Part IV - The War Years


Akira Ifukube during the first half of the 1940s.

No doubt, the shock of hearing Françaix's Concertino for Piano and Orchestra was not the only thing that convinced Ifukube that he should quit Akkeshi for Sapporo; the notion that Fumio Hayasaka and Atsushi Miura were "moving on" in their lives must have had an affect on his thinking and, while he was apparently not willing to leave Hokkaido, at least he could transfer from savage Akkeshi to sophisticated Sapporo. Therefore, toward the end of 1939, Ifukube abandoned his post in the mountains of Akkeshi and moved in with Isao, who was working as a middle school teacher at the time, in Hokkaido's capital.

As 1939 segued into 1940, the Second World War was well under way. The situation in Europe was worsening by the day and, on the other side of the world, Japan was involved in several conflicts throughout Asia. Ifukube, though, probably did not have war on his mind as much as finding a new line of work. Fortunately, it did not take long for the ex-forester to find employment; in fact, he found a position at his alma mater, Hokkaido Imperial University. Ifukube was hired by Professor Tai Harada into the university's Experimental Wood Laboratory; Harada had been impressed by Ifukube's graduation thesis on wood vibration and thought the young man's expertise would be a benefit to the lab. The facility housing the laboratory, which also served as a training office for new foresters, was actually located in Toyohira, which is situated to the south of Sapporo. [1]

1940 was also the year that the Japanese government considered to be the 2600th anniversary of the founding of the Empire of Japan.* To celebrate this occasion, the Japanese Imperial Government commissioned Japan's best known composers such as Shiro Fukai, Kunihiko Hashimoto, Hisato Ozawa (and others) to write musical works to commemorate the anniversary. Additionally, Japan called upon several European composers to contribute to the musical festivities: among them were Jacques Ibert and Richard Strauss. Certainly, Ifukube was also selected to write a commemorative piece.

Ifukube's assignment was primarily commissioned by the Imperial Japanese Government but it also received sponsorship from the Prefecture of Hokkaido as well as the local Otaru Shinbun newspaper. It was entirely the Imperial Government, however, that selected the general theme for Ifukube's work: the militarization of Japan from the Meiji Restoration to the present time. Although Ifukube was to an extent uncomfortable with the political overtones of the assignment, he knew that he had to fulfill it.

Since Ifukube's commission would need to have some sort of nationalist basis, the composer immediately started to think of a suitable subject. His thoughts went to the ancient court music of Japan, gagaku, at its associated dances. The idea of dance must have resonated deeply within Ifukube; after all, ever since becoming a musician and subsequently a composer, he was fascinated with ballet. Certainly Stravinsky, perhaps his greatest influence, was a preeminent composer in that genre. Therefore, it is not surprising that Ifukube would conclude that this new composition should be a ballet of his own. And as for the the subject, specifically it would be etenraku, one of the most famous dance numbers from the gagaku repertoire.

Ifukube's deliberately titled Ballet symphonique après Etenraku took form basically as an orchestral arrangement of the original gagaku melody which develops continuously as a rondo; in other words, the musical material is not original to the composer. And what an arrangement it would be: it seems Ifukube was bent on writing the most colossal work of Japanese concert music ever; his version of Etenraku would require an orchestra of 200 members (every available musician in Sapporo), a mixed choir of 300 members, a 50-piece brass band (surely a touch to satisfy the military faction of the government) and a 50-member ballet troupe; in other words, Etenraku required no less than 600 performers!

Ifukube was determined to conduct the first performance Etenraku himself, a first for his career, as it had been other conductors who led the premières of Japanese Rhapsody and Triptyque aborigène. To prepare for his début as a conductor, Ifukube sought the instruction of a German composer and conductor, Manfred Gurlitt, who was at the time living in Japan. Ifukube traveled to Tokyo to meet with Gurlitt.


