Author Topic: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer  (Read 8644 times)

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Tapkaara

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Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« on: July 28, 2009, 09:51:13 PM »
Akira Ifukube (1914 - 2006) is one of my favorite composers.

Born in 1914 on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Ifukube was exposed from an early age to traditional Japanese folk music as well as the music of the Ainu, a northern Asian population most of whom live on Hokkaido.

Ifukube was self-taught as a musician; he taught himself composition as a youth as well as how to play the violin.

His first published work is the Piano Suite (1933). It was written for the American pianist George Copeland. His maiden orchestral work, Japanese Rhapsody (1935), won the (Alexander) Tcherepnin prize in Paris in 1936.

During the Second World War, Ifukube worked for the Japanese military as a scientist (he was an expert on the acoustics of wood)well as a composer; he wrote several "nationalist" works during this period, as well as martial pieces for military usuage.

After the war, Ifukube moved to Tokyo to write film music. His most famous score is from the 1954 film Gojira (Godzilla). Unlike other monster/sci fi scores of the time, Ifukube took a darkly serious approach to the music which has made it an endearing favorite.

Ifukube would later go on to be the president of the Tokyo College of Music. He also remained active as a composer and arranger up until his death in 2006 at the age of 91.

Though Takemitsu has to be labeled as the best known Japanese composer, Ifukube probably would come in second, though he is still a terra incognita for even the most knowledgeable classical music fans. His music is widely recorded and performed in his native Japan, and it is gaining increased recognition throughout the world.

Naxos has released two discs in their Japanese Classics series that feature Ifukube's work. His Japanese Rhapsody is on the inaugural disc of the series called Japanese Orchestral Favourites. He later got an entire disc devoted to three of his works; this disc featured Sinfonia Tapkaara, Ritmica Ostinata for Piano and Orchestra and Symphonic Fantasia no. 1.

I am hoping there are other fans of this composer in this forum. Of course, as this composer is so special to me, I would love the opportunity to introduce his worksto anyone out there who may be interested.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this composer if you are familiar with his output.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2009, 02:33:21 AM »
Tanks for posting on this interesting sounding composer. I have just ordered the Naxos CD with Sinfonia Tapkaara etc and will report back when I've heard it.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2009, 08:44:29 AM »
I'll look forward to your thoughts on the disc, Vandermolen.

Lilas Pastia

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2009, 06:18:05 PM »
I *just* oredered from HMV JApan and didn't think of checking for the Godzilla scores :P :o :'(

At leat  I can get some of this composer's msic from Naxos...

Would it be right to link Ikufube with Nino Rota or Bernard Herrmann?

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2009, 06:26:55 PM »


Would it be right to link Ikufube with Nino Rota or Bernard Herrmann?

I would say yes. Ifukube's style is different from either composer, but I think as a famous and well loved film composer, Ifukube can certainly join their ranks.

Herrmann is an interesting one. He wrote sci-fi and horror scores, as did Ifukube. Let's take Herrmann's score from the Day tfe Earth Stood Still. While it is a very good score, I would put forth it sounds like a typical 50s sci-fi score. The use of the theremin and all that. Take Ifukube's Godzilla score from three years later. The style is much more serious and dark, and I think it hasn't aged one bit. While I do not want to put down Herrmann, I think Ifukube's approach to sci-fi music is a little more timeless.

Of course, Herrmann's Psycho score is in another league.

Sid

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2009, 08:29:23 PM »
I've heard the Naxos disc and I think Ikufube's music is very engaging.

I especially like Ritmica Ostinata, a minimalist piano concerto which is very percussive & rhythmic. This is of such a high quality, that it should be more widely performed.

The Sinfonia Tapkaara is also a fine piece, integrating European modernist influences (I hear quite a bit of Prokofiev's orchestration in there) with indigenous Japanese material.

& guess what? Just the other night I was watching tv, and a film came on with his Godzilla music in the opening. I thought it would be an actual film from the 1950's, but it was a newer Japanese movie simply quoting Ifukube's memorable opening theme. Judging from this, it looks like Ifukube now has the status of a cultural icon in Japan.

