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Tradition / Reception / Reception of Chopin / In Japanese culture




Chopin's Reception in Japan


The reception of Chopin's works in Japan is intimately connected with Japanese history. In the 1850s, the country was opened up as the Edo government's more than 200-year old policy of isolation crumbled, and in 1868, with the establishment of the Meiji government, Japan began to modernise. The new Meiji government promoted a policy of adopting Western institutions, knowledge, and technology, and set up a European-American style national political system. These reforms also extended to music, and in 1869, a Western-style military band was established, followed in 1879 by the start of education in Western music. The introduction of Chopin's music to Japan occurred against this backdrop. Although it is impossible to rule out the possibility that Chopin's music reached Japanese ears earlier in some form, the beginning of Japan's modernization will be taken here as a starting point to examine the course of the reception of Chopin's works.


1. The beginning of education in Western music and performances of Chopin in Japan

In 1879, the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports established a Music Study Committee for the study and teaching of Western music. Certain kinds of instruments, such as upright pianos and reed organs, and also sheet music, were imported. Luther Whiting Mason (1818-1897), Frantz Eckert (1852-1916), and Guillaume Sauvlet (1843-?) were advisors to the Music Study Committee. The pianist Nobu Koda (1870-1946), one of the music students in this period, mentioned in her recollections, published in the June 1931 issue of Ongaku Sekai (Musical World), that she had studied many of Chopin's works with Sauvlet. 

The Music Study Committee was renamed the Tokyo Music School in 1887.1  According to the records of the performances of the Tokyo Music School 2, at a concert held on January 25 1892, an organ arrangement of the Marche Funèbre was performed. Organ arrangements of Marche Funèbre, violin performances of the Waltzes, and other works were performed frequently in the 1890s. However, through the performances of foreign pianists and teachers, and following the increased recognition of Chopin's music, arrangements became the target of criticism as being different from the originals. In the December 1898 issue of "Jogaku Zasshi" (Educational Magazine for Women), the following description was given: "Chopin was a virtuoso on the piano, but never mastered the organ. Therefore, I have to say that Mr Shu Amaya playing an organ solo of Chopin's Romance was a failure".

Performances of Chopin's works as originally written for the piano were focused around the foreign music school teachers Raphael von Koebel (1848-1923), Rudolf Ernest Reuter (1888-?), and Hanka Schjelderup Petzold (1862-1937). In recitals, beginning in schools and metropolitan areas, works ranging from the Fantasie-Impromptu Op. 66 and the Berceuse Op. 57 to many of Chopin's other works, were performed. From the late 19th century to the 20th century, a succession of foreign performers came to Japan, introducing the works of Western composers, including Chopin. In this way, along with the spread of Western music throughout Japan and the promotion of Western music education, there were increased opportunities for Chopin's compositions to be introduced into Japan.

Performances of Chopin's music by Japanese musicians occurred from the end of the 19th century. For the sake of brevity, only the main instances from the many performance records will be described. On November 16, 1902 at the regular concert of the Tokyo Music School, Itoe Tachibana (1873-1939) performed the Ballade Op. 47. In the 1910s, the pianist Ryukichi Sawada (1886-1936), called the "Chopin player", came on the scene. From 1916 to 1917 Hisa Kuno (1886-1925) performed the Piano Concerto Op. 11, several Etudes, and the Scherzo Op. 39, and in 1919, Kiyo Kawakami, a student, was the soloist in a performance of the Piano Concerto Op. 21. This was with the Tokyo Music School Orchestra, and performances were also held in Osaka and Kyoto.


2. The spread of Chopin's music in Japan - Kreutzer's legacy

The filling of a post at the Tokyo Music School by Leonid Kreutzer (1884-1953) in 1937 was a turning point in Chopin's reception in Japan. Native to Russia, Kreutzer studied composition and piano at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and later took a teaching position at the Berlin Academy of Music. He visited Japan for the first time in 1931, performing a programme which included Chopin, and also giving a masterclass. On his return to Japan in 1933 and until his death in 1953 he contributed to Japan's musical education as a teacher and pianist. The domestic publication of a revised edition of Chopin's works is one of Kreutzer's principal accomplishments.

Before World War II, very few Chopin scores were produced in Japan, although for example, Kouyou Senoo's Violin arrangement of the Military Polonaise, and the middle cantabile section of the Fantasie-Impromptu were published in the 1920s. In these conditions, Kreutzer brought about a major change. Before coming to Japan, he had  published a revised edition of the complete works of Chopin in Germany, and used the 100th anniversary of Chopin's death in 1949 as an opportunity to publish the complete revised edition with the Ryuginsha publishing company.  Furthermore, at almost the same time, the Japanese pianist Motonari Iguchi (1908-1983) published Chopin's works using his own revisions and editing with the Shunjusha publishing company. The Iguchi and Kreutzer editions contributed to the enlargement and great interest in the study of Chopin and in student performances of Chopin in Japan, and even today these editions remain favourites of piano students and teachers alike.


3. Chopin in School Education

Chopin's music was also adopted for music education in Japanese elementary and middle schools. After the war, the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports enacted the School Education Law, a ministerial directive which formed the basis of the Curriculum Guideline outlining the school curriculum from elementary to high school. According to the 1947 (preliminary) Curriculum Guideline, Chopin's Waltz Op. 64 No.1 and Prelude Op. 28 No.23 (for 4th grades) as well as his Polonaise Op. 40 No.1 (for 5th grades) and Waltz Op. 18 (for 6th grades) are listed as materials for music appreciation in music classes. In the 1951 revision, the following pieces were added for 5th and 6th grades music appreciation: the Nocturne Op. 9 No.2, and the orchestral version of the Funeral March 3. Furthermore, in the High School music textbook 4 used after the war, alongside folk songs and other tunes from various countries were Chopin's Maiden's Wish (with Japanese lyrics by Kiichiro Yamazaki) and the Song of Separation which was a setting of Japanese lyrics by Tosuke Noguchi to the Etude Op. 10 No.3. In 1970, the Chopin biography "Mazurkas dedicated to the Fatherland 5 by Jerzy Broszkiewicz was chosen as suitable reading material for middle school pupils in a youth reading competition.

In this way, through the use of Chopin's music as teaching material in post-war Japanese school lessons, Japanese people gained an opportunity to learn these works, and far from being the sole domain of music specialists, they have become very familiar to the Japanese people.

Over 100 years have passed since the start of Western music education in Japan, and Chopin's works are well-known to people across the generations. Today, numerous books on Chopin line the shelves of bookstores, and many kinds of scores of his music are being printed in Japan. Chopin's music is the goal of many piano students and his works, admired and well-loved, continue to be played.


Kazumi Oshima

1    In 1949, it became the Faculty of Music at the Tokyo University of the Arts (formerly Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music).

2    The records of the performances of Chopin's pieces are based on the following books. Editorial Committee of the 100-year History at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music ed., 100-year History at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music: The Concerts Vols.1&2 (in Japanese), Tokyo: Ongaku-no-tomo sha, 1990 and 1993. The details of professors of Tokyo Music School were taken from 100-year History at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music: Tokyo Music School Vol.1 (in Japanese), Tokyo: Ongaku-no-tomo sha, 1987.

3    Details of the past Curriculum Guideline were referenced from the following site: http://www.nicer.go.jp/guideline/old/

4    Toshiharu Ichikawa ed., High School Music, Tokyo: Kyouiku Geijutsu sha, 1961.

5    J. Broszkiewicz, trans. Shozo Yoshigami, Sokoku heno Mazuruka, Tokyo: Gakushu Kenkyusha, 1969.



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