Part IV - The War Years


Akira Ifukube during the first half of the 1940s.

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, under the command of Emperor Hirohito and his expansionist government, was involved in several conflicts throughout Asia. Ifukube, though, freshly back in Sapporo, 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, whose lab was engaged in conducting experiments to benefit the Japanese war effort, had been impressed by Ifukube's graduation thesis on wood vibration and thought the young man's expertise would be a benefit to the laboratory's scientific experiments. The facility housing the laboratory, which also served as a training office for new foresters, was not located in Sapporo proper but in Toyohira, which is situated to the south of Hokkaido's capital. [1] Although Ifukube would be working directly under Harada, he was for all intents and purposes in the employ of the Japanese government.


The Experimental Wood Laboratory in Toyohira.

1940 was the year that the nationalist 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 (1907 - 1959), Kunihiko Hashimoto (1904 - 1949) and Hisato Ozawa (1907 - 1953) 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. Ifukube, having only just started his new job with the university, was also selected to write a commemorative piece.

Ifukube's assignment was 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 eventually desire to try his hand at this type of musical work. 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 (Symphonic Ballet after Etenraku) took form as an orchestral arrangement of the original gagaku melody which develops continuously as a rondo. And what an arrangement it would be: It seems that Ifukube was bent on writing the most colossal work of Japanese concert music ever; his version of Etenraku would require an orchestra of two hundred members (which would require every available musician in Sapporo), a mixed choir of three hundred members, a fifty-piece brass band (surely a touch to satisfy the military faction of the government) and a fifty-member ballet troupe; in other words, Etenraku would require no less than six hundred performers!

Ifukube's ambitions were not limited to the scope of the work; he was determined to conduct the first performance Etenraku himself, a first for his career. To prepare for his debut 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 makle a connection with a local 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 the dancer's 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.

Upon her formal introduction to Ifukube, Yûzaki realized that she had seen the composer before. The two frequented the Shienso Café in Sapporo. The dancer often saw Ifukube sitting at a table, alone, poring over musical scores. Although Yûzaki did not know who this young man was at the time, she thought he was handsome and thoughtful-looking.

Yûzaki, intrigued by Ifukube's proposed ballet and attracted to his personality, agreed to choreograph the piece. 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.

As their work on Etenraku progressed, it was undeniable that the composer and the choreographer become increasingly fond of each other. Now, it was clear that this was much more than a simple artistic collaboration. Their mutual affection had blossomed into a vigorous romance. The two were in love.


Ai Yûzaki.

On July 7, 1940 at 8:30 PM, Akira Ifukube, with love on his mind, 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 that he never again would use in any subsequent scores.


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

After the premiere of Etenraku, Ifukube and Yûzaki continued to collaborate musically, but on a decidedly smaller scale. Ifukube, though a string player by experience, was also a proficient pianist. The composer lent his keyboard talents to Ai's dance studio and would often add the needed musical accompaniment to her students' dance lessons. All the while, the love that had begun to take shape during the composition of Etenraku continued to reach new heights and the inevitable happened: Ifukube asked Ai for her hand in marriage.


Two artists in love.


Ifukube plays the piano for Ai's dance studio.
Photo courtesy of Motoji Yssimal.

IOn April 11, 1941, Akira Ifukube and Ai Yûzaki were finally 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.


Akira and Ai Ifukube, April 11, 1941.

After Etenraku, Ifukube remained firmly on the Japanese government's musical radar and the newlywed scientist was only at the beginning of a string of repeated collaborations with it. Not all of Ifukube's government assignments involved the writing of original compositions, however. Ifukube once recalled that, not long after his marriage to Ai, he was required to administer some military musical instruction. "[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.

It was also not long after the wedding that Ifukube's conducting instructor, Manfred Gurlitt, requested that the composer write a new score, this time a symphony. It appears that Ifukube, while eager to fulfill Gurlitt's request, was not willing to write a pure symphony per se. (Perhaps Ifukube was heeding Alexander Tcherepnin's advice not to rush into the writing of such a piece.) Instead, the composer conceived of a large scale, three movement concerto for piano and orchestra which he would dub Symphony Concertante for Piano and Orchestra. Ifukube finished the work toward the end of 1941 and sent the manuscript score to Gurlitt in Tokyo. Symphony Concertante was premiered the following year on March 3, 1942 by Gurlitt and his Tokyo Philharmonic at the Hibiya Public Hall. Yoko Matsukuma was the soloist.

