Part III - The Music of the Forest

Akira Ifukube with score (1935)

In 1935, Ifukube concluded his studies at Hokkaido Imperial University's Faculty of Agriculture. His graduation thesis was on the acoustics and vibratory properties of wood in order to make new musical instruments. After graduation, Ifukube had a fleeting notion that he might enjoy 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 east coast of Hokkaido. Although the main forestry office was located in the town of Akkeshi proper, Ifukube's post would be farther east in the forest itself, about 15 miles from the main office.

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 would allow for the needed concentration to focus on composition.

Ifukube moved into a cabin on an elevated cape which jutted 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 is often shrouded by eerie mists and fog.

The Akkeshi forest near Chimbe. Photo by the webmaster.

In this cabin, Ifukube began a life of almost total isolation. Although this situation often made Ifukube feel a sense of loneliness, the rustic lifestyle of a forestry officer appealed to him greatly as it afforded him daily opportunities to interact with the natural world he loved so much.

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

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 and absolutely no local shopping or services. In order to remain stocked of 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 the usually isolated forester to socialize in addition to stocking of supplies. 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 be often 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 shoot and kill 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 were known to circle around his cabin, surely in search of food. 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.

The isolation of Chimbe allowed Ifukube to immerse himself into a wide rage of studies after the end of his work day; he was most interested in music, of course, and languages; he studied English and French. In terms of music, Ifukube felt the urge to return to composition as he had not written anything since Piano Suite roughly two years earlier in 1933. 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 exclusively percussion accompaniment. 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. 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. 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 large-scale piece in which he could further develop the Japanese and Ainu aesthetics he strove for in 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 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 string tremolos, pedal points and light percussion, including castanets, that suggests the clicking and rustling of animals in the dark.

The third movement is called Fête and illustrates a frenzied Japanese matsuri, or festival. The frenetically bombastic Fête makes full use of the required ten percussion instruments and 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 tuttii in quadruple forte (ffff)!

As with Piano Suite, Ifukube endowed Japanese Rhapsody with purely original pentatonic and modal melodies 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 handwritten and 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.

By early 1936, however, 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 he had enjoyed visiting since 1934. [2] Out of his fascination with Asia came a desire to help and promote would-be composers from this part of the world; thus Tcherepnin organized this competition which was open exclusively to Japanese composers who had written an orchestral work. Luckily, Ifukube had fairly recently completed Japanese Rhapsody and thus had a composition ready to submit. However, due to limit the contest imposed on the duration of its entries, Ifukube had no choice but to excise one of his work's three movements. He decided to eliminate the Danse de Jongara movement and mailed a copy of the abbreviated score to Tcherepnin in Paris. He also mailed a copy to Fabien Sevitzky in Boston.

Alexander Tcherepnin

Several other composers, including Fumio Hayasaka and Yoritsune Matsudaira (1907 - 2001), also submitted original pieces. Hayasaka submitted his Prélude to Two Hymns (1935) and Matsudaira his Pastorale (1935).

Tcherepnin assembled an impressive group of famous composers to act as judges for the competition; 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 (who was, of course, one of Ifukube's favorite composers) to be a judge, but he had to drop out at the last minute due to an illness.

Japanese Rhapsody swept the competition; the judges unanimously awarded Ifukube's composition the first prize. Tcherepnin himself went to the Japanese embassy in Paris to announce the names of the winner and runners-up. With the assistance of the embassy, telegrams were sent to each competitor to inform them of the results. Ifukube received his telegram at his cabin on December 16. An announcement of his win was also circulated in local Hokkaido newspapers.

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

Ifukube was ecstatic and shocked; winning the Tcherepnin Prize was not only a milestone for the burgeoning composer but also for Japanese music in general; that a Japanese composer could win a prize in Paris, one of the great culture capitals of the world, meant that Western-style classical music from Japan was becoming better known...and appreciated...on an international stage.

Hayasaka's Prélude took the third prize and Matsudaira's Pastorale came in second. Back in Sapporo, Hayasaka felt jealousy that his friend's work won the competition so handily and he initially declined to send a congratulatory telegram. After his negative emotions subsided, Hayasaka eventually did send a telegram to Ifukube and mentioned the reason for its tardiness was a lack of money. (This may actually have been partially true as Hayasaka was almost always financially troubled.)

Eventually the manuscript for Japanese Rhapsody that was sent to Paris was returned 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, la 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."

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.

Because Japanese Rhapsody won the prestigious Tcherepnin Prize, this encouraged Fabien Sevitzky to perform the work in his home town, Boston, and thus give Ifukube's first orchestral composition its world première. Thus, on April 5, 1936, Seviztky performed Japanese Rhapsody with the Boston People's Symphony Orchestra at the famous Jordan Hall. Ifukube would later dedicate Japanese Rhapsody to Sevitzky.

Fabien Sevitzky

In August 1936, Tcherepnin, accompanied by his wife Louisine, traveled to Japan as part of a concert tour; Tcherpenin was an accomplished concert pianist. During his stay in Japan, Tcherepnin wanted to meet Ifukube for the first time and offer lessons in orchestration to the hitherto autodidact composer. As it was surely impractical for the Tcherepnins to visit Ifukube in Akkeshi, 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 (Hotel New Grand) 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 your glass onto the table!

