.3 million tickets; this was indeed good business but the film failed to come close to making the same impact on the movie-going public as Godzilla. [4] It was not the repeat smash hit Toho had hoped for.

Despite his busy schedule in early 1955, Ifukube did find the time to fullfil a decidedly small-scale request. In about late February or early March, Ifukube was asked by Masayoshi Hatakeyama, the principal of Hokkaido Akan High School, to write song to celebrate that institution's fifth anniversary. Hatakeyama had a special connection to the composer: He had been one of young Ifukube's teachers in Otofuke. As well, Ifukube had a personal link to Akan as he lived and worked near there during his forestry days. Ifukube was happy to oblige his former educator.

Ifukube's stoic Hokkaido Akan High School Song, complete with lyrics penned by one of the school's teachers, Shunzo Kashiwakura, was probably first played in public on April 1 at a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the school. It remains the school's official tune to this day.

On March 16, Sinfonia Tapkaara received its Japanese première with the Tokyo Symphony under the ever-faithful baton of Masashi Ueda. In sharp contrast to the reception that Ifukube's symphony received in the United States, Japanese critical reaction was mostly negative; the most vociferous nay-sayer was perhaps Hikaru Hayashi (1931 - 2012), a modernist composer who completely disapproved of Sinfonia Tapkaara's perceived conservatism, i.e. its insistence on melody, strict adherence to traditional tonality and its embrace of the symphonic form. Hayashi, in a scathing newspaper article, went as far to declare that: "It's doubtful that [Sinfonia Tapkaara] can be called music based on what we understand music to be."

To better understand Hayashi's attack against Sinfonia Tapkaara, one should take into account the musical atmosphere in Japan at the time, the mid-1950s. Since roughly the end of World War Two, art music in Europe and the United States began to orient itself more vigorously than ever toward the aesthetic of the avant-garde; composers such as Arnold Schönberg (the "godfather" of this movement), Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messaien, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage (to name a select few), in experimenting with atonality, tone rows, serialism, jarring dissonance and highly unorthodox instrumentation, endeavored to challenge the traditional definitions of what music is and what it could express. The avant-gardists were seen not only as innovators by the international art music intelligentsia but also as prophets; the adherents of the avant-garde quickly gained immeasurable influence and, certainly by the early 1950s, they were essentially able to dominate the worldwide musical discussion and, in so doing, establish what they would consider to be the inevitable and necessary forward trajectory of "modern music."

The influence of the European and American avant-garde composers was especially resonant in Japan. After the war, "breaking away from tradition" was a highly appealing concept among Japanese artists and embracing the latest, most popular Western trends was widely considered artistically correct. Several organizations began to form throughout Japan with the intent to study and promote these contemporary trends and the most well known of these groups was undoubtedly Jikken Kobo, or the Experimental Workshop. Jikken Kobo, which was founded in Tokyo in 1951, was a conglomeration of graphic artists, photographers, writers and composers, all of whom were devoted to pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. Among the composers in this collective were Hiroyochi Suzuki, Keijiro Sato, Joji Yuasa and Toru Takemitsu. Takemitsu (1930 - 1996) would go on to be not only the most influential and well-known composer of Jikken Kobo but also, arguably, the most prominent Japanese composer of all time. Takemitsu's eventual and unprecedented success as a composer, which really began to take shape toward the late 1950s, illustrates very aptly how the musical avant-garde was regarded in the mid-20th century as the favored aesthetic not only in Japan but also on the world stage.**


Toru Takemitsu

Although Hayashi was not a member of a group like Jikken Kobo, and his own music was usually nowhere near as experimental as the likes of Yuasa and Takemitsu, he was, nevertheless, a proponent of Western modernism and, consequently, his "progressive" philosophies could be considered highly representative of the thinking of Japan's postwar musical establishment. Ifukube, whose national reputation was mostly positive before and during the war, quickly went on to be seen by the new establishment as a relic of that period; his "nationalist" style, with its embrace of native Japanese, Ainu and various other Asian folk music traditions, which in many ways resembled the aesthetic of the late 19th century Russian orientalists such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin, was now seen as antiquated. In Hayashi's mind, Sinfonia Tapkaara demonstrated that Ifukube was something of an imbecile who was pitifully stuck in the past.