Manfred Gurlitt

Manfred Gurlitt (1890 - 1972) was born in Berlin and had studied under Engelbert Humperdinck. Denounced by the Nazi regime, Gurlitt emigrated to Japan in 1939. Immediately, Gurlitt became active in the Japanese music scene; by 1940 he was hired as the Musical Director of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. When Ifukube visited Gurlitt, the German musician asked Ifukube to demonstrate what he already knew about the art of conducting. When Ifukube showed Gurlitt what he was capable of, the German composer was surprised; he exclaimed to Ifukube that he already knew how to conduct!


A newspaper article about Ifukube's preparations for Etenraku. Ifukube is seen conducting.

Since Etenraku was to include ballet dancers, Ifukube needed to get in contact with a dance troupe. With the help of his friend, the Hokkaido Times journalist Jiro Sekiguchi, Ifukube was introduced to Ai Yûzaki, a beautiful young dancer who had founded her own school in Sapporo, the Aiko Dance Studio. (Aiko was her stage name.) Yûzaki, the youngest of seven siblings, was born on August 16, 1918 into a well-respected family who had made their fortune in the wholesale produce business. After having graduated from the Sapporo Girls High School, Yûzaki, who had a passion for performing arts, went to Tokyo to study dance with the famed Japanese dancer Takaya Eguchi. After studying with Eguchi in Tokyo, Yûzaki eventually returned to her home town and opened her own dance studio.


AI Yûzaki

Ifukube and Yûzaki became fast friends and, no doubt, this was at least partially due to the instant attraction both felt for each other. In fact, Yûzaki had actually seen Ifukube in public before she was introduced to him by Jiro Sekiguchi; both Ifukube and Yûzaki frequented the Shienso café in Sapporo. Yûzaki often saw Ifukube sitting at the café, alone, poring over musical scores. Although Yûzaki did not know who this young man was at the time, she thought this man was a good-looking thinker!


AI Yûzaki

If Ifukube and Yûzaki had already hit it off personally, they were doing the same artistically as well. Since Ifukube was directly basing his music on etenraku, Yûzaki thought it appropriate that her choreography for the ballet portion should mimic the original dances. Also, Yûzaki shared Ifukube's trepidation over the politics behind the production; both the composer and choreographer wanted to produce a more artistic instead of a political ballet.


The cover page and first page of the score for Etenraku.

On July 7, 1940 at 8:30 PM, Akira Ifukube took to the conductor's platform and Etenraku had its première on the grounds of the Sapporo Shrine as part of the local Sacred Fire Festival.The ballet symphonique was performed outside in the open air for two reasons: first, there was no indoor facility in Sapporo that could accommodate the 600 performers plus a large audience and second, Ifukube thought that performing the piece under the night sky in semi-darkness (except, of course, for the minimal on-stage lighting) would lend a mystical atmosphere to the sights and sounds. This was the composer's intention from the start: in fact, the first page of the score reads in French: "A la faveur de l'obscurité de lat nuit" (Aided by the darkness of the night). Because of the darkness, Ifukube conducted his huge opus with a reflective silver baton for the visual benefit of both the performers and audience. And, regarding the audience, there were no less than 50,000 in attendance! Surely,. on every level, Etenraku was a gargantuan undertaking.**


Akira Ifukube conducting the première (and only) performance of Etenraku in Sapporo.

As previously mentioned, the orchestral forces required for Etenraku were huge: the large brass section required (no less than) six trombones, six cornets, four trumpets, two horns, four alto saxaphones, six baritone saxiphones, a tuba and a sousaphone. The composer also employs tubular bells, an instrument not often called for in his works.

After the success of Etenraku, Ifukube and Yûzaki continued to get closer, both personally and professionally. Aside from an ever-strengthening romance, Ifukube often lent his musical talents to Yûzaki's dance studio, playing the piano for recitals.


Two artists in love.

Indeed, the romantic side of their relationship continued to blossom into the next year and on April 11, 1941, Akira Ifukube and AI Yûzaki married in a traditional Shinto ceremony Sapporo. After the wedding, the newlywed Ifukubes moved in with each other in a modest cabin in the wooded area of Toyohira, which was the location of Ifukube's job at the wood laboratory.


