Part III - The Music of the Forest


Akira Ifukube with score (1935).

Although 1935 started on a somber note due to Suzu Ifukube's death on January 9, all sadness soon gave way to happiness and excitement in the early summer of that year: Ifukube had concluded his studies at Hokkaido Imperial University's Faculty of Agriculture. His graduation thesis offered a thorough analysis of the acoustic and vibratory properties of wood in order to make new musical instruments. After graduation Ifukube, apparently having had his fill of interaction with other people during his university days, had a fleeting notion that he might enjoy the solitude of working as a lighthouse keeper in remote areas of the Pacific Ocean. This, however, would not come to pass as his agricultural background would keep him in his native Hokkaido.

Immediately upon graduation, Ifukube was hired by the Municipal Forest of Hokkaido to work as a forestry officer in Akkeshi, a remote, mountainous area on the eastern side of the island. Although the main forestry office was located in Akkeshi proper, Ifukube's post would be farther east in the forest itself, about 15 miles from the main town.


Municipal Forest of Hokkaido office in Akkeshi.

Of course, transferring to Akkeshi from Sapporo would mean that, for the first time, Ifukube would no longer have the constant company of his family and friends and his opportunities to participate in public musical performances would be practically wiped out. However, a more solitary life in the countryside - which suited the young university graduate fine - would allow for the needed concentration to focus on writing new compositions.

Ifukube moved into a cabin on an elevated cape jutting south into the turbulent Pacific Ocean below. This piece of land was called "Timbe" in the Ainu language and is called "Chimbe" in Japanese. (The consonant/vowel combination of "ti" does not exist in the Japanese language. The closest equivalent in Japanese of the "ti" sound is "chi.") Due to Chimbe's coastal location, the area was then as it is now often shrouded by eerie mists and fog.


The Akkeshi forest near Chimbe. Photo by Erik Homenick.

In this cabin, Ifukube began an existance of almost total isolation. The rustic, solitary lifestyle of a forester appealed to him greatly, though, as it afforded him daily opportunities to interact with the natural world that he loved so much.


Chimbe near the former site of Ifukube's cabin. Photo by Erik Homenick.

One of Ifukube's primary responsibilities as a forester was to regulate the amount of timber that could be cut down by local fisherman who used the wood to make boats. Ifukube would often turn a blind eye, however, and allow the fishermen to cut down more trees than was normally permissible in return for sake!

Living in the cabin on the Chimbe cape was surely difficult; there was no electricity nor running water and absolutely no local shopping or services. In order to remain stocked with basic necessities, which included food, books and supplies for writing music, staff members from the main Akkeshi forestry office would occasionally travel to Ifukube and bring him into town on a special three-wheeled truck that was capable of navigating through the unpaved mountain terrain of the area. While in town, Ifukube would lodge at the Gomi ryokan (a ryokan is a Japanese-style inn) for several days. Good-looking, intelligent and artistic, Ifukube became easily well liked by the female staff at the ryokan. Being at the inn allowed Ifukube some opportunity to socialize with others, which he enjoyed. After replenishing himself with all needed goods, he would the be taken back to his cabin to fend for himself until the next trip into town, which could be weeks away.


Gomi ryokan.

In the winter, travel between Chimbe and Akkeshi would often be made impossible due to large amounts of snow cover. Therefore, stuck in the wilderness, hunting was often the only means of obtaining food. Ifukube once recounted an episode in which he trekked to a local pond, rifle in hand, to shoot a goose for food. A particularly large one caught his eye; its size would yield the sustenance he required but he was also impressed by its majestic beauty. Although he was hungry, he was very reluctant to slaughter such an impressive animal. Without any choice he aimed, closed his eyes as he could not bear to see the bird shot, and fired. After the bird was killed, he slung its neck over his shoulder and dragged it back to his cabin. The goose was so large that its limp feet were dragging in the snow.

Occasionally, Ifukube himself felt hunted. Bears often circled around his cabin, surely in search of something to eat. Ifukube couldn't help but be frightened whenever this happened and he sometimes spent nights clinging to his rifle in case the bears tried to break in.

Certainly, Ifukube's constant immersion in this world of abundant flora and fauna heightened his sensitivities to his surroundings. One outstanding instance of this occurred during a forestry assignment near the Kokutaiji Buddhist temple located just on the outskirts of Akkeshi's tiny main town. Ifukube was observing the cherry trees that famously adorn the temple grounds and remarked to himself that there was something unusual about their appearance. So different did they look from the other cherry trees that he had previously seen elsewhere on Hokkaido, in fact, that Ifukube believed that they may have been a new species. Curious about this, he gathered as many samples of the tree that he could (because it was the fall, there were no flowers to collect) and, as soon as he was able, presented them Professor Misao Tatewaki, a botanist at Hokkaido Imperial University in Sapporo. Ifukube would have to wait roughly a year for the results. When the results were eventually produced and published toward the end of 1936, Professor Tatewaki concurred with Ifukube that it was indeed a new type of cherry tree that was growing at the Kokutaiji Temple. According to Tatewaki's article, Ifukube's tree was a new variety of prunus sargentii, or Sargent's cherry, which is native to Japan, Korea and the Russian island of Sakhalin. Tatewaki thus gave the tree its requisite scientific name in Latin: Prunus sargentii f. Ifkubei. More colloquially, Tatewaki proposed the name akkeshizakura, or Akkeshi cherry, to describe the tree.*


The young forester in Akkeshi.

