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March 19, 2012

Japanese Masters: Hayasaka Fumio (Composer)

Hayasaka Fumio (1914-1955) was a composer of symphonic music and film scores. Born in Sendai, he spent his youth in Hokkaido where he became friends with Ifukube Akira. Together they organized the New Music League which held concerts in Sapporo.

Hayasaka's early works won a number of prizes, such as Dance Antique, which won the Weingartner Prize in 1938. In 1939 he moved to Tokyo, where he started a career as composer of film music. During the next 15 years, Hayasaka would compose almost 50 scores for the biggest names in Japanese cinema, including Mizuguchi Kenji (Ugetsu, Sansho The Bailiff etc) and Kurosawa Akira, all whose films he scored from Drunken Angel in 1948 until his untimely death of tuberculosis in 1955. The collaboration with Kurosawa was especially close and also made Hayasaka's name known abroad via the music for Rashomon which won the 1950 Venice Film festival. His score for Seven Samurai is also famous. Hayasaka also introduced his friend and colleague Ifukube to the Toho studios.

In these years Hayasaka also continued writing symphonic orchestral and chamber music. In contrast to Ifukube, Hayasaka's style was more late-Romantic. But he, too, sought to build a Japanese-style symphonic music, for example by the use of a pentatonic scale or open fifths. His music generally has a solemn and hieratic quality and is always of a high aesthetic level. Hayasaka's wish to create a new national music was shared by Ifukube.

When Hayasaka died, his pupil Sato Masaru would continue to write music for Kurosawa's films. Takemitsu Toru commerated his death with his Requiem for Strings (1957). Hayasaka had a great influence on Akutagawa, Mayuzumi and Takemitsu, three other composers who frequently wrote film music.

Major works by Hayasaka: 
  • Ancient Dance (1938) - amalgates melodic cells and sonorities of Gagaku (Japanese palace music) with structures and timbres from European music, especially Stravinsky - he almost quotes literally from the Rite of Spring. The assertive rhythms are taken from Japanese folk music and remind of Matsuri (Shinto festivals).
  • Overture in D (1939) - already starts in marching rhythm, and grows into a full-grown, solemn march. 
  • Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right (1941) - further develops the direction Hayasaka took in his Ancient Dance. Starts and ends pp, as if forming part of the endless flow of natural time. 
  • Four unaccompanied songs to poems by Haruo Sato for solo soprano (1944). 
  • Piano Concerto (1948) - his most "late Romantic" composition, a big-boned and expansive work.
  • Autumn for piano solo (1948) - Hayasaka composed many piano works, over his whole lifetime. (His first composition, from 1936, was a notturno for piano).
  • Capriccio for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano (1949) - inspired by Tibetan music.
  • String Quartet (1950) - sort of open form structure.
  • Duo for Violin and Piano (1950). 
  • Metamorphosis for orchestra (1953) - good example of the "endless form structure" Hayasaka pursued. A series of motifs in the brass introduce a long recitative played by the strings. The harmony is dissonant and the use of rhythm is free. 
  • Yukara (1955) - symphonic suite in six movements, with texts taken from an epic Ainu saga. Not program music, but rather Hayasaka's musical reactions to the ancient saga. With this work, Hayasaka also wanted to reaffirm oriental values in a time if rising Westernization. The suite is noted for its sparse textures, a contrast with Hayasaka's more lush other compositions. Influence on Akutagawa's Ellora Symphony and Mayuzumi's Nirvana Symphony.
As top three of Hayasaka's works, my choice would be: (1) Ancient Dances on the Left and on the Right plus Ancient Dance in a shared first position; (2) Yukara; and (3) Metamorphosis for Orchestra.