The Ifukube and Yûzaki families on April 10 1941, the day before the wedding.

Not long after the wedding, Ifukube received the second of what would be several additional music-related assignments from the wartime Japanese Government. Ifukube recalled in a 1995 interview with Ed Godziszewski that "a military officer came with his soldiers to the wood laboratory and took me in an airplane to Tomakomai in Hokkaido. My wife was terrified that I was under arrest or something. But actually it was just for training soldiers how to sing the hymns of soldiers." [2]


The happy couple.

A little later in 1941, Manfred Gurlitt requested from Ifukube a new score. Enthusiastic to fulfill Gurlitt's request, Ifukube began working on a large-scale piano concerto he would dub Symphony Concertante for Piano and Orchestra. Ifukube finished the work before the end of 1941 and sent the manuscript score to Gurlitt in Tokyo. Symphony Concertante was finally premièred the following year on March 3, 1942 by Gurlitt and his Tokyo Philharmonic.

The often brutal three-movement Symphony Concertante surely demonstrates Ifukube's artistry moving in a new direction on multiple levels. Described by the composer himself as "blending Asian indigenous vitality and machine-civilization modernism," [2] Ifukube takes full advantage of the folklorism of his preceding compositions but mixes this with the dense, monolithic sounds reminiscent of the Soviet futurist composers such as Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich in what Ifukube commentator Morihide Katayama describes as "a combination of primitive barbarism with the modernistic sound of iron and steel." [3]

The key phrases here are "machine-civilization modernism" and "modernistic sound of iron and steel." Because of the war, militarism and the modernization of the military were popular themes in the Japanese arts of the time. With his Symphony Concertante, it seems Ifukube is more willing to take on a more overtly political tone than he was only one year previously with Etenraku. (Perhaps Ifukube became more sympathetic to the political machinations of the Japanese government after his stint training soldiers how to sing in Tomakomai, Hokkaido.) With the almost constant ostinato clamor of "iron and steel" in this work, Ifukube openly celebrates the fortification of Japan's military infrastructure and improvements of military technology. But despite the "modernism" of Symphony Concertante, as previously mentioned, the work does retain elements of the Japanese old world; it makes use of several traditional pentatonic scales, such as the hayashi scale. [5]

Symphony Concertante is in three movements: Vivace meccanico; Lento con malincolia; Allegro barbaro.

Vivace meccanico has perhaps the most "modernistic" sounding music of the piece. The widespread jagged rhythms and pounding percussion surely bring to mind images of iron mills, swinging hammers and pulsating pistons. Lento con malincolia is music of a completely different character, much more redolent of Ifukube in his Nocturne from Japanese Rhapsody or Timbe from Triptyque aborigène. Evocative of "the loneliness of one who lives in the remote north," [5] Ifukube makes use of a beautifully mournful cor anglais melody on top of haunting string tremolos evocative of Jean Sibelius's music. In the conspicuously titled Allegro barbaro (a reference to Béla Bartók?), Ifukube conjures some of the most aggressive music he would ever write; again we hear the relentless rhythms and audacious percussion of the first movement but mixed with theatrical piano gestures that recall, at times, Franz Liszt. There are also moments where Ifukube requires the pianist to hit the keyboard with outstretched hands to create shocking tone clusters, a strange technique that deftly adds to the "barbaro" character of the movement. The piece comes to a close with the orchestra working itself into a rhythmic frenzy as the pianist executes several continuous glissandi up and down the keyboard.

After the début of Symphony Concertante, and throughout the rest of 1942, Ifukube, surely busy with his post at the wood laboratory, did not pursue any additional musical composition. If for any reason there was any lack of artistic inspiration, that would surely change on the snowy night of December 12. Late that evening, Akira and AI heard a knock at their front door. When Akira answered the door, a messenger handed him a telegraph. Reading the message, Ifukube's heart sank: his older brother and dear musical partner, Isao, was dead at the age of thirty.


