Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Classical Music in The Netherlands (3) - 20th century

At the end of the 19th century, the musical infrastructure in The Netherlands was relatively complete: the Concertgebouw and its Orchestra (plus orchestras in other major cities); the Conservatories of The Hague (founded already in 1825) and Amsterdam, and other academies of music; and the beginning of a native compositional tradition, as described in my previous post. Still, although there are many composers worth listening to, the Netherlands failed to produce a "new Dutch music" in the 19th century.

That in itself is not so strange: the country had been building up its musical culture by transposing the German model. The most gifted music students went to Germany, especially Leipzig, for their studies. Amsterdam itself, with its Conservatory and Concertgebouw, was a copy of Leipzig. It took time to assimilate these influences and transform them into "Dutch" music.

The turning point came with the composer Alphons Diepenbrock (1862–1921), who discovered modernity by looking back to polyphonic Renaissance composers of the Franco-Flemish school, and combining them with Wagner and Mahler, before coming under the influence of Debussy and other French music - Diepenbrock initiated the strong French flavor in Dutch music in the first half of the 20th century.

Although Diepenbrock did not exercise much direct influence (except perhaps on Hendrik Andriessen), the direction he choose served as an example for the generations that came after him, including such composers as Matthijs Vermeulen, Willem Pijper, Rudolf Escher and Lex van Delden, who strove to create a new Dutch music. Instead of the German sonata form with its linearity and development of themes, we get melodic cells as the basis for development. Renaissance polyphony was broadened into a poly-melodic concept, allowing several different melodies to develop at the same time.

This new Dutch music is characterized by clarity, concision and economy of means. It is modest and understated and never outstays its welcome. Twentieth century Dutch music is, in a way, like the paintings of Piet Mondrian.

Not everyone followed the same direction. Composers as Dopper and Wagenaar remained under strong German influence, as did Van Gilse in his early years. Dopper propagated a more banal and atavistic type of "national music," based on folk melodies - this direction was fiercely criticised by Vermeulen and Pijper (Vermeulen called Dopper's music "Salvation Army tunes"), leading to the almost total oblivion of Dopper later in the century.

Twentieth century Dutch composers in general maintain a belief in melody (but not necessarily bound to tonality), even in the postwar years, when Schoenberg and his twelve tone atonality reigned supreme around the world. Serialism came relatively late to the Netherlands, and for most composers (except Kees van Baren who initiated it in The Netherlands) was a passing phase. Composers who started their career in the 1960s, found other solutions - Ton de Leeuw was inspired by Eastern music and micro-tonality, Louis Andriessen by minimalism and popular music.

During the 20th c., the Concertgebouw Orchestra developed into one of the leading orchestras of the world, helped by the ideal acoustics of the Concertgebouw hall, resulting in a "sound" characterized by transparency. Great conductors include Willem Mengelberg, Eduard van Beinum and Bernard Haitink. The dominant presence of such a large orchestra in a small country also created problems: composers who were disliked by, for example, Mengelberg, faced great difficulty to get performed (as happened to Vermeulen). Other important orchestras are the Residentie Orchestra of The Hague (1904) and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (1918).

The 19th century had been the age of the great pianists, but here, too, the Netherlands had to wait until the 20th century, when we get famous pianists as Dirk Schäfer (1873-1931), Cor de Groot (1914-1993), Hans Henkemans (1913-1995), Daniel Wayenberg (1929), Jan Wijn (1934), Theo Bruins (1929-1993), Rian de Waal, Ronald Brautigam, Wibi Soerjadi, etc. The Dutch violin tradition goes back to the famous teacher Oskar Back and includes violinists as Herman Krebbers, Theo Olof and Janine Jansen. There is also an important oboe tradition, with the Stotijn family and Han de Vries, among many others. The Netherlands knows an important choral culture, with more than 12,000 amateur ensembles and two major professional ones. In the 20th century, also internationally renowned opera and ballet traditions came into being.

An important international first of The Netherlands is the authentic or period performance tradition, which was pioneered in the early 1970s by Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Brüggen, Ton Koopman and Anner Bylsma.

[Concertgebouw in Amsterdam]