In a sense, if Ifukube was stuck in the past it was entirely by choice. Although he could certainly see the world of music around him rapidly changing in the postwar period, Ifukube made a conscious decision to avoid following others down the path toward the avant-garde, an aesthetic he found to be unnecessarily complex and too rigidly intellectual. His antipathy toward the ultramodern trends in music prompted him to devise a personal motto which was based on a saying by Sima Qian (145 - 86 BC), the Chinese historiographer whom the Ifukube family had studied for generations. Sima once remarked that "good manners are always simple." In turn, Ifukube decided that "good music is always simple" should be the philosophy that defined his style.


Good music is always simple. Original calligraphy by Akira Ifukube.
From the webmaster's personal collection.

In direct response to the charges that his postwar music was too old fashioned, Ifukube once explained: "Avant-garde music was very popular after the war. However, a new style such as this will become old someday. I am very comfortable with my clock that doesn't work. Even the clock that doesn't work is right twice a day."

This quote, as well as his "good music is always simple" motto reinforce the notion that Ifukube was not an imbecile, but rather, a composer who knew precisely what he was doing and who was comfortable in his own skin. He was willing to endure the vitriol of his detractors and be considered a pariah - he had to stay true to his artistic vision and philosophies at all costs.

Although Sinfonia Tapkaara prompted such negativity from so many fellow musicians, Ifukube had a remarkable talent for keeping his cool; former Ifukube confidant Hirohiko Nagase attributes Ifukube's strength in the face of critical adversity to his studies and practices related to Zen Buddhism. Nothing, however, could keep Ifukube from feeling heartbroken for Atsushi Miura as the maligned symphony was dedicated to him. In this sense, Ifukube felt that he had let down his old friend.

Regardless of the bitterly cold reception that Sinfonia Tapkaara received within establishment circles, the equally bitter Japanese winter segued into the warmer months of 1955 and private family photos from this period show a very happy Ifukube family enjoying the comforts afforded by the patriarch's ever-increasing financial success in the film industry. In addition to such carefree actives as sipping soda on the banks of the Tama River and family trips to the beach, the Ifukubes were able to welcome a new member into their household... a shiba inu puppy that was given to the family by the composer and former Ifukube pupil Yasushi Akutagawa. Ifukube named the puppy Sasha due to his great admiration for Alexander the Great. (Sasha is the diminutive form of Alexander in Russian.) Ifukube's son Kiwami has fond memories of Sasha, especially his unusually colorful personality. "That dog was the talk of our neighborhood," Kiwami once recalled.


Ifukube and his son Kiwami enjoying Ramune cola.


Ifukube and his three children, Rei, Kiwami and Kyoko at Enoshima.


Ai and Sasha.

On March 29 Ifukube received an unexpected letter from the Amsterdam Duo, the husband and wife team of violinist Nap de Klijn (1909 - 1979) and pianist Alice Heksch (1912 - 1957), in which the two musicians requested an original work for violin and piano from the composer. The Amsterdam Duo, who had formed in 1945, was well known throughout Europe for their elegantly skillful performances of a wide-ranging repertoire. They were particularly famous for their historically accurate interpretations of Mozart due to the use of their trademark "Mozart Piano." This instrument, which had been specially constructed for the Duo in 1950, was an exact replica of the type of piano that would have been commonly played in Mozart's time, characterized by a timbre decidedly lighter and brighter than that of modern concert grands.

Aside from their affection for Mozart and the standard repertoire in general, the Amsterdam Duo also took a keen interest in contemporary composers and this is, apparently, what drove them to contact Ifukube.*** Ifukube was flattered and enthused to have received such a request from prominent European musicians and began work on the proposed violin and piano piece more or less right away. Although Ifukube was obviously willing to fulfill de Klijn and Heksch's request, he curiously did not send any type of immediate reply to their initial letter; therefore, the Amsterdam Duo could not have had any indication whether or not their correspondence had been received by Ifukube in the first place nor that their desire for an original work was already in the process of being met!

Ifukube did eventually respond to the Duo some four months later on August 6 in mostly good English. In his letter Ifukube apologizes for his tardy reply and states: "Of course, before I received your information, we were well aware of your activities in the musical world. So when I recieved (sic) your letter I was deeply moved by your suggestion." Ifukube begins to close his letter by explaining that the manuscript for the requested work was nearly completed: "Since the time, I am devoting myself to your suggestion and, I have finished the last manuscript. So, before long I will be able to send the copy to you.