Of course, there was more to Ifukube's life in Akkeshi than forestry field assignments. The isolation of his cabin on the Chimbe cape allowed the young scholar to plunge into a wide rage of studies after the end of his work day; naturally, he was interested in playing music - he had his violin and a guitar at his disposal - and languages; he studied English and French. It was definitely composition, however, that now captivated him the most; his urges to return to writing original musical pieces were as strong as ever. Up to this point, he had written four compositions, each of them small-scale chamber works. Wanting to take advantage of the the depth of concentration that his forest solitude could afford him, Ifukube began to think about writing something decidedly larger in scale. His initial idea was to begin a piece he had been thinking about since his university days: A sort of concerto for solo violin with an accompaniment exclusively made up of percussion instruments. Ifukube, using his skills in English, communicated this idea to the Russian-American conductor, Fabien Sevitzky (1893 - 1967), with whom he had developed a pen-friend relationship, to solicit a professional's opinion, so to speak. The Boston-based Sevitzky, who was the nephew of famed conductor Serge Koussevitzky, suggested that Ifukube abandon the concerto idea and write a piece for full orchestra. The ambitious Ifukube, following Sevitzky's suggestion, began writing a three-movement orchestral work.

Writing only at night by the light of a gas lamp in his cabin, Ifukube envisioned a rather wide-ranging work in which he could further develop the Japanese and Ainu aesthetics that he strove for in his previous pieces, most notably Piano Suite. In fact, Ifukube stated that his (rather lofty) goal with the new composition would be "to express Japan's image comprehensively." [1]

The end result of his vigorous efforts was Nihon kyoshikyoku, or Japanese Rhapsody in English, completed when the composer was 21 years of age. Prodigiously well-orchestrated, Ifukube's Rhapsody is scored for a large orchestra with triple woodwind, two harps, a piano and calls for ten percussion instruments: two timpani, bass drum (these three drums are to be struck with wooden sticks), castanets, snare drum with chord, snare drum without chord, tambourine, wood block, cymbals, and a gong. Japanese Rhapsody was divided into three movements.

The first movement was called Danse de Jongara and was based on a drinking song Ifukube heard in his student days in the the Tsugaru region of northern Aomori Prefecture.

The second movement was called Nocturne and hauntingly depicts a night in Hokkaido, complete with an extended part for violin (perhaps a holdover from his initial idea for a concerto) winding its way through a backdrop of eerie, phantom-like string tremolos, pedal points and light percussion, including castanets, that suggests the clicking and rustling of animals in the dark.


A mystère oriental, or with oriental mystery. Ifukube's instructions for a flute pedal in the Nocturne movement of Japanese Rhapsody.

The third movement is called Fête and illustrates a frenzied Japanese matsuri, or festival. The frenetically bombastic Fête, which makes full use of the orchestra and the required ten percussion instruments, ends with a literal bang: Ifukube marks the final bars "Molto fuocoso possibile" ("As fiery as possible") and writes the final two bars as a tutti in an audacious quadruple forte (ffff)!


A segment from the frenetic Fête movementfrom Japanese Rhapsody.

As with Piano Suite, Ifukube endowed Japanese Rhapsody with pentatonic and modal melodies - all of the composer's invention - to evoke a distinct feeling of Asian-inspired exoticism. Also, in his Rhapsody, the composer demonstrated traits that would go on to become stylistic commonalties in his orchestral output such as an appreciation for pedal points (long-held instrumental "drones" which underscore the main melodic material) and archaic-sounding harmonies, such as harmonies in fifths. The Fête movement in particular showcases Ifukube's trademark facility with complex ostinato rhythms and exuberantly aggressive percussion.


Ifukube's hand-drawn (complete with Hokkaido bear) cover for Japanese Rhapsody.

Of course, although Ifukube had completed the piece, there was virtually no chance it would be performed in the foreseeable future. Not only was Ifukube's life in the far-flung wilderness of Hokkaido a hindrance to his abilities to self-promote but he was, for all intents and purposes, merely an amateur composer with no formal musical training or connection to the Japanese musical intelligentsia, such as it was, based in cosmopolitan Tokyo. It seemed, therefore, that the fate of Japanese Rhapsody was to remain indefinitely in a drawer in the middle of a densely wooded no-man's-land.