Here is a list of important Dutch twentieth century composers.
  • Alphons Diepenbrock (1862-1921). Born in Amsterdam, Diepenbrock was self-taught as a composer - he studied classical languages, even finishing with a cum laude thesis written in Latin. But he was not happy as a teacher, so he gradually broadened his activities in the field of music. As regards his style, it has been said that Diepenbrock discovered modernity by combining polyphonic Renaissance composers of the Franco-Flemish school with Wagner and Mahler. His music became increasingly Impressionistic following his discovery of the music of Debussy in 1910. In this way, he initiated the strong French influence on Dutch music in the first half of the 20th century. Diepenbrock wrote typical fin-de-siecle music with a touch of mysticism. His output was predominantly vocal - as a Catholic, he wrote liturgical music such as a large Mass (Missa in die festo) and a grand Te Deum, but also works for choir and orchestra as Hymne an die Nacht and Im grossen Schweigen; other works were inspired by his classical education, such as the wonderful overture to The Birds by Aristophanes.
    [Orchestral Works (Overture The Birds / Marsyas Concert Suite / Hymn for violin and orchestra / Elektra Symphonic Suite) and Symphonic Songs (Hymne an die Nacht / Im grossen Schweigen, etc), both by Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Hans Vonk on Chandos]
  • Johan Wagenaar (1862-1941). Born in Utrecht as the out of wedlock son of an aristocrat and his maid, Wagenaar became interested in music when he heard Richard Hol play the organ in the Dom Church. Wagenaar studied with Hol and Samuel de Lange and also with Von Herzogenberg in Germany. He followed in the footsteps of his teacher Hol by becoming organist of the Utrecht Cathedral; he also became teacher and later director of its music school, before moving to the Royal Conservatory in The Hague in 1919. His pupils include Alexander Voormolen and Willem Pijper. Wagenaar wrote in the late-Romantic style of Richard Strauss with a touch of Berlioz - not surprisingly, his orchestral works mainly consist of overtures and symphonic poems. He also wrote operas, cantatas and organ music, but never tried his hand at a symphony.
    [Orchestral Pieces (Saul and David / Amphitrion / Cyrano de Bergerac / The Taming of the Shrew etc) played by the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Richard Chailly on London]
  • Cornelis Dopper (1870-1937) was born in Stadskanaal in the Northern Netherlands. After studying music in Leipzig, he first settled down in Groningen before moving on to Amsterdam in 1897. He became choir master and assistant director of the Dutch Opera Company, before this group was dissolved in 1903; after that Dopper worked for two seasons for the Henry Savage Opera Company in the United States. In 1908 he became second conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra (in fact, the assistant of the famous conductor Mengelberg), a position he would keep for 23 years. As a composer, Dopper wrote in a German style (he was another Leipzig Conservatory student): 4 operas, 7 symphonies, as well as many vocal works and chamber music. He was not an innovator, but possessed a great instinct for orchestral color. He also was a nationalist composer, like Zweers before him, as is clear from the "Dutch" titles of his symphonies: "Rembrandt," "Amsterdam" and "Zuiderzee" (the Dutch Inland Sea, a work in which Dopper uses melodies from Valerius' Gedenckclanck from 1626). His most popular work is the Ciaconna gotica for orchestra (1920), which is one of the few orchestral works published during Dopper's lifetime.
    [Symphonies 2, 3 and 6 plus Paan I and II played by the Residentie Orchestra conducted by Matthias Bamert on two Chandos cds; Symphony No 7 on NM Classics]
  • Jan van Gilse (1881-1945) was born in Rotterdam, but went for his musical studies to the Conservatory of Cologne in Germany. He also studied with Engelbert Humperdinck in Berlin and from 1909 to 1911 in Italy. In 1901 he received the Prize of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn for his first symphony, and in 1906 the Michael Beer Prize (a sort of German Prix de Rome) for his third symphony. He worked as conductor in Bremen and Berlin, but returned to the Netherlands at the start of the Great War. From 1917 to 1922 he conducted the Utrecht Municipal Orchestra, which he brought to a high professional level; from 1927 to 1933 he lived and worked again in Berlin, but left Germany after Hitler came to power. For a number of years he was director of the Utrecht Musical Academy, but from 1937 on he dedicated himself solely to composition. In 1911, Van Gilse was one of the founders of the Society of Dutch Musicians (Genootschap van Nederlandse Componisten) and in 1912 of the Dutch Bureau for Musical Copyrights (Buma). Van Gilse was influenced by the German late Romantic composers as Richard Strauss and Max Reger. From the 1920s on, his music becomes more modern. His masterpiece was the opera Thijl (1940), which has been called one of the best operas written by a Dutch composer.
    [Van Gilse's four symphonies are available on 3 CDs from CPO, played by the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn]
  • Sem Dresden (1881-1957) was born into a Jewish diamond-broking family and initially studied composition with Bernard Zweers; he also studied with Pfitzner in Berlin. He developed an early interest in Impressionism. Dresden worked first as a choral director, before in 1924 becoming director of the Amsterdam Conservatory and in 1937 of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. As a Jew, he was in 1941 stripped of this position by the Nazis. Later in life, he devoted himself wholly to composition. His work shows the influence of both French Impressionism and Renaissance polyphony. Besides concertos for violin, oboe and flute, he wrote chamber music and above all excelled in large choral compositions.
    [Two cello sonatas played by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth included on Dutch Cello Sonatas Vol 5 on MDG]
  • Daniel Ruyneman (1886–1963) studied in Amsterdam with Zweers. In the 1920s he worked in Groningen, where he realized the first Dutch performance of Le Boeuf sur le Toit by Darius Milhaud. In the 1930s, back in Amsterdam, he set up the Dutch Society for Contemporary Music and was very much interested in new developments in music. In his own compositions, he was influenced by Debussy and Milhaud, but he also knew Berg and Webern, and in the 1950s he propagated the work of Berio, Boulez and Nono. He was also influenced by Asian music. Among his compositions are Hieroglyphs for chamber ensemble of 1918, and the Symphonie Brève (Symfonie no. 1) of 1929. 
  • Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981) was born in Haarlem. He studied with Zweers, but was mostly influenced by Cesar Franck and Alphons Diepenbrock. Like Diepenbrock, he was a Roman Catholic composer who in the first place wrote liturgical music as masses and organ music. He was organist of the Utrecht Cathedral and taught for two decades at the Institute for Catholic Church Music in Utrecht. He also was consecutively lecturer at the Amsterdam Conservatory, the Utrecht Conservatory and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. During his later years, he was Extraordinary Professor of Musicology at Nijmegen University. Besides his voluminous church music, Andriessen wrote four symphonies, other orchestral works as the famous Variations and fugue on a theme by Kuhnau, and chamber and instrumental music. Also his Ricercare for orchestra, which commemorated the 200th anniversary of the death of J.S. Bach, is a notable work with its clean and neo-classical textures. Andriessen was a modest man and his music is characterized by serenity. Hendrik Andriessen came from a very musical family: he was the brother of pianist/composer Willem Andriessen and the father of the composers Jurriaan Andriessen and Louis Andriessen (see below).
    [Symphonic works Vol I incl. First Symphony and Kuhnau Variations by David Porcelijn and Netherlands Symphony Orchestra on CPO; Symphonic Works Vol II incl. Second Symphony and Ricercare by the same also on CPO; Symphony No 4 etc by Ed Spanjaard and Residentie Orchestra on Olympia]
  • Matthijs Vermeulen (1888-1967) was the "enfant terrible" of Dutch 20th c. music. Also Vermeulen was inspired by the 16th c. polyphonic masters - their work in fact motivated him to study music. Due to financial constraints, however, he never followed a formal musical education. In 1909 he started working as a musical journalist, and became known for his advocacy of contemporary composers like Diepenbrock. Due to a conflict with Mengelberg, whose German orientation Vermeulen had criticized, he could not get his music performed in The Netherlands. From 1921, he lived for more than 20 years in Paris, where he worked as a musical and general journalist. In the postwar years, the situation changed for the better - in fact, already in 1939 his Third Symphony had been performed by the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Eduard van Beinum. He now continued composing his small but fine oeuvre, where seven symphonies stand in the central position. Besides that he wrote chamber music: two cello sonatas, a violin sonata and several songs. Vermeulen's musical style was in the first place based on polymelodicism, the simultaneous combination of several melodic lines. Vermeulen's music is filled with vitality and power, often leading to an obsessive, march-like propulsion. (See my post on his Sixth Symphony in Cult Composers 2).
    [Symphonies 2, 6 & 7 by the Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky on Chandos; first and second cello sonatas in Dutch Cello Sonatas Vol. 3 played by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth on MDG]
  • Willem Pijper (1894-1947) has been called the most important and influential composer of his generation. Pijper was born in Zeist and studied briefly under Wagenaar at the Utrecht Conservatory, but was mostly self-taught. Like Vermeulen, he worked as a newspaper critic with a sharp pen. In the early 1920s, he grew into one of the most advanced composers in Europe, working with "cell technique" and - like Vermeulen - polytonality and bitonality. As long-time teacher at the Conservatories of Amsterdam and Rotterdam he exerted a huge influence over several new generations of composers (Piet Ketting, Guillaume Landre, Kees van Baren, Henk Badings, Rudolf Escher, etc.). Pijper's large and varied output includes operas, three symphonies, concertos for piano, violin and cello, and five string quartets as well as a number of chamber works. His music is always technically of superior quality. He is mostly remembered for his enigmatic but also colorful Second and Third Symphonies (1921 and 1926) and his late string quartets - plus the Cello Concerto from 1938.
    [Cello concerto on NM Classics; two cello sonatas played by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth on Dutch Cello Sonatas Vol 1 on MDG; five string quartets on Olympia]
  • Alexander Voormolen (1895-1980) first studied with Wagenaar in Utrecht, and next spent many years studying in France in the early 1920's. He felt a particular sympathy with the music of Roussel, and was also friendly with Ravel, who supported him. From 1923 Voormolen settled in The Hague, where he became librarian of the Royal Conservatory. He also was music reviewer for an important Dutch newspaper. In his own work, Voormolen searched for a Dutch musical style, as in his large piano work Tableaux des Pays-Bas and the Baron Hop Suites. Voormolen also wrote a wonderful Concerto for Two Oboes. I have discussed Voormolen and his oboe concerto in my post Best Works for Oboe.
    [Baron Hop Suites and Concerto for Two Oboes by the Residentie Orchestra conducted by Matthias Bamert on Chandos]
  • Henk Badings (1907-1987) was born in the Dutch East Indies. As his family did not approve of a career in music, he studied mining and palaeontology at the Delft Polytechnical Institute, but dedicated himself completely to music from 1937. Badings was largely self-taught, although he received advice from Pijper. Badings first musical success already dates to 1930, when he wrote his First Cello Concerto. He used unusual scales and harmonies and composed a large oeuvre, in which fourteen powerful symphonies take a central position. He also excelled in concertos and chamber music. From the 1950s he also explored the possibilities of electronics, notably in stage works. One of his most noteworthy works is the Third Symphony from 1934.
    [Symphonies 2, 7 & 12, as well as 3, 10 & 14 played by the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn on 2 CPO CDs; Cello Sonatas 1 & 2 played by Doris Hochscheid and Frans van Ruth included on Dutch Cello Sonatas Vol 5 on MDG]
  • Rudolf Escher (1912-1980) grew up in the Dutch East Indies where he received piano lessons from his father, a geologist who was the nephew of the famous graphic artist M.C. Escher. Back in Holland, he studied at the Rotterdam Conservatory; he also had Pijper as his teacher. After the war, Escher befriended Matthijs Vermeulen. In the 1960s, he became interested in serialism and electronic music and took lessons with Boulez, before deciding that these techniques did not fit him. In the early 1960s, Escher taught at the Amsterdam Conservatory and from the mid-60s to late 70s he was Senior Lecturer at the University of Utrecht. During WWII Escher composed Musique pour l'esprit en deuil (1941-43), which overnight made him a famous composer in the Netherlands.  Other noteworthy works are the Concerto for String Orchestra (1947-48) and Summer Rites at Noon (1969).
    [Concerto for Strings, Musique pout l'esprit en deuil and Summer Rites at Noon by the Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Richard Chailly on NM Classics; chamber music on NM Classics; piano music on Ottavo]
  • Lex van Delden (real name Alexander Zwaap, 1919-1988) was born to a Jewish family active in the diamond industry in Amsterdam. He was a pupil of pianist Cor de Groot and associate of Sem Dresden, but so far as composition was concerned, Van Delden was largely autodidact. During WWII he was a member of the student's resistance movement fighting against the German occupation; he lost almost his whole family in the Holocaust. Most of his early compositions were also destroyed during the war, his approximately 125 surviving works, including eight symphonies, were written after 1945. Van Delden continued writing tonal music in the grim years that atonality had most other composers and critics in its grip; his music is dark-hued but tuneful and rhythmic. Among his best known works are the Piccolo Concerto for twelve winds and timpani from 1960 and the Concerto per Due Orchestre d'archi from 1961. His works extend over all spheres of music except opera and church music.
    [Orchestral works (incl. the two above mentioned ones, plus the Sinfonia No 3 and the Musica Sinfonica) by the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Etcetera; complete string quartets by Utrecht String Quartet on MDG; chamber music by the Viotta Ensemble on MDG]
  • Ton de Leeuw (1926-1996) was taught by Olivier Messiaen, and influenced by Béla Bartók; he also studied ethnomusicology. De Leeuw was a teacher at the University of Amsterdam and later professor of composition and electronic music at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Ton de Leeuw made a study of Asian music, visiting India and Japan, and wrote, for example, pieces for gamelan orchestra. He was interested in microtonality and in his later work uses spatial effects. De Leeuw was one of the Dutch pioneers of electronic music; his brother Reinbert de Leeuw (born 1939) was also a composer and was influenced by Cage and minimalism. Ton de Leeuw wrote three operas; also notable are his Symphony for Winds and Second String Quartet.
  • Louis Andriessen (1939) is the son of composer Hendrik Andriessen and together with Ton de Leeuw the most famous Dutch composer of the 1970s and 1980s. He studied with his father, Kees van Baaren en Berio. Later he joined the faculty of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. After experimenting with various contemporary trends, in the mid-1970s Andriessen evolved a minimalist style, somewhat like Philip Glass, but more abrasive. Since the 1980s, this style has evolved into a broader mainstream idiom. Interesting works are Hoketus for small ensemble (1977) and De Staat for four women's voices and ensemble (1973-76).
This is a partial list - I have only included composers whose music I know myself. Some CDs listed are older and only available second-hand.
Written with some input from Wikipedia and CD text books; another resource is the Biographical Dictionary of The Netherlands. Two interesting websites providing more information are an article about Dutch 20th century music by Mark Morris at Musicweb International, and Canon van de Nederlandse Klassieke Muziek.