"The title is Deux Caractères pour violon et piano but, it is constructed in 3 movements,-- it has a short Intermède, which is violin solo without piano accompaniment, and attacca subito to 2nd Caractère--.

"We have a deep interest on Western music, and we wish you will take some interest in our Asian music, and fortunately, if you take some interest in my composition, I shall be very happy."


The Amsterdam Duo with Ifukube's Deux Caratères score.
Photo courtesy of Aagje de Klijn-Kramer.


IIfukube's first letter to the Amsterdam Duo.
Photo courtesy of Aagje de Klijn-Kramer.

On September 1 Ifukube mailed the completed Deux Caractères pour violon et piano manuscript to the Amsterdam Duo's home in Houtweg, The Netherlands. In a separate letter sent at the same time Ifukube humbly states: "Now, I have no words on my composition, and only hope you will take some interest in it."

On September 19 Ifukube received a letter from Nap de Klijn in which the violinist expresses gratitude and enthusiasm for Deux Caractères. He also mentions that he and his wife will begin rehearsing the work. Ifukube, obviously touched, wrote back on October 4 and says: "Now, I can not (sic) express my emotion and thanks on your kind treatment." He continues: "Once more I thank you for your musical sympathy on my composition."


Cover and title page of Deux Caractères
Photo courtesy of Aagje de Klijn-Kramer.

As Ifukube explained in his letter, Deux Caractères pour violon et piano is actually in three movements: Caractère I, Allegro ballabile; Intermède, Rapsodico; Caratère II, Allegro ritmico. Caratère I, which is certainly redolent of Béla Bartók in one of his more orientalist moods, is upbeat and driving, and at times furiously so. The brief Intermède for violin solo has the spontaneous feeling of an improvisation. The influence of Bartók (and perhaps Stravinsky) remains in place for Caractère II. The most unusual feature of this angular music is the special technique required of the violinist at two points in the movement: Ifukube requires the violinist "to lay the stick-wood part, not the hair - of violin bow slightly on the string, near the end of finger-board, and pluck the string with the finger of the left hand." The resulting snapping sound is, according to Ifukube, an "effect [that is] somewhat similar to the snared drum, and, this is a traditional technique in our stringed instruments."

In both Caractère I and II a spirit of experimentation is indeed discernible, especially in terms of the brittle harmonies and almost cubist melodies; because of these features, Deux caractères is some of the most "modern" sounding music - albeit cautiously so - ever to flow from Ifukube's pen up to this point. This experimentation undoubtedly arose from the very recent accusations that Ifukube's style was out of touch with modern times and, clearly, the aesthetic of Deux caractères reveals that Ifukube must have been, to some extent, intellectually (and perhaps secretly) affected by the negative criticisms brought about by Sinfonia Tapkaara; this is surely his attempt to present himself as more open to modern music.

Although Nap de Klijn informed Ifukube that he and Heksch would be rehearsing the piece, it is not known whether or not Deux caractères was immediately performed anywhere in Europe at any time.****


Akira Ifukube in 1955.

Less than two weeks after Ifukube sent his last letter to the Amsterdam Duo, the composer received tragic news: On October 15 Fumio Hayasaka, Ifukube's dear friend and colleague since childhood, succumbed to his tuberculosis and died at his home while working of the score for Akira Kurosawa's upcoming film I Live in Fear. ***** Hayasaka's death was agonizing: He collapsed on the floor of his workroom unable to breathe. Hayasaka's wife, Noriko, rushed to her husband's side and tried to help him take in oxygen, but to no avail. After several minutes of struggling to breathe, Hayasaka passed away in his wife's arms. He was only 41 years old.

Ifukube was shaken despite his sometimes turbulent relationship with Hayasaka, a man he truly loved and respected. Their friendship, even from the earliest days, was sometimes characterized by philosophic disagreements (which could sometimes lapse into heated debates) and other personal tensions. Unfortunately, in the final years of Hayasaka's life - where, incidentally, he had seen his greatest successes in scoring several internationally acclaimed films such as Rashomon (1950) and The Seven Samurai (1954) - their friendship had been especially problematic.