Hotel New Grand, Yokohama

Tcherepnin's teaching 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." Certainly, Ifukube could not dispense with this essential facet of his style. Recalling this admonition from Tcherepnin, 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]

As the month-long instruction was coming to a close and Ifukube was preparing to return to Akkeshi, Tcherepnin suggested to Ifukube that he should write a new work for chamber orchestra to complement the rather "large" Japanese Rhapsody. Ifukube agreed to the task before leaving Yokohama.

After having spent some time with the young, would-be Japanese composer, Lousine Tcherepnin made the following...and candid...journal entry, dated Auguest 14, about her impressions of Ifukube: "Ifukube very charming. Such a strange very refined person [...] seems extraordinary to think of him fighting bears in the forests." [5]

It was late summer when Ifukube returned to Chimbe and began, in earnest, to work on the small-scale orchestral piece suggested by his 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 region...and a region that was, by now, very familiar to him: 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.

"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." [6]

As with Japanese Rhapsody, Ifukube only had time to work on his new composition at night. During the day it was business as usual carrying out his routine field duties until, one day, Ifukube spotted something unusual. While on an assignment the keen-eyed nature lover noticed a type of cherry tree he had never seen before. Because he was unable to identify the tree he postulated that it could be a new species. Ifukube collected samples of the tree and planned to present them to Professor Misao Tatewaki, a botanist at Hokkaido Imperial University, on his next trip to Sapporo. In fact, Ifukube would be journeying to Sapporo soon to meet with Alexander Tcherepnin again.

An autograpged photo for Alexander Tcherepnin, 1936.

That October, the Tcherepnins traveled to Sapporo to meet with Ifukube again and to convince his parents, who were now living in Hokkaido's capital, that Ifukube should become a composer. Ifukube, Fumio Hayasaka and some of their musician friends personally greeted Tcherepnin and his wife at the Sapporo train station.

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

Ifukube (center), the Tcherepnins and others at a Catholic girls' convent in Sapporo.
(Photo courtesy of the Tcherepnin Society)

"(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." If this was true of Japanese society's feelings toward "musical men" during its prewar period of militarization, it was certainly true of Ifukube's father, Toshizo. Even though his son's star was quickly rising in the music world, it was still a ridiculous notion that Akira should want to pursue the life of a composer. Despite any of Toshizo's misgivings, the Tcherepnins were welcomed into the home of Ifukube's parents for dinner. 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. Well, no one can blame my father because even myself thought it was impossible!" [7]

Dinner at the Ifukube home in Sapporo.

One can only imagine the uncomfortable tension that must have hung over that dinner table!

Ifukube continues: "I remember a funny episode about my father and Mrs. Tcherepnin. He (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 food." [9]

Taking a brief break from his time with Tcherepnin, Ifukube provided samples of the cherry tree he encountered in Akkeshi to Professor Tatewaki at the university. Tatewaki confirmed that this was a new type of cherry tree and published an article about it in late 1936. Tatewaki called it Prunus sargentii f. Ifkubei or, more colloquially, akkeshizakura. Ifukube could now add a scientific triumph to his artistic ones!

Ifukube, Tcherepnin et al. after a piano recital at the Kôedô musical instrument shop in Sapporo.

Toward the end of his stay in Hokkaido, Tcherepnin performed the radio première of the Bon Odori movement from Piano Suite on October 25, on Radio Sapporo. Upon his departure from Japan, Tcherepnin gave Ifukube a copy of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's score for Capriccio espagnol so that Ifukube could study its orchestration.

Alexander Tcherepnin plays the broadcast première of Bon Odori.

Additionally, Tcherepnin promised Ifukube that he would publish both Piano Suite and Japanese Rhapsody in his Collection Alexandre Tcherepnine. This was of great importance to the young composer because, at the time, very few Japanese composers had published works to their name; this would be an extra feather in Ifukube's cap; further international recognition would be inevitable.

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 signed and made whimsical sketches on three cards. 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 Lousine Tcherepnin's card
(This card is courtesy of the Tcherepnin Society)

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 house, Collection Alexandre Tcherepnine. The logo represents a boy playing the flute on the back of a water buffalo.*

While preparing his scores for that very publishing house, 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 and leave his Rhapsody as a two-movement work. With all preparations complete, early 1937 saw the publication of Piano Suite and Japanese Rhapsody in the Collection Alexandre Tcherepnine and, consequently, both scores became available by Ryuginsha in Tokyo, Commercial Press in Shanghai, Universal Edition in Vienna, Edition Pro Musica in Paris and G. Schirmer in New York.

Japanese Rhapsody in the Collection Alexandre Tcherepnin.

With his first two extant compositions freshly published, Ifukube soon completed writing his third; Triptyque aborigène was finished on February 2, 1937. Though he had begun writing Triptyque at his Akkeshi cabin, he completed it at the Gomi ryokan. Ifukube dedicated his new work to Alexander and Louisine Tcherepnin.