Classical Music Index

Saturday, February 22, 2014

”Jupiter and Io" by Correggio (Best Paintings)

Jupiter and Io was painted with oil on canvas around 1531 by the Italian Antonio Allegri da Correggio. It is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, Austria.

[Antonio Allegri, called Correggio - Jupiter and Io (1520-1534) - Google Art Project - Wikipedia - Public Domain]

The painting shows how Jupiter, disguised as a dark cloud, seduces Io, daughter of the King of Argos, a story from the Metamorphoses of Ovid. We see how Jupiter embraces the nymph, his face just barely materializing in the cloud above her, his smoky hand reaching under her left arm and touching her back. Notable is the contrast between Jupiter's evanescent form and the realistic, fleshy body of Io, who seems to recline in rapture.

The background
  • The painter, Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489 – 1534), was an Italian Renaissance artist who spent most of his life in Parma. He was an eclectic painter without apprenticed successors, but his brilliant illusionist experiments and grand domed ceilings with illusionary heavens (such as The flight of the Madonna in the vault of the cupola of the Cathedral of Parma) are now considered as revolutionary, prefiguring the Mannerist and Baroque styles. 
  • Besides his many religious commissions, Correggio is known for his mythological series, four paintings about the loves of Jupiter commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga of Mantua: Danaë, Ganymede abducted by the Eagle, Leda with the Swan and the present Jupiter and Io - all dating from 1531–32 and based on the hugely influential Metamorphoses of Ovid (written in 8 CE). The paintings were probably meant to decorate the private Ovid Room in the Palazzo Te of Federico II Gonzaga (obviously, these paintings were not meant for stray eyes). However, the paintings were donated to the visiting Emperor Charles V and thus left Italy for Madrid within years of their completion. Now they are scattered over three European museums: Danaë in Rome's Borghese Gallery, Leda with the Swan in the Staatliche Museen of Berlin and the other two in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna.
  • Jupiter, the king of the gods and deity of the sky and of thunder, is known in Greek/Roman mythology for his frequent marital infidelities. As his wife Juno was very jealous, he was forced to assume various ingenious shapes to escape her sharp eye. In these four paintings, we see him approach the object of his love transformed into a swan, an eagle, golden rain and a dark, dense cloud. 
  • The story of Jupiter and Io is as follows. On a certain day, Jupiter happened to notice Io, who was an attractive young maiden, and started lusting after her. Io rejected Jupiter's whispered nighttime advances until the oracles caused her own father to drive her out into the fields of Lerna. There, Zeus approached her in the shape of a gaseous cloud, at the same time covering her in dark mists, to hide her from the eyes of Juno - the very scene of our painting. The story continues that Juno saw through Jupiter's ruse, even though he changed Io into a beautiful white heifer. Juno demanded the heifer as a present, and Jupiter could not refuse her without arousing suspicion. As a punishment, Juno caused Io to restlessly wander the earth in her bovine shape. Finally, Io managed to escape to Egypt, where she was restored to human form by Jupiter and gave birth to his son and daughter - and married an Egyptian king. All's well that ends well.
  • Correggio has managed to convey the love scene of Jupiter and Io with full discretion and much subtlety, but without obfuscating its meaning. While Jupiter is just a caressing cloud, almost invisible, Io with her arms spread and head leaning back, evinces rapturous acceptance. Her left arm even seems to pull Jupiter's smoky hand towards her and her right foot, sticking up, betrays her true feelings. Io's lavish body prefigures the nudes of Rubens, and is in pleasant contrast to the beauty ideal of our own dreary age. 
  • It is difficult to see, but in the lower right a stag is painted, drinking from a brook, providing a Christian explanation ("As the deer pants after the water brook, so my soul thirsts for Thee"), a rather cheap excuse loosely tagged on to this mythological painting.  
  • Here is one of the other Jupiter paintings by Correggio, Leda and the Swan, which is just as suggestive as Jupiter and Io. Interestingly, it was attacked with a knife in the 18th c. by a former French aristocratic owner during what has been described as a crisis of conscience!
[Correggio - Leda and the Swan (1532) - Wikipedia - Public Domain]


    Friday, February 21, 2014

    The "Ero-Guro" mysteries of Edogawa Ranpo

    Edogawa Ranpo (real name Hirai Taro, 1894-1965; Ranpo is traditionally spelled as "Rampo") is Japan's greatest pre-war writer of crime stories. And, like Okamoto Kido - but in his own way -, he is very Japanese. Instead of writing the type of puzzle mysteries that were popular in England and America in the 1920s and 1930s (except in a handful of early stories), he choose to write in the genre of Ero-Guro-Nansensu or “Erotic, Grotesque, Nonsense.” Called Ero-Guro for short, this was a Japanese cultural movement that emphasized eroticism and decadence. “Guro” refers to things that are malformed, unnatural or horrific. This interest in the deviant and bizarre came up in the 1920s, in a social atmosphere of nihilistic hedonism (in its turn perhaps caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923). But it has older roots in Japanese culture: it goes for example back to such 19th century ukiyo-e artists as Yoshitoshi, who depicted decapitations and other acts of violence, including bondage. There was also a similar streak of the macabre with sexual overtones in the Kabuki, as in the famous "horror" play Yotsuya Kaidan. And today we still find it in certain manga and anime, as well as some Japanese cult films.

    [Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: Eimei nijuhasshuku
    (Twenty-eight famous murders; from Wikipedia)]

    We also find the association of the macabre with the erotic in the Japanese literature of the period: Edogawa Ranpo was very much inspired by the novels and stories of Tanizaki Junichiro, who did write many of such erotically tinted, macabre stories in the first decades of the 20th century, starting with the famous The Tattooer from 1910. Interestingly, Tanizaki also tried his hand at quite a few crime stories. As in Ranpo, we often find neurotic confessions. Take for example the story "The Secret" ("Himitsu"), translated by Anthony Chambers in The Gourmet Club, about a man suffering from ennui who experiments with cross-dressing to savor the thrill of duplicity. So Edogawa Ranpo is rather a "Tanizaki for the masses." Tanizaki and Edogawa Ranpo knew each other personally and as older, established author Tanizaki supported Ranpo as an artist.

    Hirai Taro was born into the family of an ex-samurai in Mie Prefecture and, after studying economics at Waseda University in Tokyo, had a whole string of odd jobs before settling down as author. This was in 1923, after the success of his first detective story, “The Two-Sen Copper Coin” ("Nisen doka"), which was the first story written by a Japanese to focus on logical deduction (ratiocination). Hirai wrote under the pen name Edogawa Ranpo, a conscious homage to Edgar Allan Poe (when you pronounce it quickly, it indeed resembles the English name; the meaning of the Japanese characters is tongue-in-cheek “The Rambler of the Edo River”).  As the selection of his pen name already shows, Edogawa Ranpo felt closer to this author of the macabre than to the "scientific" Arthur Conan Doyle of the Sherlock Holmes stories. He wrote in fact only a handful of straight detective stories and soon Ero-Guro elements start to proliferate, before in the 1930s wholly taking over his fiction. His strongest works are those which contain a combination of both, such as Beast in the Shadows (Inju, see below). Wholly Ero-Guro novels are for example Blind Beast (Moju) and Black Lizard (Kurotogake), both from the 1930s, but there are many others.

    Later, circumstances would force Ranpo to give up this type of fiction. When Japan entered upon its several mid-century wars, society frowned on Ero-Guro and even detective novels, so Ranpo switched to writing adventure stories for boys, which he continued to do for many decades. And after the war, although he did write some original creative work, Ranpo was in the first place active in the critical field, where he made a large contribution to establishing the mystery novel as an important literary genre. He also set up a new magazine, Hoseki (Jewel), which took over the function of Shin Seinen as the main magazine outlet for detective stories. But in the postwar years, the time of Ero-Guro was long past, so we find Edogawa Ranpo pleading for the puzzle detective, a subgenre he himself hardly practiced...

    Let's have a look at some of Ranpo's major works:

    "The Two-Sen Copper Coin" ("Ni-sen Doka," 1923). This is Edogawa Ranpo's first detective story, published in the magazine Shin Seinen (New Youth), which thanks to Ranpo's contributions became the main venue for detective stories in the 1920s and 1930s. The magazine was meant for young adults, but seems also to have appealed to a somewhat more mature generation. In this first Ranpo story figures a code, as in Poe's "The Golden Bug." But Ranpo was only inspired by the idea of using a code and borrowed nothing else, his story is wholly original. So is the code Ranpo introduces, based on the Japanese braille combined with the Buddhist invocation "Namu Amida Butsu." This first detective story by Ranpo contains an instance of ingenious ratiocination, but interestingly, at the end Ranpo reveals that the narrator has played a trick on his roommate, the would-be detective, so that the rug is pulled from under the reader's feet who is left with a hoax. In other words, from the very start Ranpo seems not very interested in writing "straight" detective stories in the style of his American and English contemporaries (Van Dine, Christie, Queen and Carr)!
    The story has been masterfully translated by Jeffrey Angles in Modanizumu, Modernist Fiction from Japan, by William J. Tyler.