I would recommend Ifukube for people like me, whose knowledge of Asian classical music is quite slim. He is more accessible than Takemitsu, but I think that Ifukube's music doesn't lack depth or stylistic innovation either. He seems to have prefigured what the minimalists eventually started doing by decades! All in all, I think that the above people who are unfamiliar with his music, will come to enjoy it quite a lot...
« Last Edit: July 29, 2009, 08:31:53 PM by Sid »

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2009, 08:57:15 PM »
Ifukube is certainly more accessible than Takemitsu. Yet, Takemitsu is the best known Japanese composer. Anyway...

Ifukube's Godzilla music is well known in Japan...probably like the Star Wars music here in the US. Everyone knows that main theme.


Offline vandermolen

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2009, 05:23:04 AM »
I'll look forward to your thoughts on the disc, Vandermolen.

I enjoyed the CD. I need to listen again (and the music encourages me to listen again). On first hearing I especially liked the Ritmica Ostinato for Piano and Orchestra and the Godzilla inspired Symphonic Fantasia, which is atmospheric and fun. Parts of his music reminded me (a bit) of Carlos Chavez's 'Sinfonia India'. Possibly it did not quite engage me, on first hearing, as much as Hayasaka's Piano Concerto and Moroi's Symphony No 3 or the Hashimoto CD - but I will certainly be returning to Ifukube with considerable pleasure, and I have enjoyed making his aquaintance.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2009, 06:51:46 AM »
I enjoyed the CD. I need to listen again (and the music encourages me to listen again). On first hearing I especially liked the Ritmica Ostinato for Piano and Orchestra and the Godzilla inspired Symphonic Fantasia, which is atmospheric and fun. Parts of his music reminded me (a bit) of Carlos Chavez's 'Sinfonia India'. Possibly it did not quite engage me, on first hearing, as much as Hayasaka's Piano Concerto and Moroi's Symphony No 3 or the Hashimoto CD - but I will certainly be returning to Ifukube with considerable pleasure, and I have enjoyed making his aquaintance.

I'm sure you'll continue to enjoy the music. After all, I thin the Hayasaka and Moroi discs are two of the best (along with the Akutagawa disc) in the Japanese Classics sereis. Our tastes must be similar, then!

Ifukube and Hayasaka were very close friends growing up. They were both born the same year and both grew up in Hokkaido. Hayasaka's style is, I think, the more cosmopolitan of the two, Ifukube is more earthy and elemental.

Of course, the Naxos disc is only a very small slice of Ifukube's art, but most everything else is on Japanese import discs which are either expensive, hard to find, or both.

Anyway, thank you for your commentary Vandermolen, and I hope you will give the disc a few more listens and see if your opinion of the music evolves any.

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2009, 02:30:42 PM »
Since there has been some talk on the piano works of Ifukube and Hayasaka, there are some YouTube clips that may be of interest.

Here are samples of the composer first piano concerto, Symphony Concertante for Piano and Orchestra (1941). Unfortunately, only the second and third movements are available on YouTube..the first movement has not been uploaded...

Second movement, part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_fsr1PWEFM&feature=PlayList&p=970F5A2B658653FC&index=25
Second movment, part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xdQ9Ck1KyM&feature=PlayList&p=970F5A2B658653FC&index=26
Third movement, part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtRhXCOYM-0&feature=PlayList&p=970F5A2B658653FC&index=27
Third movement, part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJVUvdjnrQU&feature=PlayList&p=970F5A2B658653FC&index=28

This is one of my favorite Ifukube works. I'd like to read everyone's thoughts on how this relates to the Hayasaka concerto, since they were both written in the 1940s.

Sid

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2009, 04:25:23 PM »
I just listened again to the Naxos disc today & I think that, if there was more music available by him, he might easily become one of my favourite composers as well. His style is a unique combination of East & West. It's a pity that no more is widely available by him than what Naxos has bought out...

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2009, 06:00:15 PM »
I just listened again to the Naxos disc today & I think that, if there was more music available by him, he might easily become one of my favourite composers as well. His style is a unique combination of East & West. It's a pity that no more is widely available by him than what Naxos has bought out...

I don't think it's much of a secret that I am always looking to promote the maestro's unique music. I'm sure I have turned on quite a few people who end up saying they like what they've heard, but it's especially gratifying to see someone like Sid say that Ifukube could rise to the ranks of one of his favorites...just incredible!