At least, that's what the composer thought. To Ifukube's pleasant surprise, by late 1935 Japanese Rhapsody had the unique opportunity not only to emerge from its drawer but travel to the other side of the world. Ifukube happened to learn of a competition organized by the noted Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin (1899 - 1977) in Paris. Tcherepnin, the son of composer Nikolai Tcherepnin (1873 - 1945) and described by his biographer Willi Reich as a "musical citizen of the world," loved to travel and he had an especial interest in the Far East, a region that he had enjoyed visiting in 1934. [2]

During his 1934 journey to Asia, Tcherepnin had an extended stay in Japan and spent time in Yokohama, Hakone and Tokyo. In Tokyo he had the opportunity to observe Japan's nascent musical scene and make the acquaintance of several of its members including the composers Yasuji Kiyose (1900 - 1981), Shukichi Mitsukuri (1895 - 1971), Yoritsuni Matsudaira (1907 - 2001), Bunya Ko (a Japanese citizen of ethnic Taiwanese origin) (1910 - 1983), Toshitsugu Ogihara (1910 - 1992) and Kojiro Kobune (1907 - 1982). [3] Following his meeting with these personalities, Tcherepnin began to think of ways that he could help to promote their careers on an international stage.

Thus in late 1935 Tcherepnin, whose home base at the time was in Paris, organized a competition in the French capital that was open exclusively to Japanese composers who had written an orchestral work. Ifukube, who was completely unknown to Tcherepnin and the music scene in Tokyo, had the audacious thought to enter his recently completed Japanese Rhapsody into the Paris competition. His work met all but one of the contest's criteria: Due to the time limit that Tcherepnin imposed on the entries, Ifukube had no choice but to excise one of Japanese Rhapsody's three movements. He decided to eliminate the Danse de Jongara section and mailed a copy of the abbreviated score to Tcherepnin in Paris. He also sent a copy to Fabien Sevitzky in Boston.


Alexander Tcherepnin.

While it is known that other Japanese composers also submitted scores to Tcherepnin's competition, for the most part, it is not known today precisely who they were. It is certain that Yoritsune Matsudaira submitted his Pastorale (1935) but, aside from Matsudaira, the identities of the other entrants are, unfortunately, lost to history. It is logical to assume, however, that the other entrants would have been from the same circle of Tokyo composers that Tcherepnin had met in 1934 and with whom he had kept in contact (Kiyose, Ko, Kobune, etc.).

Tcherepnin's competition took place on December 16 at the Japanese embassy in Paris. Tcherepnin assembled an impressive group of famous composers to hear the entrants' works and act as judges; the adjudicative panel consisted of Jacques Ibert, Albert Roussel, Arthur Honnegger, Aleksander Tansman, Tibor Harsányi, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, Henri Gil-Marchex and Henri Prunière. Initially Tcherepnin had engaged Maurice Ravel (a favorite of Ifukube) to be a judge, but he had to drop out at the last minute due to an illness.

It is known that each musical selection was performed for the judges by a full orchestra, but it is unclear if the performers in question were members of an established, cohesive ensemble or if they were assembled ad hoc for this special event.

Amazingly, Japanese Rhapsody swept the competition; the judges unanimously awarded Ifukube's composition the first prize. (Matsudaira's Pastorale came in second place.) After the Ifukube's win was announced, with the assistance of the Japanese embassy, telegrams were sent to each competitors to inform them of the results. Within a day, Ifukube received his telegram at his cabin and the announcement of his win was also circulated in local Hokkaido newspapers.


A newspaper article announcing Ifukube's winning of the Tcherepnin Prize.

Ifukube was ecstatic and in disbelief; one can only imagine the intense excitement that he must have felt when he learned of his victory. As for he other entrants, they themselves must have been in an equal state of shock: Each of them were beaten by a complete unknown from the very distant northern fringe of their island nation. Of course, Tcherepnin had never heard of Ifukube either. As soon as possible, the contest organizer had to know more about the mysterious young man who had just won his competition.

In sharp contrast to Ifukube's euphoria, Hayasaka, who was now employed full-time as an organist at the Hanayama Catholic Church in Sapporo (for a while he had considered becoming a priest!), felt pangs of jealousy knowing that his friend's work won the competition so handily. Ifukube had become overnight, by far, the most successful and well known member of the former Shin ongaku renmei. Due to his bitter resentment, Hayasaka initially declined to send a congratulatory telegram to his friend. After some time, however, his negative emotions subsided and Hayasaka eventually did send a telegram to Ifukube, mentioning that the reason for its tardiness was a lack of money. (This may actually have been partially true; Hayasaka was almost always in the midst of financial problems.)