    "The Case of the Murder at D-Slope" ("D-zaka no satsujin jiken," 1925). The story in which Ranpo's serial detective, Akechi Kogoro, makes his first appearance, and for once a classical detective story. Interestingly, it is a very Japanese variant of the "locked room mystery." In the traditional Japanese house with its sliding doors and movable partitions, a locked room does not exist - there often are not even locks! But in a busy down-town neighborhood of Tokyo (in the story, the real district of Dangozaka in Sendagi is used), people are always watching each other - this "mutual surveillance" creates in fact a virtual locked room. The beautiful wife of a second-hand book seller is found strangled in the living room behind the shop, but as various neighborhood people have been watching both the front and the back of the shop, it is impossible that a stranger has slipped in, so we have the equivalent of a "locked room." Akechi Kogoro is not the Western-suited dandy he would become later, but rather a poor student in traditional Japanese garb. Even in this classical story Ranpo could not desist from one of his favorite Ero-Guro elements: the murdered woman has died in the heat of a sadomasochistic game...
    Translated by Willaim Varteresian in The Early Cases of Akechi Kogoro (Kurodahan Press, 2014). Discussion in Purloined Letters, Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature 1868-1937 by Mark Silver (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008).

    "The Psychological Test" ("Shinri Shiken,"1925). A student imitates Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov in murdering an old woman and stealing her money. He thinks he has committed the perfect crime. It is not his sense of guilt which brings him to justice (as Dostoyevsky's protagonist), and neither is it the Western-style psychological test given him by Dr. Kasamori, which he passes rather too smoothly. No - it is Akechi Kogoro who catches this too great perfectionist in a psychological trap by asking the right questions - just like Judge Oka in the colorful days of the eighteenth century, concludes Edogawa Ranpo. What also reminds one of the Judge Oka stories is the fact that the identity of the criminal is already known to the reader - the emphasis is on the cleverness of the detective (see my post Hanshichi, Japan's first fictional detective).
    This is one of the ten stories translated by James B. Harris together with the author and first published in 1956 as Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination (still available as a reprint in Tuttle Books). The translator could not read Japanese but could speak and understand it; Edogawa Ranpo could read English but not speak it. Together they managed the translation, which was checked by Ranpo and can therefore be called an "authorized" version. Although not very literal, it manages to catch the atmosphere of the stories rather well.

    "The Human Chair" ("Ningen Isu," 1925). One of Ranpo's most grotesquely erotic stories: a man hides in a Western armchair to enjoy the feeling of female bodies sitting on top of him. Yoshiko is a talented authoress who shuts herself up in her study to write every day after her husband has left for the Foreign Office. One morning, she receives a manuscript in which the "chair man" (who is a furniture maker) confesses his strange obsession, which finds its origin in his ugliness and the aversion women feel towards him. First he inhabits the hollow space inside an upholstered armchair he has made for the lobby of a Western-style hotel where he is "caressed" by many different female bottoms - mostly of foreign origin. Then the hotel closes and the chair is sold to a high-ranking official, who puts it in the study of his wife. The chair man develops a deep feeling of love for this purely Japanese woman, enjoying her featherlike gentleness of touch, while he lovingly cradles her on his knees - the reader can already see Yoshiko's shock coming, as she sits reading the manuscript in that very chair... but there is another twist at the end. This is not a detective story, but a pure Ero-Guro artifact in the mock confessional style of Tanizaki Junichiro.
    Translation included in Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Tuttle Books). Discussion in Purloined Letters, Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature 1868-1937 by Mark Silver (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008).

    "The Red Chamber" ("Akai heya," 1925). A sort of "secret society" of Japanese men meets regularly in a Gothic room to share horror tales - a setting that reminded me of certain stories by Stevenson. Tonight, a new member, T., will share his first tale of horror. He tells how, out of chronic ennui, he began committing crimes only for the sake of finding excitement. At that time, incidentally, he discovered a way to murder without being caught: by causing fatal accidents of which random people become the victim - for example by having a blind masseur walk right into a construction pit, or calling out to an old woman who is crossing a busy street, so that she hesitates and is hit by a trolley. Of cause he takes care that he seems to have no responsibility for these deaths. His murder count stands at 99, he says - who will be the next victim? Of course there is an interesting twist at the end, even a double one.
    Translation included in Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Tuttle Books). Discussion in Purloined Letters, Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature 1868-1937 by Mark Silver (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008).

    The Dwarf (Issun-boshi, 1926). A sprawling Ero-Guro novel, in which Akechi Kogoro faces off with a mysterious, evil dwarf. Michiko, a young upper class woman has disappeared. Her beautiful mother, Yurie, calls in Akechi but it seems already too late as the victim's limbs are appearing in various places all over Tokyo. The dwarf has been spotted in nightly Asasuka Park carrying a female arm around and he has also been on the scene in a department store where a mannequin showing the latest kimono fashion boasts an arm which is too real to be true. But the dwarf's repertory of evil is not yet exhausted: next we find him, wearing prostheses to hide his stunted limbs, blackmailing Yurie into a rendezvous... he has been in love with her for ten years, he confesses...
    Together with Blind Beast, the present story served as the basis for Ishii Teruo's self-produced (and no-budget) DV-shot Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf (Moju vs Issunboshi, 2004), featuring director Tsukamoto Shin'ya in the role of Akechi Kogoro.
    Translated by Willaim Varteresian in The Early Cases of Akechi Kogoro (Kurodahan Press, 2014). Discussion in Purloined Letters, Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature 1868-1937 by Mark Silver (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008).

    "The Stalker in the Attic" ("Yaneura no Sanposha," 1926). In this masterful tale Ranpo combines Ero-Guro and detection elements. It is set in a newly built boarding house, where Goda Saburo - a young man bored with life, who seeks thrills by cross-dressing and going out in disguise like the protagonist in Tanizaki's "The Secret" - discovers that via the large Japanese-style built-in cupboard in his room, he has access to the unused attic which runs above all the rooms of the boarding house. He finds a new voyeuristic thrill by spying through cracks in the floor on his fellow boarders as a Peeping Tom. Also just for a thrill, he decides to murder a fellow boarder, Endo, who has the habit of sleeping with wide open mouth below one such a hole in the wooden ceiling. The method Goda uses is very ingenious, but he is no match for detective Akechi Kogoro.
    The various film versions made of this story strongly emphasize the Ero-Guro elements and even introduce new ones (such as the 1976 "pink eiga" version by Tanaka Nobuo) - in comparison Ranpo's story is even rather tame.
    Translated by Seth Jacobowitz in The Edogawa Rampo Reader (Kurodahan Press 2008).

    Strange Tale of Panorama Island (Panorama-to Kidan, 1926). A short novel on the theme of the doppelganger and appropriated identity. Hitomi Hirosuke is a poor man who dreams of creating a utopia on earth. He sees his chance when a rich man, Komoda, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance, dies - Hitomi fakes his own suicide and then takes over the life of Komoda, pretending to have been only apparently dead. There is one problem: Komoda's wife will undoubtedly notice the difference when he sleeps with her, so he tries to practice abstention, but that is not at all easy as Chiyoko is very beautiful... He throws himself, however, into his project of turning an uninhabited island that belongs to the Komoda family into his dreamed utopia, "Panorama Island." He fills the whole island with clever optical illusions and mechanically produced simulated realities. When the island utopia is finished, Hitomi takes "his" wife to visit the island together. In the meantime, his false identity has been guessed by her and he decides to kill her during the visit.
    Together with Koto no Oni, this story formed the (loose) inspiration for Horrors of Malformed Men (Kyofu Kikei Ningen, 1969) by Ishii Teruo - see my review in Best Japanese Cult Movies.
    Translated by Elaine Kazu Gerbert (University of Hawai'i Press, 2013). 

    Beast in the Shadows (Inju, 1928). A novella that again combines classic detective elements with the erotic and grotesque. It also contains the doppelganger motif we so often find in Ranpo's fiction. The narrator is a detective novelist who is asked for help by an alluring young woman named Shizuko. She claims she is receiving threatening letters from a jilted lover who also is a detective novelist (a rival of the narrator) who apparently writes Ero-Guro mysteries under the pen name Oe Shundei. The letters contain many intimate details, as if Shundei is even peeping into her bedroom from above the ceiling (like "The Stalker in the Attic") and observing her relation with her husband, a rich businessman. However, the narrator is led to believe that Shizuko's husband is the culprit, and that he is impersonating Shundei who in fact does not exist. A riding crop the narrator spots in the couple's bedroom suggests a sadomasochistic relationship. In the meantime, the narrator and Shizuko slip into a secret romance. Then the husband is found murdered, his body drifting in the River Sumida which flows behind the house. Now the narrator starts thinking that perhaps Shizuko is the culprit - she may have used the story about Shundei as a ruse to be able to murder her husband. But when Shizuko commits suicide because of the accusations leveled at her, the narrator is shocked... was his suspicion of Shizuko premature? Does a man called Shundei exist or is he purely fictional? Where lies the truth? Although there is a lot of ratiocination in this story, it ultimately leads nowhere, as if Ranpo wants to say that in a world of doppelgangers and mirrors the truth is elusive.
    This novella was filmed in 1977 by Kato tai as Edogawa Ranpo no Inju.
    Translation by Ian Hughes included in The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows (Kurodahan Press 2006). Discussion in Purloined Letters, Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature 1868-1937 by Mark Silver (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008).

    "The Caterpillar" ("Imomushi," 1929). The "caterpillar" is the symbol for Lieutenant Sunaga, a war veteran whose body has been terribly mutilated in battle: he has lost both legs and arms, and can neither hear nor speak. He has only his eyesight left. The lieutenant crawls through the room like a hideous insect, in nothing resembling the handsome man he once was. His wife, who has to nurse him, is filled with hatred for this ugly lump of flesh, but at the same time she is strangely attracted to it. She plays cruel games with her amputee husband, the stress and sexual frustration arouse her basest instincts, leading to further mutilation and ultimate disaster. This has been interpreted as an antiwar story, but in fact, the emphasis is wholly on the Ero-Guro elements. 
    "The Caterpillar" is one of the four short films in the compilation Ranpo Jigoku (Rampo Noir) from 2005, an episode filmed by "splatter" and "pink movie" director Sato Hisayasu. The story also served as the basis for the film Caterpillar (Kyatapira), made by Wakamatsu Koji in 2010, in which the antiwar message has become central. 
    Translation included in Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Tuttle Books); also translated by Michael Tangeman in Modanizumu, Modernist Fiction from Japan, by William J. Tyler.