In many ways, since moving to Tokyo in 1939, Hakysaka had been able to position himself "one step ahead" of Ifukube in terms of establishing renown and a career. Being in the Japanese capital roughly seven years before Ifukube's own arrival allowed Hayasaka to integrate quickly and firmly into the the very heart of the Japanese music scene while his friend remained "cut off" in Hokkaido. In Tokyo Hayasaka could frequently hobnob with other composers, publish musical articles on a regular basis and, due to the wide public exposure afforded to him because of his film work, he developed a fame that was, very tangibly, larger than Ifukube's. This must have given Hayasaka a feeling of vindication; Hayasaka had been envious of Ifukube's unanimous win of the Tcherepnin Prize in 1935 and of the resulting national - and international - reputation that his friend enjoyed in the late 1930s and early 1940s. After Hayasaka's transfer to Tokyo, especially after his collaborations with Kurosawa, the tables soon turned. ******

The unfortunate result of Hayasaka's successes in Tokyo, at least in his interaction with Ifukube, was the intermittent adoption of a haughty and demeaning attitude. In turn, Ifukube was himself capable of contributing to the tensions: He sometimes leveled pointed criticisms toward Hayasaka's musical style. Ifukube felt regret that Hayasaka's early aesthetic approached Romanticism, a musical movement that Ifukube could not tolerate due to what he considered to be its lack of rhetorical concision. As Hayasaka's later style drifted toward modernism and even atonality, this vexed Ifukube further. Ifukube considered Hayasaka's artistic sympathies and habits to be representative of a weak acquiescence to Western idioms.

Despite these issues, fortunately, there was no lasting enmity between the two composers at any time.

Fumio Hayasaka's funeral took place on October 18 in Tokyo. Ifukube attended the ceremony as well as several other luminaries from the Japanese artistic world including the composer Toshiro Mayuzumi and the directors Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa. In one of the most emotional moments of the funeral, the famous singer Yoshiko Yamaguchi performed Hayasaka's own song version of the already famous Seven Samurai theme, with original lyrics written by the composer. Despite the good intentions of this gesture, it perturbed Ifukube: He was disappointed that a film score selection was performed for this solemn occasion instead of one of his friend's concert works.*******


Fumio Hayasaka 1914 - 1955

In December, Ifukube, who was still reeling from Hayasaka's death, completed yet another new chamber work: His Eclogues After Epos Among Aino Races was his third small scale composition relating to the indigenous peoples of Northern Asia to feature a female voice.********

Ifukube had been inspired to write Eclogues as a result of his readings of the Ainu-born scholar Mashaso Chiri (1909 - 1961), a professor of Literature and Linguistics at the composer's alma mater, Hokkaido Imperial University. Chiri had written several textbooks and even a dictionary of the Ainu language; additionally, he was an avid collector and recorder of yukar, or Ainu epic poems. Ifukube selected three of Chiri's yukar to set to music.

Ifukube does not use Japanese translations of Chiri's texts; each section of the score is sung in the original Ainu.


Cover page for Eclogues After Epos Among Aino Races

Wanting to give his Eclogues a more "primitive" feel, Ifukube decided not to use piano accompaniment as he had done in Ancient Minstrelsies of Gilyak Tribes and Three Lullabies Among the Native Tribes on the Island of Sakhalin. Rather, he had the novel idea to use only percussion. His initial thought was to use four congas and, indeed, the first version of the score shows that he had completed the composition with that instrumentation. After completing the score, however, he elected to replace the congas with four timpani.

In composing the melodic content, Ifukube did not quote any preexisting Ainu melodies; rather, he fashioned his tunes from "free memory," as the composer put it, of the Ainu chants he heard during his childhood in Otofuke. [5]

The rythmically complex Eclogues is in three movements: Shine onne ekashi kor shinotcha (Song of an Old Woman); Yaishema ne na (Song of a Bird Dying in the North Sea); Ku taxkara kusu (Dancing Song of a Young Girl and a Witch).

Ifukube fashioned the first movement after a traditional shinotcha, which is classified as music of solace or diversion. In this type of song, the singer sings nonsense words while thinking of the song's subject. Once the subject is chosen, the singer improvises content to express his or her state of mind. [6]. After the "nonsense" introduction of Ohu ohu ohu ehu ehu ehu, the Ainu lyrics describe the complaint of an old woman who, due to her withered appearance, will never again experience the affectionate caresses of a lover. In the score, Ifukube described this movement as a lamente volmente.*********

The composer based the second movement, an andante, on another improvisational song style called yaishema ne na. This is also a song of self expression in which the phrase yaishama ne na is repeated while the singer thinks of a subject. [7] The singer then improvises lyrics to describe his or her emotions and will continue to repeat yaishema ne na throughout the rest of the song. Here, the lyrics describe a female bird who watches, helplessly, as her dying mate floats on the chilly ocean waves and is about to sink. Ifukube's music here is appropriately mournful and calls for the percussionist to strike the timpani in unusual ways without a mallet: The player is required to strike the drums with the palms of his hands throughout and, in one passage, to strike with his fingernails!