Eventually the manuscript for Japanese Rhapsody that was sent to Paris was shipped back to Ifukube complete with handwritten comments from the judges on the final page. Henri-Gil Marchex, a piano specialist, wrote: " Peut-être serait-il mieux d'exposer le thème du Nocturne au piano au lieu du violon..." ("Would it be better, perhaps, to present the main theme of the Nocturne with a piano instead of a violin..."). And Roussel commented: "Partition intérresante, où en certains passages, la batterie semble un peu trop importante..." ("An interesting work where, in certains parts, the percussion seems a bit too prominent...") Ifukube, who by this time had been communicating with Tcherepnin through the mail, asked the Russian composer to communicate back to Roussel that "(Fête) merely has percussion as dominant and the melodic accompaniment of the orchestra is joined to it." [3]

Tcherepnin himself wrote the following wish on the final page of the manuscript: "To Mr. Akira Ifukbé (sp) all my best greetings and sincere wishes of great future."


The final page of the Japanese Rhapsody manuscript reserved for the comments of the judges.

It seems that because Japanese Rhapsody won the prestigious Tcherepnin Prize, this encouraged the conductor Fabien Sevitzky, who himself had his own copy of the score, to perform the work in his home town of Boston and give Ifukube's first orchestral composition its official world premiere. Thus on April 5, 1936, Seviztky performed Japanese Rhapsody with the Boston People's Symphony Orchestra at the famous Jordan Hall. Ifukube, touched by Sevitzky's willingness to give his piece a formal first performance in a major American city such as Boston, would later dedicate Japanese Rhapsody to the conductor.


Fabien Sevitzky.

In August 1936, Tcherepnin, accompanied by his American-born wife Louisine, traveled to Japan to begin planning a concert tour; he was, as well as a composer, an accomplished concert pianist. Tcherepnin also wanted to take advantage of his time in Japan to meet Ifukube for the first time and offer lessons in orchestration to the hitherto autodidact composer.

Ifukube took one month of leave to meet the Tcherepnins in Yokohama, near Tokyo. Ifukube recalled this time with Tcherepnin: "I stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Tcherepnin at the (New Grand Hotel) in Yokohama which was so luxurious that it charged 45 yen per day, a half of my monthly payment! He gave me orchestration lessons during the day time, and after we were finished, Tcherepnin and I went to the bar on the opposite side of the hotel. I was surprised that the inside of the bar was filled with bottles of liquors which were all genuine brands. At that time, Japan was dominated by countless imitations of foreign brands. As I told him I had never drunk the genuine ones, Tcherepnin said ' All right, then let us conquer them all! We shall clear one bottle a day, one brand after another, and keep doing this for a month!'" [3] Tcherepnin also taught Ifukube how to drink vodka in the true Russian tradition: after gulping the drink down, you are to slam the glass onto the table!


New Grand Hotel, Yokohama.

Tcherepnin's teaching, thankfully, went beyond the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages. His musical instruction focused primarily on orchestration and harmony. For his pupil's benefit, Tcherepnin scribbled a copious amount of notes illustrating his examples on staff paper. On one of the sheets, Tcherepnin advised the following: "Avoid the ostinato's (SP) - it is the Achilles point of modern music." Ifukube was unable to accept this particular admonition; certainly, he could not be persuaded dispense with this essential facet of his style. Recalling Tcherepnin's warning against the use of ostinatos, Ifukube said: "(T)hat was what Japanese music was all about, so this was one point on which I could not agree with my master, Tcherepnin. From that time, I tried to keep my own ideas. The music of the Ainu people was ostinato. So perhaps this was the manner by which I was affected by the music of the Ainu. When you think of Japanese music, for example the whole of Sado Okesa (the famous music of Sado Island), the whole rhythm, no matter how much the melody changes, that rhythm never changes, it just keeps going. Because there is a lot of ostinato music in Japan, I purposely use a lot more than other Japanese composers." [4]

It was probably at this time that Tcherepnin began to discuss with Ifukube and the other budding Japanese composers with whom he was acquainted, such as Bunya Ko and Yoritsune Matsudaira, the possibility of kicking off his concert tour with piano recital to take place in Japan later that same year; Tcherepnin would be traveling throughout Asia for the next several weeks and planned to return to Japan in October. The idea was that he would travel to Hokkaido to visit Ifukube again and, while there, personally perform the piano works of his young apprentices. This idea was well received by Ifukube and he knew that he could work with his colleagues in the Shin Ongaku Renmei to bring the event to fruition.

As the month-long instruction was coming to a close and Ifukube was preparing to return to Akkeshi, Tcherepnin had another idea to propose to Ifukube. Tcherepnin suggested that his composer charge should write a new work for chamber orchestra to complement the rather large-scale Japanese Rhapsody. Stimulated by this idea, Ifukube agreed to the task before leaving Yokohama.