    The Demon of the Desert Isle (Koto no Oni, 1929-30). Called one of "the most deliberately, bizarrely outre of Ranpo's works" (Mark Silver), a hybrid between a murder mystery, adventure tale and science fiction. Before the main story gets underway, Hatsuyo, the girlfriend of the narrator (an ordinary accountant named Minoura) has been found murdered in a locked room; the mystery is solved by a detective - the culprit is a ten-year old child contortionist, who is himself murdered before the motive can be made clear. The main story is the quest for that motive, which brings Minoura with his friend Moroto (who pesters him with homosexual advances) to a desert isle presided over by Takegoro, a hunchback and a sort of Japanese Dr. Moreau, who wants to "rid Japan of healthy people and fill it with freaks." His project is to abduct children, stunt their growth in tight-fitting boxes, and surgically graft foreign body parts unto them, even animal fur. Among the children is an adolescent pair of opposite-sex Siamese twins who have been surgically attached at the hip - one a beautiful young woman, the other a foul-mouthed and unkempt boy. The young woman proves to be Hatsuyo's sister, and the motive for the original murder is a treasure belonging to her family, which lies buried deep in the catacombs under the island. Minoura manages to find it and finally marries Hatsuyo's sister (after she has been surgically detached from the boy), but his hair has literally become white because of all the dangers he has had to face...
    Together with Panorama-to Kidan, this story formed the (loose) inspiration for Horrors of Malformed Men (Kyofu Kikei Ningen, 1969) by Ishii Teruo - see my review in Best Japanese Cult Movies.
    This story has not yet been translated. Discussion in Purloined Letters, Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature 1868-1937 by Mark Silver (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008).

    The Blind Beast (Moju, 1931). Pure Ero-Guro: a deranged, blind sculptor captures a singer and imprisons her in a labyrinth of giant sculptured body parts, before killing and dismembering her and scattering her limbs, head and torso all over Tokyo. But far from being satisfied, the blind killer continues on his sexually-charged spree of amputation and decapitation, all with one purpose: an exhibition of human sculptures which are a bit too life-like for comfort...
    This story was used as the inspiration for Moju: The Blind Beast, a great cult film made in 1969 by Masumura Yasuzo (see my review in Best Japanese Cult Films; also see my post on Masumura Yasuzo). 
    Translated by Anthony Whyte (Shinbaku Books, 2009).

    Black Lizard (Kurotokage, 1934). Pure Ero-Guro camp. Akechi Kogoro competes in cleverness with the Queen of the Underworld, the Black Lizard, who has kidnapped the daughter of a jeweller to obtain a precious diamond. The finale plays out in the secret lair of the Black Lizard on a remote island, where she keeps an eerie collection of naked life-size dolls...
    Made into a great cult film by Kinji Fukasaku in 1968 (see my review in Best Japanese Cult Films).
    Translation by Ian Hughes included in The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows (Kurodahan Press 2006).

    The Fiend with Twenty Faces (Kaijin Nijumenso, 1936). Due to the wars waged by Japan in the second half of the 1930s, both classical and Ero-Guro mysteries were increasingly frowned upon by society, so Edogawa Ranpo moved to mystery and adventure stories for boys, starting with The Fiend with Twenty Faces in 1936. Akechi Kogoro figures as detective in the story and he is helped by a twelve year old boy called Kobayashi (as well as "the Boy Detectives Club") in his fight against an Arsene Lupin-like master-thief, called "The Fiend with the Twenty Faces." Ranpo wrote 34 installments in this long-running and very popular series (the last one dates from 1962), often recycling and infantilizing previous work. It at least has the merit that it made a whole generation of Japanese enthusiastic for the detective genre, which helped foster the postwar boom of the genre. The "Fiend with Twenty Faces" became a proverbial celebrity, and also Akechi Kogoro probably has at least part of his great fame to thank to this series of adolescent novels.
    The 2008 film K-20: Legend of the Mask by Sato Shimako only borrows the characters of Akechi and Kobayashi, its plot is based on a novel by Kitamura So and has no direct relation with Edogawa Ranpo.
    Translated by Dan Luffey for Kurodahan Press (2011).

    Also read my articles about the films based on Ranpo's stories on this website:
    Edogawa Rampo on Screen (1)
    Edogawa Rampo on Screen (2)

    And here are two more elaborate posts about Ranpo's pre-WWII fiction:
    Edogawa Ranpo (1)
    Edogawa Ranpo (2)
    Edogawa Ranpo is still a popular writer in Japan, as attested to by the many films and TV dramas that are being based on his stories. In the authoritative Tozai Mystery Best 100 list, published by Bungei Shunju, he is present with several works, both in the list from 1985 and the updated version from 2012. "The Two-Sen Copper Coin," Strange Tale of Panorama Island, Beast in the Shadows and The Demon of the Desert Isle figure on both lists; "The Psychological Test" and "The Traveler with the Pasted Rag Picture" in addition on the 1985 list. 
    Edogawa Ranpo's works are easily available in various versions; my preference goes to the Edogawa Ranpo Zenshu in 30 volumes published as large, brick-like paperbacks by Kobunsha. The literary publisher Iwanami Shoten has also recently discovered Ranpo in their short story collection Edogawa Ranpo Tanpenshu. 
    Long neglected by academia, we now see a blossoming of theses on this author, including the detailed discussion in Purloined Letters, Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature 1868-1937 by Mark Silver (University of Hawai'i Press, 2008). In Modanizumu, Modernist Fiction from Japan, by William J. Tyler, Ranpo is discussed as an important example of the modernist trend in Japan. About Ero-Guro in general, see Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times by Miriam Silverberg (2006).

    Saturday, February 15, 2014

    Classical Music in The Netherlands (2) - The 19th Century

    The French Revolution crushed the power of the aristocracy and put an end to patronage as the main pillar under the music world. The 19th century would be the age of the bourgeoisie: wealthy burghers sponsored orchestras and concert halls (via musical societies), governments set up music schools, every well-to-do family had a piano for which music had to be written. Composers could be freelancers, work as conductor of an orchestra, as pianist, or as teacher.

    Generally speaking, as regards Dutch classical music, the 19th century was a lot better than the previous centuries. Although the age starts and ends with German-born composers, the large number of "home grown" composers and conductors points at the strong growth of a national musical tradition. Happily, the power of the Protestant church to meddle in private life also diminished.

    Like other major European cities, Amsterdam had received its first public concert hall. This was "Felix Meritis." which opened its doors in 1788. It was run by a general society for the promotion of arts and sciences (similar societies were established in other Dutch cities as The Hague and Rotterdam). Felix Meritis' oval concert hall was the main music hall in Amsterdam until late into the 19th century and enjoyed a great international reputation. Many famous musicians performed there, including Schumann, Saint-Saëns and Brahms. The orchestra of Felix Meritis was regarded as the best of the Netherlands and played at many Dutch premieres. The society which ran Felix Meritis was abolished in 1888, the same year that its function was taken over by the Concertgebouw and its orchestra. Four years earlier, another landmark had been reached in the foundation of the Amsterdam Conservatory. Here Julius Röntgen, the German composer who had settled in Amsterdam, played a crucial role, as he did in the establishment of the Concertgebouw (the design of the main concert hall was based on that of the Gewandhaus in Röntgen's native city of Leipzig).

    Who were the composers who wrote for these new venues?