Triptyque aborigène is scored for 14 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.

The first movement is called Payses: Tempo di jimkuu. "Payses" is a French word, in the feminine and plural, and thus means "women from the same village." "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 women, 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 from the other instruments. Although Ifukube named this movement after the very area where his cabin was located, the music is not descriptive of any sadness in his personal his living situation. Rather, the Timbe movement is a elegy to a group of Ainu who were once "killed by Japanese forces" 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 feeling that Tcherepnin's instruction in harmony and orchestration was still very fresh in the composer's mind: the textural clarity afforded by the reduced size of the 14-piece chamber orchestra reveals Ifukube's already masterful understanding of counterpoint and instrumental color.

As with Japanese Rhapsody, it was impossible to know when Triptyque aborigène might be performed. Ifukube shelved the score, hoping it would be performed soon, and focused on his work responsibilities for the rest of the year.

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

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 another one of his protégés at the festival, the Taiwanese-Japanese composer Bunya Ko.) Piano Suite was performed by the Italian pianist and composer Gino Gorini.

Piano Suite's performance at the Venice festival was a coup for Ifukube as it was being heard along side the music of some of the world's most successful contemporary composers, which included 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 impressed. 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." [10]

On January 13,1939, Triptyque aborigène received its première under the baton of the Japanese composer and conductor Kojiro Kobune (1907 - 1982), himself also a student of Alexander Tcherepnin. Kobune led the NHK Symphony Orchestra on a broadcast of NHK radio. Shortly 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. Kobune chose the Nocturne movement of Japanese Rhapsody for inclusion in his "Evening of Contemporary Japanese Music" program. His line-up also featured works by Yoritsune Matsudaira, Isotaro Sugata, Kishio Hirao, Yasuji Kiyose, Akiyoshi Misaku as well as one of his own compositions.

Among the countries 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 worked with local orchestras in each location. One wonders what kinds of frustrations Kobune must have encountered by repeatedly having to start from scratch with rehearsals of this completely alien repertoire with orchestra after orchestra!

Perhaps the most auspicious episode of Kobune's tour took place in Finland. On June 16 Kobune was invited to the home of Jean Sibelius, certainly Finland's greatest composer and one of the most internationally revered living composers of his day. Sibelius was fascinated by Japan although he had never been there; in fact, the Finnish composer often dreamt that he was in Japan. [11] Therefore, Sibelius must have jumped at the opportunity to meet Kobune who was acting, very literally, as Japan's musical ambassador.

Sibelius and Kobune had a pleasant conversation at Sibelius's home. Sibelius informed Kobune that he would not be able to attend his performance in Helsinki but he would be listening on the radio.

Two days later on June 18, Kobune conducted his "Evening of Contemporary Japanese Music" with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra to a warm reception from the audience. After the concert, Sibelius personally called Kobune in Helsinki to congratulate the conductor for his performance. Sibelius was especially approving of the concert's first selection, Ifukube's Nocturne. [12] That Ifukube's piece would receive the praise of Sibelius, a composer of such immense worldwide prestige and stature, meant nothing short of increased legitimacy for Ifukube's talents.

Jean Sibelius in the 1930s

In August of 1939, Fumio Hayasaka left Hokkaido to relocate to Tokyo in order to pursue a career as a film composer. Atsushi Miura had himself already left Hokkaido to attend law school in Sendai, thus breaking up the Shin ongaku renmei. Later that same year, Ifukube traveled to Sapporo to attend his brother Isao's wedding. During his stay in the city, he went to a music shop called FukiDo where he was known as a composer by the staff. In the shop happened to hear a recording of Concertino for Piano and Orchestra by the French composer Jean Françaix. [13] 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." [14]

Isao Ifukube and his new wife Hisako

Therefore, feeling that a continued life in Akkeshi would deprive him of the ability to hear and learn from new music, and thus grow as a composer, Ifukube decided to abandon his post in Akkeshi and return to Sapporo, the most culturally active city in Hokkaido.

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

* In 1934, 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, which published the musical works of his protégés from China and Japan. (This logo can be seen on the cover of Ifukube's published Japanese Rhapsody score.) Because Ifukube and his friends felt that Tcherepnin amounted to their musical father figure, they referred to themselves as the "Buffalo-Boys" during his visit to Japan.

[1] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 1. King Records. 1997
[2] Raimey, Phillip. Alexander Tcherepnin.
Godziszewski, Ed. Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 32.
[4] Ryfle, Steve. Final Notes: Ifukube Interview. G-Fan Magazine September/October 1999. Page 11.
[5] The Tcherepnin Society

[6] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 1. King Records. 1997
[7] Godziszewski, Ed.Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 32.
[8] Ibid.
[9] The Tcherepnin Society
[10] Hall, Raymond. Novelties from Many Lands at Venice Festival. New York Times. Oct. 23, 1938.
[11] Levas, Santeri. Jean Sibelius: A Personal Portrait. WSOY. Porvoo and Juva. 1972.
[12] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for Japanese Orchestral Favorites. Naxos Records. 2001.
[13] Godziszewski, Ed. Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 32.

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

© Erik Homenick. All rights reserved