I truly, truly believe that Ifukube could be a concert hall staple if more people knew about him. His sound is so accessible. In fact, here is an interesting article about his Ballata Sinfonica which was performed in Kentucky recently. Note what is said about the work:

http://copiousnotes.bloginky.com/2009/01/23/coach-nakahara/

It appears the work was the surprise hit of the night. I can say from personal experience, too, that when I saw Reiko Yamada perform the US premiere of Ritmica Ostinata in Kalamazoo (with the Kalamazoo Symphony) last year, it brought the house to its feel with wild applause. It was the talk of the town for several days afterword, according the people who work for the symphony.

Yet, Takemitsu is still the most well-known Japanese composer, yet his sound is so unaccessible to the average concert goer. Seiji Ozawa once said something to the effect of "Takemitsu is the only composer Japan has produced for a world audience." This is a stupid statement. I think if we really are talking about a world audience, the music of Ifukube would be much more popular.

Just some random musings...!

Sid

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2009, 10:30:14 PM »
Well, I read those reviews & I'm not surprised that the Ifukube was a hit in that Kentucky concert. Just look at what else was programmed on that day - Mozart & Dvorak, hardly unfamiliar composers. I think that audiences really appreciate something that is, let's say, exotic and non-Western. Given the high quality and appeal of Ifukube's music, the only thing holding it back from being as popular as, say, Takemitsu, is some adventurous concert programmers who are willing to take a punt and give it a go - rather than trundling out the old war horses that we've all heard a million times. It sounds like this is happening in the USA to a degree, but in other places it's a pity that nobody has heard Ifukube's music.

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2009, 11:12:17 AM »
I found the first part of Ifukube Symphony Concertante on YouTube. I post the links here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEo6fG-MeP4 (Part I)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhbq9e9hIL0&feature=related (Part II)

To hear this work in its entirety, listen to these links first then refer to my post (reply #9) above with the other links.

This is one of my favorite works by the composer. I'd be curious to hear other thoughts on it...

Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2009, 11:30:11 AM »
Sounds relatively pedestrian, but i guess it works as film music. Even Takemitsu isn't all that though. I'm starting to wonder whether east Asians have any musical talent at all. They can performer music pretty well but other then that i'm not impressed by their creative powers, or lack of there of.

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2009, 11:45:00 AM »
I'm starting to wonder whether east Asians have any musical talent at all. They can performer music pretty well but other then that i'm not impressed by their creative powers, or lack of there of.

Hmmm, interesting.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2009, 02:32:47 PM »
Sounds relatively pedestrian, but i guess it works as film music. Even Takemitsu isn't all that though. I'm starting to wonder whether east Asians have any musical talent at all. They can performer music pretty well but other then that i'm not impressed by their creative powers, or lack of there of.

Moroi's Third Symphony and Hayasaka's Piano Concerto are works of great depth and beauty as far as I'm concerned.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Tapkaara

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #17 on: September 03, 2009, 03:11:49 PM »
If I may say so, saying the all East Asian composers are awful seems unfair. There are good and bad composers from any country and region. I happen to think Asia has produced some great composers, for sure. Moroi and Hayasaka come to mind for me, too.

Offline Tomo

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2009, 04:28:10 PM »
Hey, thanks for opening this thread.  Being of half-Japanese blood, I went over to Amazon to give some clips a listen.  On the second CD, Japanese Orchestral Favorites, on around the second or third track, I yelled out to my wife, "Hey, come quick.  Listen to this.  It's Gagaku and the guy's playing a hichiriki."

Gagaku is traditional Japanese court music and the hichiriki is a small double-reeded instrument.  After high school, I wanted to play some music at U.C.L.A., but had zero talent on the instrument I played in high school, the clarinet.  Then, I heard that the ethno-musicology had a Gagaku orchestra and that they needed to have a hichiriki player.  They taught me to play, "With the spirit.  Use your soul.  Don't just play notes."

Sorry, I know this isn't on the topic at hand, but Tapkaara brought back a great memory from a special time in my life.

Lilas Pastia

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Re: Akira Ifukube - Japanese composer
« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2009, 05:39:39 PM »
Asian music can sound (should sound) like a total estrangement from our western cultutal heritage. It's actually when the music sounds too western that the interest wanes...