    [Felix Meritis in Amsterdam]
    • Carl Anton Fodor (1768-1846). Fodor was born in Venlo (at that time still in Austrian hands and not part of the Dutch Republic) and made name as a pianistic virtuoso and composer. In 1801 he became conductor of the orchestra of Felix Meritis, a position he would keep for 25 years. In 1808, the first king of the Netherlands, the Frenchman Louis Bonaparte, appointed him to the precursor of the Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1811 Fodor started a well-known series of Tuesday Concerts together with Johann Wilhelm Wilms. Fodor wrote three symphonies, eight piano concertos, and various chamber works with piano. Fodor composed in the manner of Haydn and is considered as the foremost composer of his generation in the Netherlands.
      [Piano concerto included in Dutch Piano Concertos by Arthur Schoonderwoerd and Christofori on Alpha; piano sonatas in Fortepiano Music from The Netherlands by Arthur Schoonderwoerd on NM Classics]
    • Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1872-1847). Wilms was a Dutch composer of German origin - I have also included him in my post on Unique Symphonies from the 19th Century. Born near Solingen, he came in 1791 to Amsterdam and spent his whole creative life in that city. He played the flute in two orchestras, acted as soloist in piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven, was organ player of the United Baptist Church, taught piano at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and wrote articles about Dutch music life for the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. In 1796, he helped found the first professional orchestra of Amsterdam, Eruditio Musica. In 1816 he won the open competition for the new Dutch anthem "Wien Neêrlandsch bloed," which remained in function until 1932. Wilms wrote seven symphonies (one has been lost), piano concertos, a flute concerto, violin and flute sonatas, string quartets, piano music, etc. His well-crafted music is characterized by skilful melodies.
      [Symphonies 14, 23, 52, 58 plus Wilhelmus Variations by Netherlands Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anthony Halstead on Challenge Classics; piano concerto in Dutch Piano Concertos by Arthur Schoonderwoerd and Christofori on Alpha]
    • Johannes Bernardus van Bree (1801-1857). Composer and conductor. Van Bree directed the Felix Meritis Society from 1829 to the year of his death. He was also director of the Music School of the Society of the Promotion of Music in Amsterdam. His works includes several masses, a violin concerto, overtures, string quartets, and most famously, his characteristic (and very Mendelssohnian) Allegro for Four String Quartets in D minor, dating from about 1845. There is currently no CD available but the Dutch broadcasting organization VPRO has put this video played by the New Amsterdam Sinfonietta on its Youtube channel.
    • Johannes Verhulst (1816-1891). Dutch composer and conductor born in The Hague. As a music administrator his influence on musical life was very large. At a young age, Verhulst became first violinist in the court chapel of King Willem I, and at that time (in 1836) he also met Mendelssohn who was vacationing in Scheveningen. After showing Mendelssohn one of his overtures, Verhulst was invited to come to Leipzig and become Mendelssohn's pupil (from 1838). In Leipzig, Verhulst also directed the Euterpe Orchestra for which he wrote his Symphony in E. In 1842, Verhulst returned to The Hague at the urging of King Willem II. In 1848, he became the chief conductor of the Rotterdam Music Society; in 1860, he also started work as conductor of concerts at the scientific society Diligentia in The Hague, and 1864 at both the orchestral society Caecilia and the Felix Meritis Society in Amsterdam. In other words, he had central control of Dutch music life! In the 1880s, his conservative taste (Schumann was his idol) became a liability and he was gradually pensioned off. Besides the above mentioned orchestral music, Verhulst wrote also three Masses and three string quartets, but his major compositional efforts were in the field of the song, where he was deeply influenced by Schubert and Schumann. He wrote most of his music before becoming busy as a conductor.
      [Symphony in E plus Overtures by Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Mathias Bamert; Mass Op 20 by Netherlands Concert Choir, Residentie Orchestra and Bamert; both on Chandos]
    • Richard Hol (1825-1904) is another Dutch composer I have introduced in my post on Unique Symphonies from the 19th Century. Born in Amsterdam, Hol was based for most of his career at Utrecht where from 1875 he served as director of the Stedelijke Muziekschool (Municipal Music Academy). He was influenced by the Leipzig School of Mendelssohn and Schumann (like so many other 19th c. composers all over Europe and in the U.S.). Hol also wrote extensively about music and he served as the first director of the Dutch Composers Association (Nederlandsche Toonkunstenaars Vereeniging, founded in 1875). Hol composed four symphonies which in recent years have been recorded on CD; two operas; liturgical music; song cycles and piano and organ music.
      [Symphonies 1 & 3, and symphonies 2 & 4, both by Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Mathias Bamert on Chandos]
    • Samuel and Daniel de Lange (1840-1911 / 1841-1918) were brothers from a musical family - they were so close that the women they married were sisters of each other. Both were active as composer, conductor, teacher and they both played the organ and the piano. After studying with Johannes Verhulst, Samuel de Lange toured Europe as a pianist, from eastern Europe to France and Germany, before settling in Stuttgart as director of its musical academy. Samuel counted Brahms (whose first piano concerto he premiered in the Netherlands), Bruch and Reger among his friends.  His large oeuvre contains several concertos for cello, violin, alto and piano, thirteen string quartets, five piano trios, sonatas for violin, cello and piano solo and many compositions for organ. Unfortunately, it remains largely unknown, even in the Netherlands. His brother Daniel de Lange is a little bit better known. Daniel was in the first place active as cellist. Concert tours through Europe brought him to Paris, where he lived until 1870. After returning to the Netherlands, he was active as educator, conductor and musical journalist. With amongst others Julius Röntgen he set up the Amsterdam Conservatorium (Amsterdam Music Academy) in 1884; eleven years later he became its director. He also established a Dutch A Capella Choir and was interested in Renaissance music. As a composer he was much less active than his brother Samuel - he wrote songs and works for choir, as well as a symphony and requiem, two works which have recently been recorded on CD. His idiom was more modern than that of his brother.
      [Daniel de Lange, Symphony No 1 by Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra on Sterling; Requiem by Netherlands Chamber Choir on NM Classics]
    • Bernard Zweers (1854-1924) was the son of the owner of a music shop, but as his father disapproved of a musical career, he was initially self-taught. Later Zweers studied with Salomon Jadassohn in Leipzig (a German composer and educator who is unjustly forgotten). In 1895 Zweers became head of teaching and composition at the Amsterdam Conservatory, a position he would hold until 1922. Zweers strove to create music with a Dutch national character - he wrote many songs for which he used only Dutch texts, and he also composed music for a famous 17th c. Dutch play (Gijsbrecht van Amstel by Vondel). But in fact, the German influences in his music were very strong. He left three symphonies (the third one typically named "To my Fatherland"), incidental music, a mass and several cantatas and numerous songs. His three symphonies are all available on CD.
      [Symphony No 1 (with symphony by Daniel de Lange), Symphony No 2 & Symphony No 3 on Sterling]
    • Julius Röntgen (1855-1932) was a Dutch composer, conductor and pianist of German origin. Röntgen was born into a Leipzig family of musicians - his father was cellist in the Gewandhaus Orchestra, his mother, a pianist, was family of the renowned cellist Julius Klengel (see my post about cello concertos; Röntgen himself appears in my post on cello sonatas). A very gifted child, Röntgen was educated in music by his parents and other family members, as well as Carl Reinecke and Franz Lachner. In 1877, Röntgen moved to Amsterdam, where he became piano teacher at the music school. He would stay his whole life in the Netherlands and eventually also obtain Dutch citizenship. Röntgen played an important part in helping to establish institutions for classical music in Amsterdam: in 1883 the Amsterdam Conservatory, and in 1884 the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He conducted at Felix Meritis and was also leader of the Excelsior Choir. As an accompanying pianist he played in concerts with the great violinist Carl Flesch, the singer Johannes Messchaert, and the cello player Pablo Casals. He also was a friend of Johannes Brahms, who often visited Amsterdam in the years 1878-1885. Röntgen also knew Edvard Grieg, who had studied in Leipzig, and after 1883 became close friends with the Norwegian composer, often spending his summer holidays in Norway where he enjoyed hiking in the mountains. Grieg also visited Amsterdam and after Grieg's death, Röntgen wrote his biography. Frequent visits to another Scandinavian country, Denmark, led to close contacts with Carl Nielsen. Röntgen was married twice and most of his children became professional musicians - he, for example, formed the Röntgen Piano Trio with two of his sons. In 1924, Röntgen retired from public life and settled in Bilthoven, where another of his sons, who was an architect, designed a country house (the villa Gaudeamus) with an unusual round music room. Here many famous musicians and composers gathered, such as Pablo Casals and Percy Grainger. The last eight years of his life, Röntgen continued composing at a frenetic pace. In 1930 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. Röntgen left an immense amount of music, about 800 works, often in unpublished form - he regularly wrote chamber music for performance in the family, or for visiting musicians. There are 25 symphonies, 7 piano concertos, 3 violin concertos, 3 cello concertos, as well as numerous chamber, piano and vocal works. In some of his compositions, Röntgen used old Dutch melodies, other works were based on Norwegian folk songs. Although he remained based in the tradition of the Leipzig School, over the years Röntgen developed musically and in the 1930s he even wrote a bitonal symphony. There has been a modest (still insufficient) Röntgen-revival in recent years and several of his works have been performed for CD.
      P.S. Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923), the discoverer of X-Rays, and 1901 Noble Prize winner, was a cousin of Julius Röntgen.
      [The German CPO label has brought out numerous CDs with works by Röntgen, such as his symphonies nos 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 15, 18, 19 (also containing other orchestral works, for example inspired by Dutch or Norwegian folk songs); his 3 cello concertos, 2 piano concertos; 2 violin concertos; incidental music for Goethes Faust; and music for wind ensemble. Several volumes of his cello sonatas and piano trios have appeared on Ars Produktion; four string trios on Chaps Hill Records; etc.]

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    Hanshichi, Japan's first fictional detective

    The first fictional detective of Japanese origin was not a copy of an imported thinking machine a la Holmes, but a trusted old Edo-period sleuth called Hanshichi. It seems right that Japan first delved into its own culture before wholeheartedly adapting the foreign detective story to its needs.

    Hanshichi, the detective created by Okamoto Kido in 69 stories written between 1917 and 1937, also has the honor of being the first Japanese serial investigator – appearing seven years earlier than Edogawa Ranpo's Akechi Kogoro. The Hanshichi stories are intrinsically Japanese. Perhaps Okamoto was indebted to Conan Doyle (read avidly in the original English original by him) for the idea of writing detective stories in itself, but in fact the strongest model for Hanshichi are Edo-period crime stories as those about the wise judge Oka Echizen.

    In the Edo-period (1600-1868), Japan knew the genre of crime stories but these were very different from the modern Western crime novel. Crime literature consisted of courtroom narratives such as Iharu Saikaku's Honcho Oin Hiji (Trials in the Shade of a Cherry Tree, 1689; based on the Chinese Tangyin Bishi) and the anonymous Oka Seidan (Oka's Rulings). These stories emphasized the authority of the state in the form of wise and infallible judges. The criminal would be known to the reader from the start and the suspense was wholly on the question how the judge would discover him. Forced confessions and torture were also part of the trial. Based on Chinese examples and thus strongly influenced by moralistic Confucianism, these stories also put a strong emphasis on the punishment of the victim, often described in gruesome detail. Punishment was important, because the balance of Heaven which had been upset by the crime, had to be restored.