The third and final movement does not adhere to any type of traditional form. The most wild of the three movements, in terms of both the vocal and percussion requirements, is an allegro that describes two sisters dancing at a wedding feast. A witch kills one of the sisters and tries to take her place. However, due to her clumsy dancing, the pathetic sorceress is soon discovered. In this movement, Ifukube instructs that the timpani be hit with the wooden part of the mallet to give the drum strikes a harsher timbre.


First page of the Ku Taxkara Kusu movement.

Ifukube's selection of subject matter for his three austere Ainu songs reveals a certain amount of pessimism, plausibly brought about by a lasting sensitivity - first hinted at in Deux Caractères - to the critical rejection of Sinfonia Tapkaara (perhaps, contrary to Hirohiko Nagase's thoughts, Ifukube was more emotionally affected by that debacle after all) and bolstered by Hayasaka's death. Although Ifukube probably had begun to write Eclogues before Hayasaka's demise, the reoccuring - and timely - themes of dying and death in this piece are certainly striking and one must wonder if Hayasaka's passing did ultimately influence some of the lyrical content. Taking this into consideration, the second movement's image of a bird feebly observing the undignified expiration of its mate adopts an obvious extra-lyrical significance. Moreover, the first movement's text about the old woman who has lost her former allure is equally poignant; could this be a reflexion of Ifukube's own feelings of "getting old" musically, of his own (perceived) diminishing relevance and appeal?

Despite its completiton, there were no immediate performances of Ecolgues After Epos Among Aino Races. It would not receive its first performance until January 12, 1957 with a vocal interpretation by Yoshiko Beltramelli.

Immediately after the finishing touches were made on the Eclogues score, Ifukube was asked by the esteemed director Kon Ichikawa (1915 - 2008) to provide the music for his antiwar drama, The Burmese Harp, which was based on a children's book of the same name by Michio Takeyama. In this film, Mizushima (played by Shôji Yasui) is stationed with his fellow soldiers in Burma toward the end of the Second World War. In order to sustain the morale of his platoon, he often plays sentimental melodies on his traditional Burmese harp. Mizushima is eventually taken as a prisoner of war by the British but is subsequently able to escape and roam the Burmese countryside disguised as a monk. This allows Mizushima to witness and thus contemplate the wide scope of death and chaos brought about by the war.

As was customary in the Japanese film industry, Ifukube was not given much time by the producing studio, Nikkatsu, to write his Burmese Harp music. Due to this Ifukube again had to rework previously written material for inclusion in the score: For example, the cue known as Mizushima's Letter is taken from the first movement of the often cannibalized Arctic Forest. For the reoccurring main theme of the film, Ifukube recycled the poignant Godzilla on the Ocean Floor cue from the previous year's Godzilla, a cue that had also been used in Hiroshima and Snow Trail before that.

Ifukube also had to craft an arrangement of the famous English-language folk song Home! Sweet Home! by Sir Henry Bishop and John Howard Payne. Ifukube explained to Ed Godziszewski in 1995: "For a particular sequence in The Burmese Harp in which both the Japanese and British soldiers approach each other singing Home! Sweet Home! in turns, like questioning and answering - the British trying to communicate the war's end and the Japanese soldiers accepting their surrender - I had written a chorus of Home! Sweet Home! for both. I hired a Japanese male chorus for the Japanese soldiers, and for the British soldiers there were five Caucasian gentlemen who were priests of the Catholic church because they were so experienced with chorus. Because the voice, tone and intonation of the Japanese singers were so different from the Caucasian singers, I had to hire both [a] Japanese and [a] British male chorus. It's a very funny story...these Catholic priests came and knew that the title of the chorus was Home! Sweet Home!, and they said it was impossible for them to sing it. They said there was no sweet home for them unless it was the house of the Good Lord. We needed ten Japanese singers each for making it seem more thick and dense." [8]

Interestingly, Mizushima's Burmese harp in the film is merely an unplayable prop; apparently, and somewhat strangely, Ichikawa dubs the sound of a standard, orchestral harp whenever the instrument is "played" on screen. While the actual timbre of a Burmese harp is not totally dissimilar to that of a Western-style orchestral harp, there remains a certain tonal incongruence, nevertheless.