Certainly, Tcherepnin's wife Louisine also had the occasion to spend a fair amount of time with her husband's new protégé. After having gotten to know Ifukube's personality herself, she made the following - and candid - journal entry about him, dated August 14: "Ifukube very charming. Such a strange very refined person [...] seems extraordinary to think of him fighting bears in the forests." [5]

It was about mid-September when Ifukube returned to Chimbe and began, in earnest, to work on the small-scale orchestral piece suggested by his new Russian mentor. After "trying to express Japan's image comprehensively" with Japanese Rhapsody, Ifukube thought he could use the sonorities of a smaller orchestra to express the spirit of a smaller, localized region: Akkeshi. He devised a three-movement work in which each movement, or tableau as Ifukube referred to them, would describe a different aspect of his home in eastern Hokkaido. He would call the piece Triptyque aborigène.*


An autographed photo for Alexander Tcherepnin, 1936.

As well, the Shin Ongaku Renmei had successfully done their part to reserve a time and a place for the piano recital that Tcherepnin had proposed earlier in August to inaugurate his international tour as a soloist: Ifukube and company were able to book the chamber concert hall at Sapporo's Grand Hotel for two days, October 17 and October 18. Moreover, they were able to make arrangements for Tcherepnin to play another recital on Radio Sapporo.

Alexander and Louisine Tcherepnin arrived in Sapporo by train on October 16. They were greeted at the train station by Ifukube, Hayasaka and the other members of the extended Shin Ongaku Renmei. As far as Tcherepnin was concerned, his stay in Sapporo was not merely to give recitals of Japanese piano music; he was also on a mission to meet Ifukube's parents, especially Toshizo, and convince them that their talented son should be allowed to pursue the career of a professional composer.


Alexander Tcherepnin arrives in Sapporo and is greeted by Ifukube (second from left) and Fumio Hayasaka (far right).

Ifukube and his cohorts accompanied the Tcherepnins the their lodging at the Grand Hotel in Sapporo, the site of the pianist's two forthcoming "gala opening concerts." The first of the two recitals took place the next day, on October 16; the works performed - all of which were "Sapporo premieres" - were a mixture of selections by Tcherepnin himself with additional compositions by several of his Japanese and Chinese protégés; Bunya Ko, Yoritsune Matsudaira, Tadashi Ota, Yasuji Kiyose and Ifukube made up the Japanese portion on the concert while He Lüting and Lao Zhi-Cheng represented China. It was Ifukube's Bon Odori movement from Piano Suite specifically that Tcherepnin played during the Japanese section. Virtually the same program was performed again the next day on October 17.


Cover of the Sapporo Grand Hotel concert program.
Image courtesy of Tohru Ifukube.


First page of the Sapporo Grand Hotel concert program.
Image courtesy of Tohru Ifukube.


Second page of the Sapporo Grand Hotel concert program.
Image courtesy of Tohru Ifukube.


Third page of the Sapporo Grand Hotel concert program.
Image courtesy of Tohru Ifukube.


After the October 16 concert at the Sapporo Grand Hotel.

After the duo of live concerts, Ifukube and his colleagues gave the Tcherepnins a tour of Sapporo, which inlcuded a stop at a Catholic girls' covent, assuredly a stop organized by Fumio Hayasaka. On October 20 at 8:00 PM on Radio Sapporo, Tcherepnin played a shorter, alternative piano program for a live broadcast, which was scheduled to last exactly twenty-five minutes. He began with two of his own works, the Petite Suite and Etude de Concert, and this was followed by the Good Bye March by Kiyose, several Bagatelles by Ko, At the Sea Shore by Kojiro Kobune, Music Box by Matsudaira and, finally, the Bon Odori segment from Ifukube's Piano Suite.


Ifukube (center), the Tcherepnins and others at a Catholic girls' convent in Sapporo. Isao Ifukube is the first from the right and Atsushi Miura is second from the right.
(Photo courtesy of the Tcherepnin Society)


Alexander Tcherepnin plays the broadcast première of Bon Odori.

On October 23, the evening before the Tcherepnins were to leave Japan, Ifukube's parents graciously organized a dinner at their home for their son's mentor. Tcherepnin saw this as the perfect opportunity to convince Ifukube's dubious parents - especially Toshizo - that their son should be allowed to pursue a career as a composer. "[I]n those days musicians, composers and performers were held in low esteem, probably the lowest of all for a man," Ifukube once explained. "So the profession of composer would almost never function in society." [6]

During the meal, Tcherepnin did his best to explain to Toshizo why his son should continue down the composer's path. "My father just laughed down Mr. Tcherepnin's proposals," Ifukube said. "Well, no one can blame my father because even myself thought it was impossible!" [7]


Dinner at the Ifukube home in Sapporo.