    Oka Tadasuke (1677-1752), also known as Oka Echizen no Kami, who was famous for his acumen and fairness, was not a judge in the Western sense (these did not exist in premodern Japan), but a magistrate. He was machibugyo or civil governor of Edo under the shogun Yoshimune in the early part of the 18th c. One of the most famous stories in the Oka Seidan is called "The Case of the Stolen Smell." An innkeeper accuses a poor student of stealing the smell of his cooking. As this was evidently a case of paranoia on the part of the innkeeper, everyone expected Oka to throw the case out as ridiculous. Instead, he came to the following judgment: he ordered the student to pass the money he had in one hand to his other hand, ruling that the price of the smell of food is the sound of money!

    In the Meiji-period, the old Edo-tales were replaced by another wave of moralism: on the one hand sensational stories about criminal woman as poisoners (there was a surge of interest in this subject after a notorious case), on the other hand very free adaptations of 19th c. Western adventure and crime novels such as those by newspaper editor Kuroiwa Ruiko (1862-1920). Kuroiwa also wrote two original novels, but the intention remained a moralistic one, not so remote from the confessional narratives of criminals appearing in the other pages of his mass publications. So we have to wait until 1917 for the appearance of Japan's first real detective, Hanshichi.

    Hanshichi was the creation of Okamoto Kido (1872-1939), the son of a former senior retainer of the Shogunate. Due to a decline in his family's fortunes, Okamoto could not attend university, but started working as a journalist and reviewer of stage works. The stage was his real love and he also wrote plays himself – his breakthrough came in 1911 with the play Shuzenji Monogatari, which is still occasionally staged. He also wrote modernized Kabuki plays (Shin-Kabuki). Okamoto considered his stage work as his main accomplishment, rather than the detective and other fiction he wrote.

    Posterity has judged differently: Okamoto's fame now rests in the first place on his Hanshichi stories, which have never gone out of print and are still available in various editions, from pocketbooks to ebooks. Okamoto called his stories “torimonocho,” or “casebooks,” and this designation was adopted by several other authors of historical detective fiction.

    Of course, detectives in the modern sense did not yet exist in the Edo-period. Hanshichi is an okappiki, a helper of the machibugyo who was hired in an unofficial capacity. It was the task of the okappiki to make arrests, but also do a certain amount of investigation to solve cases. In that sense the job was indeed somewhat comparable to that of a detective on the police force. Okamoto has wisely left out another aspect of the okappiki's job, that of torturing criminals to obtain a confession.

    On the contrary, Hanshichi is not violent at all, but rather a wise man like Okamoto's historical model, Oka Echizen. He is also very Japanese. Culturally, Japan was not a country of logical reasoning, but rather of intuition (think Zen), and that difference is clear when you compare Hanshichi to Auguste Dupin or Sherlock Holmes. Hanshichi does not use ratiocination, but rather his intuition plus his detailed knowledge of Edo, the city in which he lived. Besides that, he is also helped by simple good luck and coincidence.

    Hanshichi is also not a law-enforcer in the Anglo-Saxon sense, where the law is abstractly upheld without regard for persons or circumstances. Hanshichi is a humane man and above all he is out to uphold the fabric of society. He may spare a criminal in order to preserve the reputation of a certain family, he avoids creating waves that would upset society.

    The Hanshichi stories belong to the sub-category of the historical mystery, which only took off in the West after the boost by Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose in 1980, while in Japan it stood at the head of detective fiction. One could say that besides Hanshichi, the city of Edo itself is also an important "character" in these stories, with its samurai mansions and its brothels, its teahouses and its bathhouses, and its colorful superstitions. The stories are full of interesting characters and events and the pace is fast. The mystery elements are limited and there is no menace or danger. Instead, there is a lot of good humored fun.

    The stories have been written according to a fixed template but Okamoto's inspiration never flags. He also deftly uses a double time frame: the stories themselves take place somewhere in the middle of the 19th century (50s and 60s), but they always start with an introduction placed in the Meiji-period (80s and 90s) in which the retired Hanshichi tells one of his experiences to the young Okamoto.

    The feeling of nostalgia for a past irrevocably ended is strong, and Okamoto has been called reactionary for his looking back to Edo (for example by Mark Silver in Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature), but he does not idealize. Moreover, Edo nostalgia was popular at the time he started writing about Hanshichi – think for example of the stories of Nagai Kafu as The River Sumida (1911). The Hanshichi stories are made all the more interesting because of the encyclopedic knowledge of the Edo-period Okamoto Kido could bring to his project.

    The original stories are available online at Aozora Bunko. They have also been published as Kindle editions and on paper as Bunkobon (Kobunsha and others). 
    We are lucky to have a magnificent translation of the first fourteen stories by Ian MacDonald as The Curious Casebook of Inspector Hanshichi: Detective Stories of Old Edo. Warmly recommended. (Avoid the slight adaptations made of four stories by Edgar Seidensticker as The Snake that Bowed - these are insipid and not worthy of the great translator).

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Classical Music in The Netherlands (1) - 17th & 18th centuries

    The 17th century was the Golden Age of Dutch culture. Painting and literature flourished. But where was the music?

    The answer is: psalms, psalms, psalms... There is no Dutch Bach; in fact, most composers active in the Netherlands in this period were immigrants from Germany. There was only one native-born composer of international standing in these two centuries: Sweelinck. What caused this musical desert?

    In order to flourish in the pre-modern age, music needed to be sponsored. In most other European countries that is what happened, either by the church or by the court. But in the Netherlands, these two were both negative factors.

    In the first place, the court - this was absent: for in an age of monarchies, the Netherlands was a republic (the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, 1581-1795). It was in fact a confederation governed by a federal government, the States-General. The appointed head of state was the "Stadtholder," who also commanded the army. In practice, for this function the princes of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau were chosen. This led confusingly to a sort of de facto hereditary head of state (in 1747, the position became also officially a hereditary one), but the Princes of Orange remained subservient to the States-General (who could anytime fire them, or refuse an appointment). It will be clear from the above that this was not a situation where a large court culture with its own composers and orchestra as in Paris, Vienna or even Stockholm could develop. This only changed somewhat at the marriage of Stadtholder Willem IV with Princess Anne (1709-59) from the English House of Hanover in 1734 - Princess Anne was musically gifted and had been a pupil of Handel. The music she introduced to the House of Orange was institutionalized by her son Willem V who employed the first official Dutch court composer. As there was no vital Dutch musical tradition, this was the German Christian Ernst Graf. He was in function when the family Mozart visited The Hague in 1765. (This visit itself demonstrates that the musical situation had improved somewhat, as the Mozarts apparently considered The Hague important enough to include in their itinerary).

    [Princess Anne of Hanover]

    Compared to the meagre situation at the "court," it was even worse with the church. The dominant Calvinist religion frowned on all music during church services except unaccompanied communal singing - even the organ was not welcome (it only came back to the church after a prolonged "organ struggle")! Thus when the Dutch cities converted en masse to Calvinism in 1570, the rich musical tradition of the Catholic church was lost - in northern Germany, Lutheranism at least sponsored music during church services and thus made the success of Bach possible. Dutch churches contained magnificent organs, but these were played only before and after services, or for public concerts on weekdays. Organ players were in the service of the municipality, as was also the case with Sweelinck who worked for the city of Amsterdam. Thus the two classical forms of musical patronage, court and church, were lacking in the Netherlands. The possibilities for professional musicians were severely limited and Holland knew no flourishing musical life. The music that was played was "home music," songs or short instrumental pieces, and this music mainly came from abroad.

    Who were the composers in this musically difficult period?