The Burmese harp prop. Photo by Brett Homenick.

The Burmese Harp was released in two parts, three weeks apart. The first part was released in Japan on January 21, 1956 and the second part on February 12 to mostly positive reviews. The film would eventually be shown in the United States where it was met with critical enthusiasm and would garner a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1957 Academy Awards. The Burmese Harp would lose, however, to Federico Fellini's La strada (1956).


Poster for The Burmese Harp.

Not long after its Italian début at the Venice Film Festival on August 28, 1956, The Burmese Harp soundtrack was released on the RCA Italiana label. This album, which was the first time any of Ifukube's film music had ever been available on a commercial recording, did not contain the complete score, but rather, selected cues. On the album's sleeve Ifukube's name is transliterated as "Ihukube."


The Burmese Harp soundtrack album.


* It was indeed believed that Symphony Concertante had been lost forever after the Second World War and, therefore, Ifukube felt no guilt in recycling material from that work and incorporating it into others. However, a more or less complete version of the score resurfaced in Tokyo in the early 1990s. A restored version of Symphony Concertante would subsequently be performed on the The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 5 recording in 1997.

** Takemitsu and Ifukube would go on to be seen by many as arch rivals in the Japanese music world; if Ifukube was considered the doyen of musical conservatism, Takemitsu was considered the leading champion of experimentalism.

*** The exact circumstances surrounding the Amsterdam Duo's initial correspondence with Ifukube are not clear. How did de Klijn and Heksch know of Ifukube's music in the first place? What might they have heard his music, and where? Neither the Ifukube estate nor the de Klijn estate know the answers to these questions.

**** The key word here is "immediately." Whether or not Deux caractères was played by de Klijn and Heksch in public immediately after their rehearsals is not known. Sadly, Heksch died in 1957, not long after having received of the score. It is known, however, that the piece was performed publicly at least once: In the 1970s
de Klijn and the pianist Rudolf Jansen played Deux Caractères on a broadcast of Radio Netherlands.

***** I Live in Fear would eventually be released on November 22, 1955. Masaru Sato, Hayasaka's pupil, would finish that film's score for his late teacher.

****** Hayasaka was in many ways a troubled man. His childhood was unpleasant: His father squandered the family's riches and, not long after that, both his parents had died. Living in poverty, Hayasaka was forced to raise his siblings. Also, he suffered from tuberculosis. Ifukube's childhood, on the other hand, was much more comfortable, even privileged. Ifukube attended university, Hayasaka could not. After Ifukube won the Tcherepnin Prize and his reputation as a composer quickly flourished, Hayasaka was, it seems, resentful of Ifukube's charmed life and artistic success. This made Hayasaka very competitive while Ifukube was not. It was Hayasaka's competitive nature, and tormented personality, that drove him to this occasional bad behavior toward the person that he often considered to be his best friend.

******* Ifukube often expressed a dismissive attitude toward film music, although he owed his financial success to it. Ifukube always felt that concert music was artistically superior to film music. Due to this attitude, he determined that the choice of a film score segment at the funeral was not ideal because it could not in any way be representative of Hayasaka's best artistry.


******** "Aino" is an alternative, and now outdated, spelling for Ainu.

********* Volmente is an Italian word I had never seen before. An Internet search did not produce a definition. I asked a friend of mine who is an Italian translator about this word, and she had never heard it. After some of her own research, she said that it could be an older Italian word and might mean something like "ably" or "with will." If it is old Italian, I'd not be surprised: Ifukube often used archaic terms from various European languages in his scores. Also, I have the impression that Ifukube likely wanted to use the word lamento, or lament, but instead uses lamente. Lamente is not a correct Italian word; la mente, however, means " the mind." I don't think that was the word Ifukube was trying to use. I conclude, then, that lamente volmente is term made up of a very rare, perhaps archaic Italian word with an incorrect one. It seems Ifukube was trying to say something along the lines of "willfully lamenting."


[1] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 3. King Records. 1997.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ryfle, Steve. Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of "The Big G". Page 65. Ontario: ECW Press. 1998.
[5
] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for Akira Ifukube: Anthology of vox principal works. Camerata. 1995.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.

[8]
Godziszewski, Ed. Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 34.



© Erik Homenick. All rights reserved