Isao Ifukube 1912 - 1942

Isao had been employed by the Japanese government conducting experiments with luminescent paint. The result of his experiments was the invention of fluorescent paint that was used by Japanese soldiers. Ifukube once explained: "On the back of the soldiers there was used IFK paint, my brother's invention. This was important as a precaution for preventing injury to the soldiers since they are holding rifles with bayonets. The luminescence was to make sure that at close range no one would run into the person in front and actually stab them." [6]

Isao died due to the massive amounts of radiation he was exposed to during the development of his fluorescent paint.

Ifukube traveled to Tokyo to attend Isao's funeral, which took place on December 15. (Isao had been working in Tokyo at the time.) Just before heading back to Hokkaido, Ifukube received a request from the Imperial Japanese Navy to write a patriotic march for brass band. Ifukube perhaps did not give much initial thought to this request as he was still shocked and devastated over his brother's death. In fact, it is likely that on the journey back to Hokkaido Ifukube began thinking instead of writing a piece of music in honor of his brother.

Back in Hokkaido, Ifukube received a second, and perhaps for emphatic request from the Navy toward the end of January 1943 and, consequently, Ifukube got to work right away on his commissioned march. Looking for inspiration, Ifukube recalled the exploits of Empress Jingu (AD 169-264) who conquered the kingdom of Silla on the Korean peninsula. When she and her soldiers triumphantly returned to Japan, they brought back many important treasures, indeed symbolic of the glories of the Empress. Ifukube explained to Ed Godziszewski 1995: "The story behind this piece - it's a 4th or 5th century episode as proven history through text critique, and it is described in both Kojiki, Record of Old Incidents, the oldest surviving book in Japan, as a great accomplishment of the Empress Jingu, after the death of her Emperor, Chuai." Ifukube continued: "Kishi Mai was believed performed at the triumphant return of the Empress Jingu. I knew about this, so I wrote a military march for the Imperial Navy and titled it Kishi Mai - it was considered to be a very good omen by a number of people." [7]


Empress Jingu

Kishi Mai (Good Fortune Dance) is scored for a wind band of 38 performers. Unlike the vast majority of Japanese martial music composed during this period, Kishi Mai is both rhythmically complex and rich in counterpoint. The unusually sophisticated nature of Kishi Mai is no coincidence; "I didn't like to compose a simple hymn or regular march for the military, so instead I just tried to imagine what a court musician in the ninth year in the reign of Emperor Chuai might have composed for his majesty's Empress Jingu. They should have written in this kind of way...an epic military march." [8]


Title page of Ifukube's Kishi Mai manuscript.

Kishi Mai was completed in less than a month in February 1943. It premièred in an NHK radio broadcast on April 8.***

With his naval composition complete, Ifukube turned his artistic attention back to Isao and writing a piece of music in his honor. With a flood of inspiration, Ifukube began writing his Ballata Sinfonica.

Finished by the summer of 1943, Ballata Sinfonica is in two movements and scored for a moderately sized orchestra. (Up until this point, Ifukube's orchestral pieces, Japanese Rhapsody, Etenraku and Symphony Concertante were scored for larger-than-average ensembles.) This was due the challenges inherent in staging grandiose orchestral works during wartime austerities. [9] The two movements are Prima Ballata: Allegro capriccioso and Seconda Ballata: Andante rapsodico. While the first movement was purely original, Ifukube actually recycled some previously written material into the second; the composer refashioned content from the jettisoned Jongara Dance movement of the original version of Japanese Rhapsody into the mournful Seconda Ballata. In describing the two movements of Ballata Sinfonica, Ifukube once stated: "I wish to evoke the melodies not yet sung but which dwells in us, the Japanese people. The first movement emphasizes the rhythmic side and the second movement is the cantabile side." [10]

Ballata Sinfonica is perhaps Ifukube's first true masterpiece; it is an exceptionally fine work, expertly orchestrated and structured. The breathtakingly energetic first movement never loses its forward momentum, even during the slower sections. When the music regains its fury toward the end of the movement, the music, punched out with full orchestra, comes to an abrupt but thrilling conclusion. The second movement is much more somber, even dark, and seems to express the deep sadness Ifukube felt for the loss of his brother. The oboe is prominent here and weaves a principal melody in an exotic tonality resembling the traditional pentatonic scales of the 13-string koto. As the second movement comes to an end, the full orchestra gives an emphatic (if frustrated) exclamation only to quickly die down and end with three furtive (even pessimistic) pianissimo chords.