    [Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck]
    • Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621). This Amsterdam organist and composer straddled the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque. He was one of the first major keyboard composers of Europe, and his work as a teacher helped establish the north German organ tradition. Sweelinck was the last great polyphonist and known as "the Orpheus of Amsterdam." His pupils include  B. J. Praetorius jr., S. Scheidt and H. Scheidemann. But Sweelinck did not manage to establish his own "school" in the anti-musical Netherlands. Sweelinck wrote about 70 keyboard pieces and 250 vocal works. Sweelinck was his whole life employed as organist in Amsterdam; he was also famous as an improvisor. His complete works are available on CD – the keyboard works for example played by Ton Koopman.
      [Sweelinck, Keyboard Music, played by Ton Koopman on Philips]
    • Jacob van Eyck (ca. 1590-1657) was a carillon player, organist, recorder virtuoso and composer. His most important work was Der Fluyten Lust-hof (The Flute's Garden of Delights, 1644-1656), a collection of 140 melodies, each with a number of variations, for solo soprano recorder. There are folk songs, dance tunes and church works. As carillon player, Van Eyck worked with the brothers François & Pierre Hemony, immigrants from France, who were internationally renowned bell founders based in Amsterdam.
      [Jacob van Eyck, Der Fluyten Lust-hof, played by Erik Bosgraaf, Brilliant Classics]
    • Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) was scientist, writer, composer and diplomat. He was secretary to the Stadtholders of Orange and knew the great thinkers and artists of his time, such as René Descartes and John Donne. As composer he wrote small, intimate pieces (mainly songs); he is also known for a treatise on the organ. He played the lute, theorbo, viola da gamba and the harpsichord and left about 800 compositions. He was the father of the natural scientist and mathematician Christiaan Huygens.
    • Anthoni van Noordt (ca. 1619 – 1675) was a Dutch composer and organist, a disciple of Sweelinck. His Tabulatuur-boeck van psalmen en fantasyen (Amsterdam, 1659) contains ten psalms with variations and six fugal fantasies. His work displays great contrapuntal mastery.
    • David Petersen (ca. 1650-1737) was a violinist and composer of north German origin active in the Netherlands. Around 1680, he moved to Amsterdam, where he worked for the rest of his life. Besides a great number of songs in Dutch composed between 1694 and 1715, he is in the first place known for his collection of twelve sonatas for violin and basso continuo published in 1683 entitled "Speelstukken." It is the only Dutch publication of its type in this period. Inspiration came probably from north German composers as Johann Jakob Walther.
      [David petersen, Speelstukken, played by Manfredo Kraemer and The Rare Fruits Council on Astree]
    • Johannes Schenck (1660 - after 1720) was born in Amsterdam from German parents and became an internationally famous virtuoso viola da gamba player. Except compositions for his own instrument, he also wrote the first Dutch opera (1686, on a text in Dutch): Venus, Ceres and Bacchus - when the gods quarrel and Ceres (deity of food) and Bacchus (deity of wine) refuse to cooperate with Venus, humans decide to engage in a "sex strike" for "love cannot exist without food or wine." In 1696 Schenck moves to the court of Düsseldorf, where he remained until his death. He continued publishing his music in Amsterdam with the famous publisher Estienne Roger - we have several opus numbers with gamba music, music for violin and trio sonatas.
      [Scherzi Musicali Op 6 for Viola da gamba played by Bettina Hoffmann on Dynamic]
    • Willem de Fesch (1687 - 1761) was a virtuoso Dutch violone player and composer. He studied with Karl Rosier in Germany, and after working in Amsterdam between 1710 and 1725, pursued his career in Antwerp and London. He played the violone in Handel's orchestra and also conducted at Marylebone Gardens. He wrote solo and trio sonatas, concertos, and also two oratorios. His style was influenced by Vivaldi and Handel.
      [Concerto Op 10 included in Baroque Concerto from The Netherlands by Musica Ad Rhenum on NM Classics; and Solo & Trio Sonatas by Ensemble d'Auvergne on Globe]
    • Count Unico Willem van Wassenaer (1692 - 1766) was a Dutch diplomat and composer. His most important surviving compositions are the "Concerti Armonici," which until 1980 had been misattributed to the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. As the scion of a wealthy and distinguished family, the count did not publish the concertos under his own name. The style is Italian and close to that of Locatelli (who, by the way, spent the last years of his life in Amsterdam). These concertos formed the basis for Pulcinella by Stravinsky, who still considered them as composed by Pergolesi. Count Unico Willem van Wassenaer also composed three recorder sonatas.
      [Van Wassenaer, 6 Concerti Armonici by Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Ensemble on Apex]
    • Johan Nicolaas Lentz (ca. 1719 - 1782) was another Dutch composer of German origin. He was active in Rotterdam, where he also married the daughter of a local wine seller. He himself seems to have been active in the wine business as well. Just a few works have come down to us, among them two harpsichord concertos.
      [Lentz, Two Harpsichord Concertos  (with Six Symphonies by Heinsius) played by the Orchestra Van Wassenaer on BIS]
    • Pieter Hellendaal (1721 – 1799) was an Anglo-Dutch composer and violinist. At age 30, he migrated to England where he stayed the rest of his life. He is the best composer of Dutch origin of the 18th century. Typically, he had trouble finding a good position in music-barren Holland. Among his freelance assignments was a concert for Stadtholder Willem IV and his musically-minded English wife Anne, and it may have been the Princess who gave him the idea that England offered better career chances for an ambitious musician. He first established himself as a successful composer and violinist in London, where he also worked with Handel. In 1862 he moved to Cambridge where he settled down for the rest of his life. Besides violin and cello sonatas as well as solo works for harpsichord, his most important compositions are the six Concerto Grossi of 1758. Hellendaal wrote in the late Italian Baroque style.
      [Hellendael, 6 Concerti Grossi by European Community Baroque on Channel Classics]
    • Christian Ernst Graf (1723-1804) was a German Kapellmeister and composer. From 1762, he worked as official court composer for William V, Prince of Orange, in The Hague. Graf has left us several symphonies, violin sonatas, string quartets, trio sonatas and quintets for flute and strings, as well as piano works. One of his last and major works was the Easter cantata "Der Tod Jesu," dating from 1802. He also wrote a musical text book on harmony. His song "Laat ons juichen Batavieren" was used by Mozart for his variations KV 24.
      [Graf, Symphony in D Op 14.1 included in Crowning Glory - Symphonies from the 18th Century Court of Orange in The Hague, played by The New Dutch Academy conducted by Simon Murphy on Pentatone Classics]
    • Joseph Schmitt (1734-1791) was a Dutch composer, director and music pedagogue of German origin. After studying with Carl Friedrich Abel, he entered the clergy as a musical priest. In the early 1770s, Schmitt moved to Amsterdam. He quickly established himself in the city, becoming music director at the Felix Meritis society, where he worked for the next two decades. He also set up his own music publishing firm. Schmitt was the most important figure in Dutch musical life in the second half of the 18th century. His compositions are influenced by his teacher Abel, the Bach sons and the Mannheim school; they are sparkling and full of energy. Not for nothing has he been called the "Dutch Haydn." Schmitt played a pioneering role in the realisation of the Holland's first purpose built concert hall, the Felix Meritis. The hall opened in 1788 with Schmitt conducting the inaugural performance. In the 19th century, the hall became the central point of Dutch music life. Unfortunately, Schmitt has been largely forgotten in the Netherlands, although some of his music has been revived on a recent CD.
      [Schmitt, Early Symphonies and Chamber Music, played by The New Dutch Academy conducted by Simon Murphy on Pentatone Classics]

    Classical Music Index

    Thursday, February 6, 2014

    Setsubun Rite (Tsuinashiki) in the Nagata Shrine in Kobe

    Monday (February 3) was Setsubun, a festival that welcomes the start of spring and therefore a new beginning. This is done by purifying oneself and getting rid of all bad things - these "bad things" are symbolized as demons that are driven out. In this way, one can spend the year in good health. Temples and shrines all over Japan hold Setsubun ceremonies and rituals. Some of these are very superficial, such as those of Zojoji in Tokyo or the Ikuta Shrine in Kobe, where popstars, sports people and other cardboard figures throw handfuls of soy beans at the spectators. But there also exist interesting ceremonies with deep historical roots, such as those of the Yoshida Shrine in Kyoto, or the Nagata Shrine in Kobe.


    The Nagata Shrine stands in the area of Kobe that was hit hardest by the 1995 earthquake. The town has been rebuilt by pouring tons of concrete, but the Nagata Shrine stands in a small wood and seems far away from the danchi (clusters of apartment buildings). The oldest record about the shrine dates from the 9th century. But, on the other hand, archeological finds show there was a community in this area already in the Yayoi-period (200 BCE - 200 CE). The shrine probably originated in an old cult place of this community where nearby Mt Takatori (a so-called kannabi or sacred mountain) was venerated, so it does go back a long time, although in a more misty way than mythology asserts - in myth, its founding is ascribed to the ahistorical Empress Jingu, who presumably passed here in 201 CE on her way back from just such an ahistorical "conquest of Korea." Forget mythology - the shrine must have originated in a nature cult, like so many old shrines in Japan, and its amorphous kami was later deified, as happened all over the country when powerful clans took the reins and projected their deified ancestors over the originally formless natural forces. The ancestor deity here is Kotoshironushi, who came from the politically ascendant Yamato area (Nara area). It was probably adopted by the clan ruling at the foot of Mt Takatori to express an alliance with a powerful Yamato clan.


    As all shrines in Japan, for most of its history the Nagata Shrine was under the management of Buddhism, until the forced (and unnatural) separation of the two creeds by the Meiji Government in the early 1870s. Before the Meiji regime destroyed them, there also stood several temple buildings in the shrine grounds. One of these was a hall dedicated to Yakushi, the Buddha of Healing, and it was at this Yakushi Hall that the tsuinashiki Setsubun rite developed in the Muromachi period (1337-1573).


    The rite features several oni (demons) who are played by costumed men wearing ancient wooden demon masks. The men must be supporters of the shrine for many years and they undergo seclusion and purification the night before the ceremony. Carrying a large torch (taimatsu) and with a sword on the left side, they dance a pantomime on the stage in front of the shrine. During the dance they strike various poses (almost like sumo wrestlers), glaring at the public and swaying their torches to shower sparks on the devotees. This "purification by fire" has the same meaning as the large Omizutori ceremony at Todaiji in Nara in mid-March. The flames of the torches burn away all calamitous influences, just as the blades of the swords symbolically cut away all evil coming near.

    The dance is accompanied by the beat of a large drum and blowing on horagai (conch shells). In the evening, the ceremony (which starts at 14:00) ends with a mochi cracking ceremony, after which the onlookers take home bits of the extinguished torches and pieces of the cracked mochi.

    P.S. It is also customary to eat Ehomaki, large uncut sushi rolls on Setsubun.
    The Nagata Shrine is a 7 min walk N of Kosoku Nagata St on the Hankyu/Hanshin/Sanyo Dentetsu lines, or Nagata St on the Kobe subway line. The annual festival of the shrine is held on Oct. 17-19. The shrine is also a popular Hatsumode destination.