The often brutally bombastic Symphony Concertante surely demonstrates Ifukube's artistry moving in a new direction on multiple levels. Described by the composer himself as the "blending [of] Asian indigenous vitality [with] machine-civilization modernism," [2] Ifukube takes full advantage of the folklorism of his preceding compositions and mixes it with the dense, monolithic sounds reminiscent of the Soviet futurist composers such as Sergei Prokofiev (a composer adored by Ifukube) 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 currently popular themes in the Japanese arts. With his Symphony Concertante - which it should be noted was not a government commission - it seems that Ifukube had become more willing to take on a more overtly political tone tand embrace a glorification of the Japanese war effort. 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. [4]

Symphony Concertante's three movements are: 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 easily reminiscent of Jean Sibelius's music. In the conspicuously titled Allegro barbaro (a reference to Béla Bartók?), Ifukube conjures up some of the most explosively aggressive music that he would ever write; again we hear the relentless rhythms and audacious percussion of the first movement mixed with theatrical piano gestures that recall, at times, a frenzied Franz Liszt. There are also moments where Ifukube requires the pianist to strike the keyboard with outstretched hands to create shocking tone clusters, a 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 delirium as the pianist executes several continuous glissandi up and down the keyboard.

After the debut of Symphony Concertante, and throughout the rest of 1942 Ifukube, busy with his post at the wood laboratory, did not pursue any additional musical composition. If his day to day life during this time was more of less routine, 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 also been employed by the Japanese government conducting experiments with luminescent paint in Tokyo. 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 had quickly become ill and died due to the massive amounts of radiation that he was exposed to during the development of his invention.

A heartbroken Ifukube traveled to Tokyo to attend Isao's funeral, which took place on December 15. Just before heading back to Hokkaido, Ifukube was blindsided by 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 his thoughts were focused on the idea for another musical piece that he had begun ruminating over, an orchestral work in honor of his late brother.

Now back in Hokkaido, Ifukube received a second, and perhaps more emphatic request from the Navy toward the end of January 1943 and Ifukube, feeling the pressure from the government, got to work right away on his commissioned march. Ifukube decided that he did not want to write something ordinary; he wanted the piece to demonstrate national pride on a grand scale. 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: "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 the more standard, simplistic Japanese martial music composed during the war period, Kishi Mai is characterized by unusually complex rhythms and is rich in counterpoint. The extraordinarily 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.

Ifukube wasted no time in completing Kishi Mai; the march was completed in less than a month in February 1943. It premiered in an NHK radio broadcast on April 8.***

In May, not long after the premiere of Kishi Mai, it appears that Ifukube began sketches for another martial work, this time for full orchestra. Entitled Marche triomphale, little is currently known about this piece. The composer is not known to have spoken about Marche triomphale in his lifetime and Ifukube researchers only became aware of the score's existance in 2007, about a year after Ifukube's death; it was discovered in the late composer's personal archives in his home.

The extant manuscript score indeed shows that Ifukube began writing it in May 1943. The title Marche triomphale more or less confirms that this was intended as a military march, likely for the Japanese army. No clues are given, however, as to whether or not it was a commissioned work, though it would almost certainly have been the fulfillment of a government request. The manuscript clearly demonstrates that the composer began writing the music in great haste: The notation is uncharacteristically sloppy throughout and the orchestration is incomplete. On the cover page, the words "par radiocast" are scribbled, demonstrating that whatever the purpose was for Marche triomphale, it was ultimately intended for a radio performance, likely a follow-up to the previous month's Kishi Mai broacast.

It is certain that Marche triomphale was never completed during Ifukube's lifetime. Shortly after its rediscovery, Ifukube'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.****

Whatever his reasons for abandoning Marche triomphale, Ifukube now had free time to turn 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 in the late summer of 1943, Ballata Sinfonica is in two movements and scored for a moderately sized orchestra. Unlike Japanese Rhapsody, Etenraku and Symphony Concertante, all of which enjoyed huge orchestra forces, the ever increasing wartime austerities implemented by the Japanese government would have prevented the composer from writing a new piece for an unusually large ensemble. Aware of this, Ifukube required a smaller orchestra for his Ballata to ensure the viability of its performance. [9]

The two movements are Prima Ballata: Allegro capriccioso and Seconda Ballata: Andante rapsodico. While the first movement is comprised of completely original music, Ifukube had recycled some previously written material into the second; the composer refashioned content from the jettisoned Danse de Jongara movement of the original version of Japanese Rhapsody and wove it 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 aptly expresses the deep anguish that 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 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 - and even pessimistic - pianissimo chords.