In May of that same year, Ifukube began sketches for another martial work, very likely another commission, but this time for full orchestra instead of wind band. Entitled Marche triomphale, little is currently known about this piece. Looking at the manuscript sketches, it is apparent the composer was writing in great haste as the notation is sloppily written. Additionally, the orchestration is incomplete throughout. The cover page says "par radiocast": this suggests that the work was intended for radio performance. The work was never completed.****

When the Japan Victor record label announced a contest for Japanese composers around the summer of 1943, Ifukube responded by submitting his Ballata Sinfonica and eventually won that competition's first prize. Because Ifukube won, Japan Victor made an SP recording of Ballata Sinfonica with Kazuo Yamada conducting the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra on September 4 of that year. This was a significant moment for Ifukube as this was the second first prize he had earned for one of his orchestral compositions (of course, Japanese Rhapsody was the first) and the first of his compositions to be recorded. Roughly two months later, Ballata Sinfonica had its first public performance on November 20. This performance was also led by Maestro Yamada and his Tokyo forces. [11]

If 1943 was off to a busy start musically for Ifukube due to the success of Ballata Sinfonica, his "day job" in the wood laboratory would also become more involved and actually branch off in a new direction. Toward the end of that year, Japan's Ministry of the Imperial Household was seeking research scientist to develop timber reinforcements for wooden airplanes. Because of Ifukube's unique experience as an expert in wood, his supervisor Tai Harada recommended that Ifukube join the Ministry. Really, the request from Harada was actually a formal command; according to Ifukube, joining the Ministry's scientific team was "semi-compulsary" [12]. Regarding his recruitment into the Ministry, Ifukube said: "I was chosen [...] after they had checked all of my family tree...they were very keen and sharp about this kind of thing. The Ifukube family was a family of honor. This was not the actual reason for my being selected by the Board, but I could not have been selected if it were not so." [13] Although Ifukube was now working for the Ministry of the Imperial Household instead of for Hokkaido Imperial University, he was able to remain at the same research facility in Toyohira.

Toward the end of 1943, Ifukube received another commission from the government to write a piece of music "for the Filipino people after their liberation by Japanese forces," as Ifukube once put it.. "(Countries like the Philippines were) colonies of the western world, and we Japanese believed that we liberated them from the oppression of white people." [14].

Indeed, the Philippines had long been colonized by Western powers, first by Spain and, following the Spanish-American war, by the United States since 1902. In 1935, the U.S. government decided that full independence would eventually be granted to the Philippines by the target date of 1946. As of 1941 the Philippines was on track to gain its independence in a few years but this process was interrupted when Japanese forces began their "liberation" efforts on December 7, 1941, mere hours after their attack on Pearl Harbor. When Ifukube received his request to write his piece for the Philippines, that country had been a colony of Japan for nearly three years.

The full title of Ifukube's new piece was Oberture festiva: Sa Bago Filipinas (Festive Overture: A Gift to the Philippines). Written for full orchestra, and using materiel from the unfinishedMarche triomphale that he had started earlier that year, Obertura festiva has a particularly notable requirement for two pianos. (Two pianos were also written into Marche triomphale.)

Oberture festiva has a simple ABA structure: the first section is primarily comprised of a rousing march full of triumphant brass, syncopated rhythms and crashing cymbals. The two pianos combine together to play quick ostinato motifs that evoke the bell-like sound of Filipino kulintang music, which is similar to Indonesian gamelan music. (This surely demonstrates Ifukube's acute sensitivity when it comes to creating an "authentic atmosphere" in his works.) After the initial "fast" section, Ifukube introduces an introspectively mournful middle section that seems, perhaps, a little out of place in an "oberture festiva." With a crash, the rousing first section is repeated and works toward a coda with the march material originally composed for Marche triomphale.