Ifukube continues: "I remember a funny episode about my father and Mrs. Tcherepnin. [Toshizo] had some knowledge of English, again as a written education, so he could somehow pick up several parts about what she said about my father. As Louisine saw my father's face, filled with both a beard and a mustache like a fully grown Ainu man, she said 'like Tchaikovsky' and 'lovely old gentleman.' With these words my father could pick up, he was quite bewildered. Particularly for the word 'lovely.' My father was very upset by this word, saying 'Lovely? What a word for an old man like this!' Furthermore, he complained about Mrs. Tcherepnin's fashion, which was to always wear her hat. Of course, it was not a violation of etiquette for ladies, but to my father it was like a lack of respect. Well, he certainly was a genuine Meiji man!" [8]


Toshizo, "lovely" and "like Tchaikovsky."

Louisine Tcherepnin made the following journal entry about the dinner at the Ifukube home, dated October 23: "Dined at the Ifukubes in true Japanese style! Lovely house and such sweet parents. Told them it was the anniversary of father’s death & they had one minute of silence for him in memory! So strange just here in Japan where he would have loved to have been—marvellous (sp) food." [9]

Following this dinner, it seems unlikely that Alexander Tcherepnin would have succeeded in winning over Toshizo's complete support, but that mattered little to Ifukube. Being for a second time in the presence of his mentor, and soaking up the praise that was being heaped on him, Ifukube must have felt that, even despite his own personal doubts, music was in the air and it could all be his if he really wanted it.

All good things must come to an end. On October 24, upon his departure from Japan, Tcherepnin gave Ifukube copies of scores by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov so that Ifukube could examine the Russian master's orchestration techniques. (Rimsky-Korsakov had been, incidentally, one of the teachers of Nikolai Tcherepnin, Alexander's father.) Additionally, Tcherepnin promised Ifukube that he would distribute the scores for both Piano Suite and Japanese Rhapsody courtesy of his independently owned publishing house, Collection Alexandre Tcherepnine. This was yet another huge feather in Ifukube's cap. Immediately, Ifukube would join the limited ranks of published composers from Japan and further international recognition would soon be inevitable. What a year 1936 had been for the young composer - it began with the musical door swinging wide open and it concluded with his foot was firmly planted in it.

There exist three interesting souvenirs from the Tcherepnins' visit to Hokkaido. The Tcherepnins, Akira and Isao Ifukube, Fumio Hayasaka, Atsushi Miura and their mutual friend Takeshi Koiwa drew whimsical sketches on three cards, which they also signed. The first card (see below) remained in Ifukube's personal collection while the second card was kept by Hayasaka and the third card was retained by the Tcherepnins.**


Akira Ifukube's card.


Fumio Hayasaka's card.


Alexander and Louisine Tcherepnin's card.
(This card is courtesy of the Tcherepnin Society)

While preparing his scores for publication, Ifukube decided to change the violin solo in the Nocturne movement of Japanese Rhapsody to a viola in order to give the melody an appropriately darker texture. Also, he elected to permanently withdraw Danse de Jongara from Rhapsody and leave it a two-movement work. Also at this time, Ifukube was putting the finishing touches on his Triptyque aborigène, which was completed on February 2, 1937 at the Gomi ryokan. Ifukube dedicated his new work to Alexander and Louisine Tcherepnin.

Triptyque aborigène is scored for fourteen instruments: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, timpani, piano, two violins, viola, cello and contrabass. Each of the three movements is a miniature tone poem portraying an aspect of life in Akkeshi.

"I wanted to directly portray the familiar world experienced in everyday life," Ifukube once said of Triptyque aborigène. "It is due to my belief that using the familiar world, which one knows well, is most essential for artists. Through this work, I attempted to show how the sensibilities gained from my life in Hokkaido, a northern island characterized by a colonial and mixed residence, where the Ainu and Japanese streamed in from various places of the country to coexist, as well as the innate Japanese sensitivities endowed in my own blood conflict and interact." [10]

The first movement is called Payses: Tempo di jimkuu. "Payses" is an archaic French word and means "people from the same village or region." "Jimkuu" is an Ainu word that denotes, apparently, a moderate yet vigorous rhythm with a constantly changing meter. In this movement, Ifukube sought to depict Japanese and Ainu villagers, working side by side on the shore, harvesting and drying kombu, an Akkeshi specialty. (Kombu is a thick, edible kelp used in Japanese cuisine, especially in Hokkaido.) The music alternates between pentatonic and modal themes, which seems to represent the Japanese and the Ainu, respectively.

The second movement is called Timbe: Nom regional. This is forlorn music played on a muted horn with sparse accompaniment. Although Ifukube named this movement after the very area where his cabin was located, the music is not descriptive of any personal sadness due to his living situation. Rather, the Timbe movement is a elegy to a group of Ainu who were once killed by ethnic Japanese on that lonely cape.

