Akira Ifukube

Brooke McCorkle

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online April 2017 | | DOI:
Akira Ifukube

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Akira Ifukube (b. 31 May 1914–d. 8 February 2006) was among the most prolific and popular Japanese composers of the 20th century. Ifukube’s life and music illustrate the progress of Japanese composers from the early Shōwa era in the 1930s to the advent of the 21st century. He paved the way for younger musicians, including Toshirō Mayuzumi, Yasushi Akutagawa, Keiko Nozawa, and many others. His output encompasses everything from Western art music influenced by traditional Japanese culture and Russian Nationalists, to gendai hōgaku (modern compositions for Japanese instruments), and innovative scores for dance, television, and film. Although Ifukube’s name is seldom recognized outside Japan, his music reached listeners around the world through his scores for Ishirō Honda’s series of Gojira (Godzilla) films. Ifukube was born and raised on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, a place known as a place of natural beauty and as the home of the Ainu, an indigenous people. Esteem for the environment and Ainu culture had a lifelong influence on Ifukube’s music and prose works. In addition to Ainu music, Ifukube discovered Western classical music at a young age, and taught himself violin. He was especially drawn to Russian composers, and Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps particularly entranced him. It was this piece that prompted Ifukube to try his hand at composition. As a young man. Ifukube composed and performed for pleasure while pursuing a career in forestry. During this time, he became friends with another Hokkaido-born Japanese composer, Fumio Hayasaka. Ifukube first achieved international acclaim with his Japanese Rhapsody (1935). This piece received the Tcherepnin Prize, which included private lessons with the composer Alexander Tcherepnin (1899–1977). Ifukube was primarily a self-taught composer, and these lessons were his only formal compositional training. In this work and others, Ifukube fused elements of Ainu and traditional Japanese music with Western art music. In doing so, he became one of the first composers to help Japan find its own voice in the larger music world. During World War II, Ifukube continued composing in his spare time while working for the Imperial government to research different types of wood and their resonant properties. As a result of taking several unprotected X-rays for this study, Ifukube became extremely ill and was bedridden for a year after the war. This misfortune ended his career in forestry, but allowed him to seriously consider a future in music. In 1946, Ifukube accepted a teaching position at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, where he taught until 1953. At Hayasaka’s behest, Ifukube began composing for films to supplement his meager income. Soon Tōhō producer Tomoyuki Tanaka offered Ifukube his first contract to compose the score for the film Ginrei no hate (Return to Silver Mountain), directed by Senkichi Taniguchi in 1947. Despite some personal disputes, Ifukube flourished at Tōhō, and composed more than 300 scores over the course of his career. Thanks to his successful collaborations with Honda and others, he is often considered to be “the Japanese John Williams.” In addition to his legacy in Film Music (cited under Life and Works), Ifukube composed and taught at prominent universities throughout the 20th century and thus influenced a new generation of Japanese composers.

Article.  4633 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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