Oberture Festiva received its first performance on January 30, 1944.

Certainly, 1944 saw the Pacific War raging with tremendous ferocity. Ifukube was still working at the wood laboratory in the service of the Ministry of the Imperial Household. Around this time, Japan shot down and captured a wooden British war plan, the De Havilland Mosquito. The downed plane was sent to the lab in Toyohira so Ifukube and his team could study its design. Ifukube talked about this in a 1999 interview with Steve Ryfle: "The British didn't use any metals in the construction of this plane because they didn't want it to be detected by radar. - it was entirely constructed of wood.. That's why I didn't go to the front, because I was involved in this research." [15] Specifically, Ifukube performed experiments on chemicals, compression technology and cements related to the captured Mosquito. [16] These tests required the use of X-rays; this was a potentially dangerous situation as all of the laboratory's X-ray experiments were carried out without the proper protective suits; this was due to a shortage of lead caused by the war.


The De Havilland Mosquito

It was probably around the summer of 1944 that Ifukube began work on another military commission, this time from the Japanese Army. Scored for a standard orchestra, this large-scale march was titled Prélude du soldat or, alternatively in English, Overture to the Soldiers.***** During this same period, Ifukube was sent a telegram from Captain Masahiko Amakasu (1891 - 1945) with yet another new musical commission. Amakasu was a powerful political figure in Manchukuo (the Japanese name for their colony in Manchuria) and served as an advisor to Puyi, China's last emperor (he abdicated the throne in 1912 due to the anti-imperial Xinhai Revolution) and currently Manchukuo's puppet leader. Amakasu was also vigorously involved in the arts in Manchukuo: he was a chairman of the Shinkyo Orchestra (Shinkyo was Manchukuo's capital) [16] and he presided as the director of the Manchurian Film Cooperative.


Captain Masahiko Amakasu

Amakasu commissioned several composers, including Ifukube, to "write music for the Manchurian people" [18]. Amakasu thought it would be preferable for theses composers to personally visit Manchukuo in order to gain the proper musical inspiration and, therefore, Ifukube took a leave of absence from the laboratory in Toyohira and parted for the colony in about mid-September Upon his arrival, Ifukube was treated very well with, as he put it, "complete freedom to go wherever I wanted. I had a free pass." Ifukube continued: "(The other composers and I) were treated as field grade, so we were taught how to salute as we were supposed to do. We were told, 'No, no, no! Gentlemen, it's the salute of a soldier! You have to salute with a certain gentleness and slant like this!'" [19]

Indeed, Ifukube had his "free pass" and was able to roam throughout the colony to observe Manchukuos's countryside and indigenous customs. Additionally he ventured toward the west to visit Rehe Province (known today as Jehol Province) and farther yet into Mongolia. In Rehe, Ifukube visited Buddhist temples and was particularly struck by the statues that he saw. Ifukube once spoke of his experiences in these temples: "I visited temples in Rehe and saw numerous Buddha statues embedded all over the wall. Even though each statue was humble, seeing all of them together on the wall impressed me greatly. I felt overwhelmed with an Asian feeling I got from their vast quantity and thought they were really remarkable." For Ifukube, perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of the great number of statues is how seeing them related visually to his beloved use of ostinato in his music. Ifukube continues: (Referring to the statues) "Even if each item is small, a large quantity of small items can be impressive. A countless number of small items gives us a different kind of impact from that given by one enormous item. This philosophy is related to the ostinato technique."

While Ifukube was away on the Asian mainland, it is interesting to note that his first-ever orchestral composition, Japanese Rhapsody, finally received its live première in Japan, nine years after it had originally been written. This took place on September 27 with Noboru Kaneko conducting the Tokyo Symphony.

It was now October and, Ifukube, still on his journey in Manchukuo, began to feel ill; the composer himself described having "contracted a contagious disease caused by an amoeba" and had to return to Hokkaido after a stay on the Asian mainland of about 20 days. [20]

Eventually feeling better on his home turf, Ifukube got to work on his new musical piece. Profoundly moved by the regional beauty of Manchukuo, the composer decided to write a three-movement tone poem based on what he observed and named it Arctic Forest.