Upon Ballata Sinfonica's completion, it attracted an unusual amount of attention. Immediately after Ifukube had finished the work, the Japan Victor record label announced a contest for Japanese composers to submit an original work. The winner of the contest would have their submission recorded and distributed for sale to the general public. Clearly feeling confident of the merits of his newest work - Ifukube entered his Ballata into competition, whose jury included such prominent musical figues as the composers Kosaku Yamada, Saburo Moroi, Yasuji Kiyose and Kunihiko Hashimoto. To Ifukube's absolute delight, Ballata Sinfonica won the competiton and on September 4 the work was committed to an SP recording with Kazuo Yamada conducting the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. This was a significant moment for Ifukube, marking the second time that he had been awarded a first prize for one of his orchestral compositions (of course, Japanese Rhapsody was the first) and, additionally, Ballata Sinfonica was the first of his compositions to be comercially recorded. Thanks to the distribution of Ballata Sinfonica, the piece became, overnight, the composer's most widely heard composition.

The salience of Ballata Sinfonica did not end there. Roughly two months later, Ballata Sinfonica had its first public performance on November 20 at the Hibiya Public Hall. This performance was again led by Maestro Yamada and his Tokyo forces. [11] And later in 1944, Ballata Sinfonica would win another prize, the Ministry of Education Award, which recognizes excellence in the field of fine arts.

Thanks to Ballata Sinfonica, 1943 was coming to a close on an artistic high note. Back at his day job at the wood laboratory, though, Ifukube's responsibilities were about to change. Japan's Ministry of the Imperial Household was seeking research scientists to develop timber reinforcements for wooden airplanes. Because of Ifukube's unique experience as an expert in the physics of wood, his supervisor Professor Harada had recommended that Ifukube join the Ministry's research efforts. Harada's suggestion was in truth a sort of formal command; according to Ifukube, joining the Ministry's scientific team was "semi-compulsary." [12] Regarding his recruitment into the Ministry, Ifukube stated: "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 directly 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. This must have been a relief to Ifukube; surely, by 1943, all able-bodied young men were eventually required to serve, in one capacity or another, in the Japanese war effort. "That's why I didn't go to the front, because I was involved in this research," Ifukube once explained. [15] Thanks to his new appointment, this guarded the young man from having to take up arms himself.

Immediately after joining the Imperial research team, Ifukube was given another government assignment, this time a musical one. The commission in question would be to celebrate Japan's annexation of the Philippines, which had taken place roughly two years previously on December 7, 1941, mere hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. When the Japanese took the Philippines from the Americans, who then had sovereignty over the archipelago nation, the invaders saw their cause as just and necessary. Ifukube's music to mark the Japanese annexation of the Philippines would be written "for the Filipino people after their liberation by Japanese forces," as the composer 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].

The full title of Ifukube's new, celebratory work was Oberture festiva: Sa Bago Filipinas (Festive Overture: A Gift to the Philippines). Written for full orchestra, and using material recycled from the unfinished Marche triomphale from earlier that year, Obertura festiva has a particularly notable requirement for two pianos. (This also appears to be a recycled idea from Marche triomphale, which also required two pianos.)

Oberture festiva has a simple ABA structure: The first section is primarily comprised of a rousing march brimming with 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 the Indonesian gamelan. 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 cymbal 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. Tadashi Otaka conducted the Nippon Symphony Orchestra at the Hibiya Public Hall. A repeat performance took place with the same ensemble in September of that same year.

Certainly, 1944 saw the Pacific War raging with tremendous ferocity. Japan was embroiled in conflicts from northern China to the South Seas and, back in Toyohira, Ifukube continued his experiments at the wood laboratory in the service of the Ministry of the Imperial Household. It was probably in early 1944 that Japanese forces had shot down a type of British fighter plane, the De Havilland Mosquito, which was most fabricated from wood, in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. The Japanese were fascinated by the technology used to build the plane; because it was mostly wooden - it used glues instead of metal rivets to hold it together - the aircraft could avoid easy detection by radar. Wanting to study this enemy technology - with the hope of adapting it for their own causes - the Japanese shipped the downed plane to the Toyohira laboratory where Ifukube and his team of scientists could examine it.

Ifukube performed a battery of experiments on the captured Mosquito; specifically, he was interested in the chemicals, compression technology and cements used to build the plane. [16] These tests required the wide use of X-rays; this was a potentially dangerous situation as all of Ifukube's X-ray experiments were carried out without the proper protective suits; this was due to a shortage of lead caused by wartime austerities.


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.


* 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.

**** Fans of Ifukube's tokusatsu (special effects) film scores will immediately recognize that Marche triomphale's main march tune would later be used in Ifukube's soundtrack 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.

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



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