The third and final movement is called Pakkai: Chant d'Aino. In this movement, Ifukube humorously mimics an Ainu drinking song, complete with sound effects: The music often imitates burping and hiccuping!

In Triptyque aborigène, one can discern Ifukube's movement away from the stricter pentatonicism of Japanese Rhapsody toward an increased fascination with the folkloric qualities of modal music. Also, one has the impression that Tcherepnin's relatively recent instruction in harmony and orchestration was still very fresh in the composer's mind: The textural clarity afforded by the reduced size of the fourteen-piece chamber orchestra reveals Ifukube's already masterful understanding of counterpoint and instrumental color.

Despite the fact that he was now a composer of some amount of reputation, this did not guarantee that his new work would be performed any time soon. Ifukube shelved the score, hoping it would one day in the near future be heard by the public, and focused on his forestry responsibilities for the rest of the year.


Akira Ifukube (left) with Isao (back center) Fumio Hayasaka (front center) and the composer Yoritsune Matsudaira (bottom right) in 1937. (The other person in unknown.)

Soon after Triptyque's completion, Piano Suite and Japanese Rhapsody were published in the Collection Alexandre Tcherepnine and, consequently, both scores became available to other international distributors such as Ryuginsha in Tokyo, Commercial Press in Shanghai, Universal Edition in Vienna, Edition Pro Musica in Paris and G. Schirmer in New York. Ifukube's name and music were now out in the world like never before!


Japanese Rhapsody in the Collection Alexandre Tcherepnin.

Most of 1938 was musically quiet for Ifukube. In October of that year, however, with Tcherepnin's help, Piano Suite was selected for performance at the prestigious Venice International Contemporary Music Festival. (Tcherepnin also arranged for the performance of music by another one of his Japanese contacts, Ko Bunya.) Piano Suite was performed by the Italian pianist and composer Gino Gorini (1914 - 1989).

Piano Suite's performance at the Venice festival was yet another coup for Ifukube. Not only was his music being heard in a very high-profile European setting but it was also being presented along side the music of some of the world's most successful contemporary composers such as Bohuslav Martinu, Paul Hindemith, Francis Poulenc, Jacques Ibert, Arthur Honegger and William Walton.

It is tempting to think that Ifukube's uniquely Japanese-inspired music might have caused a positive stir at the festival, but at least one critic for the New York Times, Raymond Hall, was not at all impressed. Rather scathingly, he wrote: "The remaining foreign items were on a distinctly lower level [and included] appallingly banal piano pieces by two Japanese amateurs, Bunya Koh and Akira Ifukube." [11]


Ifukube (far left) and two unidentified colleagues at Lake Mashu, Hokkaido in 1938.

On January 13,1939 Triptyque aborigène received its premiere under the baton of Ifukube's fellow Tcherepnin charge, Kojiro Kobune. This piece was heard by what was likely the composer's largest audience to date: Kobune led the NHK Symphony Orchestra on a transmission of Japan's national broadcaster, NHK Radio.

Several months after debuting Triptyque, Kobune embarked on a groundbreaking effort to introduce the music of Japanese composers to various locations in Europe by means of a seven-month concert tour on the continent. His "Evening of Contemporary Japanese Music" lineup featured works by Yoritsune Matsudaira, Isotaro Sugata, Kishio Hirao, Yasuji Kiyose, Akiyoshi Misaku as well as one of his own compositions. Topping of the program was Ifukube's Nocturne movement from Japanese Rhapsody.

Among the countries that Kobune visited were the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Bulgaria, Poland and Finland. Because it was impossible for Kobune to travel accompanied by a full Japanese orchestra, he performed with local orchestras in each location. (One wonders what kinds of frustrations Kobune must have encountered by repeatedly having to start from scratch as he traveled from city to city, orchestra to orchestra, with this completely alien repertoire!)

Perhaps the most auspicious episode of Kobune's tour took place in Finland. On June 16, just after having arrived in that country, Kobune was personally invited to the home of Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957), certainly Finland's greatest composer and one of the most internationally revered living composers of his day. Kobune's invitation must have been at least partially based on Sibelius's fascination with Japan. Although he had never been to Japan, the Finnish master often had a reoccurring dream in which he found himself visiting the island nation. [12] As well, Sibelius had an insatiable curiosity about new music and meeting with Kobune was a sure way to learn more about the latest musical goings-on in Japan.

It is known that Kobune had a pleasant conversation with Sibelius in his study. During their exchange, Sibelius regretted to inform Kobune that he would not be able to personally attend his performance in Helsinki but he would be listening on the radio.