The title page and first page of the third movement of Arctic Forest.

Arctic Forest is scored for a standard-sized orchestra and has three sections: The Dimming of Light in the Forest (Andante tranquillo); Song of the Woodcutter (Moderato pastorale); Mountain Wine Festival (Allegro rapsodico).

The meditative Dimming of Light in the Forest is sumptuously beautiful and conspicuously repetitive; Ifukube's use of melodic ostinato here is more insistent than in any of his previous works. (Perhaps the image of the "ostinato" Buddha statues he had just seen in Rehe Province was still very fresh in his mind when composing this section on the score.)

Song of the Woodcutter begins with a jaunty, syncopated melody that one must assume was inspired by a folkloric tune Ifukube heard during his stay in the colony. After a gentle, slightly melancholic middle section, the main theme returns.

In Mountain Wine Festival, Ifukube brings Arctic Forest to a rollicking climax. This is surely the swiftest and most percussive section of the music, aptly expressing the uninhibited joy of an alpine bacchanal. Interestingly, in this movement, Ifukube introduces for the first time in his output a descending three-note motif that would eventually (and definitively) be used as his Godzilla theme! (The history of this theme and the creation of the Godzilla score will be discussed in a later section of the Biography.)

After completion of Arctic Forest (which probably happened in very early 1945), Ifukube mailed a copy of his score to Amakasu's office in Shinkyo. The work was played only twice, on April 26 and 27, by Amakasu's Shinkyo Orchestra in Shin Miyako Hall of the Manchurian capital. The conductor engaged for these two performances Kazuo Yamada who also performed the début performance of Ifukube's Ballata Sinfonica roughly two years earlier.


Akira Ifukube in 1945

August 1945 would prove to be an important time for Akira Ifukube. Not only did his wife AI give birth to their first daughter, Reiko, but it also marked the end of the war. On August 6, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and three days later dropped another one on Nagasaki, effectively putting an end to the Second World War. Days later on August 15, Japan announced its initial intention to surrender to the United States. As the American occupation of Japan was beginning to take shape subsequent to the surrender, Ifukube was still working at the wood laboratory in Toyohira. On September 28, Ifukube and his colleagues, realizing that their work for the Japanese government was over, decided it would be prudent to burn the documents related to their research before the Occupation Forces arrived in Hokkaido. The destruction of the documents was quickly carried out and, as Ifukube was walking away from the bonfire, he coughed up blood and collapsed. He was taken by colleagues to the nearest hospital.

Ifukube was mysteriously ill and, consequently, was so weak that he was bedridden at the hospital for days. He was still confined to his hospital bed when General Douglas MacArthur arrived at Atsugi Air Base to fully formalize the Japanese Surrender on August 30, 1945. Ifukube recalled listening to MacArthur's arrival on the radio and being astounded to hear his naval march, Kishi Mai, performed when the American general stepped out of the plane. ******

Ifukube's doctors were unable to diagnose their patient's sickness. Because he coughed up blood, it was theorized that had had come down with tuberculosis. In fact, unbeknownst to his physicians, Ifukube's strange illness was caused from his unprotected exposure to radiation during his X-ray experiments at the wood laboratory. (This would not be conclusively confirmed until years later when medial science was able to properly diagnose radiation-related conditions.) Ironically, Ifukube - like his brother Isao and like the countless victims who survived the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki - was stricken by radiation sickness as a result of the war.

Japan's loss in the war had great psychological consequences on Ifukube; he fell into a deep depression and, as a scientist who was seeking to improve Japan's military capabilities with his plane research, he was deeply shocked that the West was able to defeat Japan with vastly superior technology. With his pessimistic mental state and physical frailty, Ifukube felt ready to give up as an artist; certainly, it was as if his will to continue composing was nothing more than another casualty of the war. His attitude of defeat, however, would eventually dissipate; still in bed recuperating, by chance, he was happy to hear a broadcast of his Ballata Sinfonica, the work he dedicated to Isao. Ifukube interpreted this as a supernatural message of encouragement from his deceased sibling: this was Isao's way of telling his brother that he must regain strength and continue to compose.

