Qunihico Hashimoto (1904-1949)
Symphony No. 1 Symphonic Suite \Heavenly Maiden andFisherman"
Qunihico Hashimoto was one of the leading Japanese composersin the first half of the twentieth century. He showed a chameleon-like talent,commanding a variety of styles including romanticism, impressionism,nationalism, jazz and atonality. He was also active as a violinist, anaccompanist, conductor and educator, but his career was marked by tragedy,through the vagaries of politics and war.
Hashimoto was born on 14th September, 1904, in Tokyo. Whenhe was still young, his family moved to Osaka, where he came to know westernmusic, playing in the school band at elementary school. At his secondary schoolhe studied the violin with Kichinosuke Tsuji, the most renowned teacher then inOsaka, but he gradually turned his interests towards composing rather thanperformance. In 1923 he entered Tokyo Music School, the present Tokyo NationalUniversity of Fine Arts and Music, an establishment with the best facilitiesfor studying western music, although his major study was the violin andconducting, as the school had no composition faculty before the first half ofthe 1930s. Composition students had to look for teachers elsewhere or to teachthemselves. Apart from occasionally studying with Kiyoshi Nobutoki, a pupil ofGeorg Schumann in Berlin, Hashimoto acquired his ability as a composervirtually unaided. He was also a proficient pianist.
Establishing himself as a popular composer in the latterhalf of the 1920s, Hashimoto produced a variety of concert songs. His piecesKabi (Mould) and Hanmyo (Tiger Beetle) were epoch-making in their demonstrationof a Japanese composer's command of the French Impressionists' sense ofharmony. Chansons like Okashi-to-Musume (Cakes and a Girl) caught the heart ofurban people who longed for the modern culture of Paris. Folk-song-like simplepieces Fujisan-Mitara (Looking at Mount Fuji) and Taue-Uta (Rice Planting Song)evoked nostalgia among those living in big cities, who, in the rapid course ofurbanisation, had been obliged to move there from the country. Mai (Dance)succeeded in creating a Japanese version of Schoenberg's Sprechstimme bytransferring the Joruri style, with its blend of songs and narrative, to anordinary song style with piano accompaniment. The atonal elements in the pianopart of Mai led to his reputation in Japan as an avant-garde composer. Duringthis period Hashimoto, like Kurt Weill in Berlin, strove to break down thebarrier between classical and popular music by his intensive work on songs forfilm, commercials, records and broadcasting, as well as writing jazz songs,while introducing Alois Haba's microtonal music, such as his 1930 Etude forViolin and Cello, and composing impressionistic pieces for piano and orchestra.He enjoyed a reputation as an enfant terrible, but at the same time he had tobe a representative of rigorous academicism, when he assumed the position ofprofessor at the Tokyo Music School. He responded perfectly to this task bycomposing his Cantata Celebrating the Birth of the Prince in 1934, in theGerman romantic style of the nineteenth century. In addition to his feat ofrepresenting both modernism and academicism in composition, Hashimoto wasactive as a violinist until 1934.
From 1934 to 1937, Hashimoto studied in Europe, sent by theMinistry of Education. He spent a considerable time in Vienna, where he studiedwith Egon Wellesz, Schoenberg's pupil, discussing with him the future of music,nationalism or international atonalism. Strongly impressed by Berg's Wozzeck,Hashimoto attended concerts by Furtwangler, Toscanini, Walter, Weingartner andErich Kleiber, visited Respighi, associated with Alois Haba and ErnstK˘renek, and met Schoenberg in Los Angeles before returning to Japan.
After his return to Japan, however, there was little roomallowed for Hashimoto to establish his career as a free, uninhibited modernist.When Japan went to war against China, he was expected to meet nationalrequirements, much as Shostakovich did in his Symphonies No. 5 and No. 7, as acomposer in his prime from the national music school. What was immediatelyuseful to him was not his knowledge of the Second Viennese School, but ofGerman and Italian cultures dominated by totalitarianism. He composed asymphony celebrating the 2600th year of the Emperor, cantatas dedicated to thedead in the Japanese-Chinese war and the Pacific war, as well as a number ofwartime songs, including Song of the Japanese Navy, Song of Dai Nippon,Students-Off-to-the-Front March and We Are Victorious Young Patriots. Some ofthem were songs of bravery and others of sadness. In addition to writing music,he was busy conducting domestic and foreign works, including his own pieces, inJapan, Korea and China.
In the year following Japan's defeat in 1945, Hashimoto leftthe faculty of Tokyo Music School, accepting responsibility for his wartimemusical activities. In this difficult period, however, he was to write somemasterpieces. Winter Suite for solo voice and chamber ensemble depicts peopledespondent after the war, while Three Prayers of Japanese Buddhists for solovoice and orchestra, which strongly suggests the music of Mahler, expresses thedeep regret of intellectuals for having misled many young people to theirdeaths by their advocacy of patriotism. Despite that, he was still expected tobe a composer to represent Japan and he wrote his optimistic Symphony No.2,celebrating the democratic Constitution of Japan newly established withAmerica's assistance.
Japan underwent a complete change of values after the war.Living through these years, Hashimoto was never free from continuing stress,which undermined him both physically and mentally. In 1948 he was diagnosedwith cancer. While struggling against the illness in bed, he converted toChristianity, and on 6th May the following year he died in Kamakura. His pupilsinclude some leading figures in the post-war Japanese music scene, includingYasushi Akutagawa, Toshiro Mayuzumi and Akio Yashiro.
Hashimoto's Symphony No.1 in D (1940) was written tocelebrate the 2600th year of the Emperor. When the United States asked Japan toopen diplomatic relations and trade in 1853, the Samurai regime, which had keptthe country closed for some two hundred years, rapidly began to collapse, and anew government by the Emperor, who had before been a mere titular head, wasestablished in 1868. Being aware of Japan's inferiority to the West ineconomics, politics, military affairs, science and legislation, the newgovernment strove to promote modernisation and westernisation, while anxiousthat this might bring a general feeling of inferiority. To solve this problem,the government adopted the Emperor year system in 1872. According to thissystem, the years started in 660 B.C., when the first Emperor Jinmu wasenthroned, as mentioned in Nihon Shoki, a chronicle assembled in 720 A.D.Modern history puts the appearance of the first Emperor in the fourth century,which means that the Emperor year system is some thousand years out. Thismattered little to the new government, however, as they believed that havingtheir own history, 660 years longer than that of the West, would help Japanesepeople keep their pride, without feeling inferior to the West. From then on,this system was to be used until 1945. Following the system, the Western yearof 1940 fell on the Imperial year 2600. Considering that this was the bestopportunity to boost national prestige, the Japanese government made plans forthe Olympic Games and an international Exposition in Tokyo. When they werecancelled because of the war, the government turned the project to a domesticpurpose, to strengthen national solidarity. All k