Two days after their meeting on June 18, Kobune conducted his gamut of Japanese compositions with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra to a warm reception from the audience. After the concert, an apparently pleased Sibelius personally telephoned Kobune to congratulate the conductor on his performances. Sibelius explained that his favorite selection from the concert was Ifukube's Nocturne. [13]


Jean Sibelius in the 1930s

In August of 1939, Fumio Hayasaka decided to leave the organist post at the Hanayama Catholic Church to move to Tokyo to try his luck at writing music for films. Even in 1939, sound films a were relatively new concept in Japan - silent movies were still common into the mid-1930s - and therefore the Tokyo-based industry's need for capable composers was growing by the day. The gamble paid off: Hayasaka was almost immediately hired by a top studio, Toho, to score director Satsuo Yamamoto's Ribbon o musubu fujin.

As well, Atsushi Miura had already himself left Hokkaido to attend law school in Sendai. Nature-loving Ifukube, however, had no plans to trade in his life on his remote home island for the hustle and bustle of larger cities on the Japanese mainland of Honshu.

Despite his desire to remain in Hokkaido, however, he felt it was necessary to leave Akkeshi. Toward the tail-end of 1939, while in Sapporo to attend his brother Isao's wedding, Ifukube stopped into a music store called FukiDo where he was known as a composer by the proprietors. In this shop he happened to hear a recording of Concertino for Piano and Orchestra by the French composer Jean Françaix. [14] Ifukube was shocked by the music's modernity; "It blew me away," Ifukube said. "I realized that if I remained out there in the forest, I would be cut off from all the new, important developments in the music world." [15]


Isao Ifukube and his new wife Hisako.

Therefore, feeling that a continued life in the forest would deprive him of the ability to hear and learn about new music, Ifukube came to the conclusion that it was time to resign from his post in Akkeshi and return to Sapporo. Ifukube hoped that if he returned to Hokkaido's biggest city that he would be able stay more readily connected to the latest musical trends and developments and thus continue to grow as a composer.


Akira Ifukube at the Gomi Ryôkan in Akkeshi soon to leave for Sapporo in 1940.


* Aside from general anecdotal information, not many specific details are known about this episode of Ifukube's career in Akkeshi. For example, it is not documented what it was specifically "different" about the cherry trees that Ifukube observed at the Kokukaiji temple to make him think that they may have belonged to a new species. As it turns out, nowadays, the tree in question is not considered to be a new species. Despite Misao Tatewaki's determination at the time that Ifukube had indeed discovered a new species of cherry - again, how he came to this conclusion is unknown - modern botany has come to decide that there are virtually no substantial differences between the Kokukaiji trees and any other typical variety of Sargent's cherry. As a result, it is fair to say that Ifukube did not, after all, discover a new species of cherry.

** It is not surprising that Ifukube would give a French title to his new work. After all, he was an international composer now.

*** It is notable that Akira Ifukube refers to his group of musical friends as the "Buffalo-Boys" on the Tcherepnin card. This is a reference to the logo of Tcherepnin's publishing outfit, Collection Alexandre Tcherepnine. The logo represents a boy playing the flute on the back of a water buffalo. There is significance to that image. In 1934, during his travels in Asia, Tcherepnin organized a competition for young Chinese composers to write a piano piece incorporating Chinese musical aesthetics. The winner of this competition was Buffalo Boy's Flute by He Luting (1903 -1999). Because of He's victory in this competition, Tcherepnin decided to make the image of a flute-playing boy riding a water buffalo the logo of his Collection Alexandre Tcherepnine (This logo can be seen on the cover of Ifukube's published Japanese Rhapsody score.) Since the flute player atop the buffalo was the symbol of Tcherepnin's brand, Ifukube referred to his group as the "Buffalo-Boys" to describe their connection to their mentor.


[1] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 1. King Records. 1997
[2]
Raimey, Phillip. Alexander Tcherepnin. tcherepnin.com/alex/bio_alex.htm
[3]
Katayama, Morihide. Akira Ifukube: Symphonic Ode "Gotama the Buddha", in Full Score. Taisho University Press. 2012. Page 8.
[4]
Ryfle, Steve. Final Notes: Ifukube Interview. G-Fan Magazine September/October 1999. Page 11.
[5] Thank you, The Tcherepnin Society.
[6]
Godziszewski, Ed.Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 32.
[7]
Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9]
Thank you, The Tcherepnin Society.
[10] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 1. King Records. 1997
[11] Hall, Raymond. Novelties from Many Lands at Venice Festival. New York Times. Oct. 23, 1938.
[12] Levas, Santeri. Jean Sibelius: A Personal Portrait. WSOY. Porvoo and Juva. 1972.
[13] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for Japanese Orchestral Favorites. Naxos Records. 2001.
[14] Godziszewski, Ed. Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 32.

[15] Ryfle, Steve. Final Notes: Ifukube Interview. G-Fan Magazine September/October 1999. Page 10.



© Erik Homenick. All rights reserved.