Fortunately, Ifukube was willing to listen to Isao's message.

The Biography is to be continued...


* If 1940 truly marked the 2600th anniversary of the founding of the Japanese empire, this would suggest that the first emperor, Jimmu, came to the throne in 660 BC. This date is actually sourced from Japanese mythology. Therefore, this is not considered an accurate date by historians.

** Etenraku was never performed again anywhere after the July 7, 1940 première. The amount of on-stage performers required certainly prohibits its performance. Additionally, only fragments of the original score are today extant. Also, it's worth noting that there are conflicting accounts of the length of the ballet: I have heard that it lasted anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours. I suppose without a recording of the original performance, and with only fragments of the original score, it's impossible to know the exact length of Etenraku at this time.

*** It is worth noting that fans of Ifukube's daikaiju and tokusatsu film scores would be surprised to hear a familiar melody in Kishi Mai. The melody that would later be known as the Frigate March in the first Godzilla film of 1954 was actually first written for Kishi Mai. In fact, many of the well known march melodies in these films have their origins in Ifukube's martial music written during World War Two.

****Marche triomphale is likely the most "mysterious" piece of music by Akira Ifukube as practically nothing is known about it. It seems the composer never mentioned it during his lifetime. Its existence was unknown by the composer's family until the manuscript score was discovered in the late composer's home in 2007, about a year after his death. In 2007, Ifukube's composer's former assistant, Satoshi Imai, fashioned a reconstruction of Marche triomphale for wind band using the incomplete manuscript as a basis. After arranging it for wind band, Imai also created a version for solo piano. Like Kishi Mai, fans of tokusatsu films will immediately recognize that the main march tune of this piece as it would later be used in Ifukube's score for Battle in Outer Space (1959), directed by Ishiro Honda.

***** Like Marche triomphale, not much is known about the history of Prélude du soldat. Though the work was completed and a full manuscript is extant, the exact date it was premièred is unclear. It seems the composer himself could not recall when it was first performed; research suggests that Prélude was probably performed in early December 1944 on NHK Radio. Prélude du soldat received its second performance in 1995 when it was released on King Record's third volume of its Artistry of Akira Ifukube series.

****** Ifukube often mentioned this anecdote in interviews over the years, and indeed many brief biographies of the composer, both in Japanese and in English, mention thatKishi Mai was played when Douglas MacArthur arrived in Japan on August 30, 1945. I spent some time personally researching the Kishi Mai anecdote and was unable to find any other direct references to it in other sources. I was hoping to find at least one article written at the time mentioning something about "an unknown march that was played when General MacArthur arrived at Atsugi Air Base" or something along those lines. I was not able to find anything. Additionally, all footage I have seen of MacArthur's arrival is silent. Of course, I am not suggesting that Kishi Mai was not played; one must have some faith that Ifukube actually heard his march performed when MacArthur arrived, otherwise, why would he repeat this story over the years? I am simply saying that through independent research, I have not been able to definitively corroborate the fact that Kishi Mai was played.


[1] Godziszewski, Ed. Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 30.
[2] Ibid., Page 32.
[3] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for
The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 5. King Records. 1997.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6]
Godziszewski, Ed. Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Page 30.
[7] Ibid. Page 33.
[8] Ibid. Page 33.
[9] Katayama, Morihide. Liner notes for
The Artistry of Akira Ifukube 1. King Records. 1997.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12]
Godziszewski, Ed. Ifukube on Ifukube. G-Fan Magazine November/December 1995. Pp. 30-31.
[13] Ibid. Page 30.
[14] Ibid. Page 33.
[15] Ryfle, Steve. Final Notes: Ifukube Interview. G-Fan Magazine September/October 1999. Page 10.

[15] Ibid. Page 30.
[17] Ibid. Page 33.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.



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