Friday, July 28, 2017

Modern Japanese Fiction by Year (2): 1905-1911 - Naturalism and Anti-Naturalism


In Part One we saw an early-Meiji-period Japan that was so busy modernizing and catching up with the West that there was almost no time to develop a new literature. At the beginning of the twentieth century the modern Japanese novel (with one or two exceptions) had hardly begun to grow beyond the naive political allegories and sentimental stories of the 1880s and 1890s. And when the sons of disenfranchised samurai turned to the study of literature, their texts were the same Japanese and Chinese classics that their fathers had used (resulting in the works of Koda Rohan - how interesting in themselves these are, this was not a truly modern literature). Language reform also was a process of several decades. It was not until the Meiji era was almost finished, that new authors would pioneer a new literature and address the change and transformation going on around them. The challenge was taken up around 1905 by two individualistic writers who had studied in Europe, Natsume Soseki and Mori Ogai, and to a lesser degree by two others, Shimazaki Toson and Tayama Katai, who started the fashion of Japanese Naturalism and the Shishosetsu. And at the very end of Meiji, other writers who would later be counted among the best of the century started their careers: Tanizaki, Shiga, Akutagawa. 

1905
Treaty of Portsmouth ends the Russo-Japanese War - Korea becomes a Japanese protectorate.

The first great decade of modern Japanese literature was the one which followed the end of the Russo-Japanese War. Japan had fulfilled its objective of becoming a leading nation in Asia by defeating both China and Russia, so the total devotion of the previous decades to the national mission was not anymore necessary. This trend had deep implications for the perception among the intelligentsia of what should be the role of the individual. Gradually there was a shift from the early Meiji conception of the link between personal success and prosperity of the nation and family, to an emphasis on more individual concerns. A new emphasis on inward directedness sanctioned the development of the autonomous self. It was now acceptable to explore psychological interiority, subjectivity and self-expression.

Natsume Soseki starts writing his "Swiftian" satirical novel Wagahai wa Neko de Aru (I Am a Cat), consisting of observations of the human world by a nameless cat. Soseki himself appears in thinly disguised form as Kushami Sensei (Master Sneeze), a teacher of English, and the book consists of the discussions this teacher has with his friends and colleagues, as observed by their feline visitor. The satire is directed at human foibles in general, but also more specifically at the late Meiji bureaucracy and blind admirers of the West among Japanese intellectuals. These shortcomings were all the more visible to Soseki, as a recent returnee from overseas. But there is more, as the book also abounds in philosophical discussions of literature and the arts. Soseki wrote the first chapter as a short story, but it proved so popular that he ended up writing a full novel (it is still possible to enjoy the first chapter of the novel as a self-contained short story). The "wagahai" in the title is a pompous word for "I" that is not in use anymore, but that establishes the humorous tone of the whole work as it just refers to a small cat. Wagahai wa neko de aru has retained its popularity. The novel was filmed several times, for example in 1936 by Yamamoto Kajiro with Fujiwara Kamatari, and in 1975 by Ichikawa Kon with Nakadai Tatsuya.
(Translation: I Am a Cat by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson, Tuttle Publishing)


Novelist, haiku-poet and scholar of English literature Natsume Soseki (real name: Natsume Kinnosuke; 1867-1917) was born in Tokyo and in 1893 graduated from the English Department of the Imperial University. He worked as a teacher at Matsuyama Middle School (where he associated with his friend, the haiku poet Masaoka Shiki) and elsewhere before being sent to London for study by the Japanese government. After his return to Japan he became a lecturer at Tokyo University. In 1905 he debuted as a writer with the satiric I Am a  Cat, followed in 1906 by the humorous Botchan. In 1907 Soseki surprisingly resigned from this venerable faculty position to edit a literary column at the Asahi newspaper. During the period of his employment at the newspaper he wrote approximately one long novel a year, which was published as a serial. Soseki focused on psychological depictions of modern intellectuals in Japan after the breathtaking changes that had taken place since 1868, of brooding, neurological characters as appear in his greatest novels Sore kara, Mon and KokoroAs the pioneer of modern Japanese psychological fiction, Soseki delved into the question of identity in the Meiji era and also concentrated on the problems of the individual in society. The clash between the group-oriented behavior of Japanese tradition and the individual action of the West is one of the intercultural frictions that in Soseki's fiction is faced at the level of the individual. His solution is ambivalent, as Soseki on the one hand is unwilling to completely abandon the essence of traditional Japanese behavior, but on the other hand also clearly perceives the benefits of individual freedom. Many of his fictional characters waver between social responsibility and individual freedom, and many are ruined when they are unable to find a balance between the two, drifting into torpor or even suicide. But Soseki realized that the choice for individual liberty also often meant the undertaking of acts of egotistical selfishness, and his novels abound in betrayals and egoistic rivalries (often in the form of love triangles). In the course of time Soseki would evolve from light to darkness, from social satire to his own philosophy of "sokuten kyoshi" (“Follow the will of heaven and obliterate the self”). In Japan, he is generally regarded as the greatest writer of the 20th century and his novels are central to the canon. Soseki never joined any group, such as the Naturalists, but he had his own gathering of disciples who since 1906 met weekly on Thursdays in his home. His most famous disciple would be Akutagawa Ryunosuke; he also supported the Shirakaba group.
(Study: Natsume Soseki by Beongcheon Yu, Twayne Publishers 1969; Chaos and Order in the Works of Natsume Soseki by Angela Yu, University of Hawaii Press, 1998; Three Modern Novelists: Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata, by Van C. Gessel, Kodansha)


1906
South Manchuria Railway incorporated.

Natsume Soseki publishes Botchan (The Young Master), the story of an impetuous and comically naive young man who leaves his native Tokyo to become a middle school teacher in Matsuyama. Although the novel has a basis in Soseki's own life, it is not autobiographical but a fully fictionalized account. Soseki uses the innocent and optimistic Botchan to offset the pettiness, arrogance and slyness of the other teachers (who represent normal society). Botchan at all costs follows his own convictions. With his sense of justice and reckless but righteous nature he represented an ideal for young Japanese of his time. However, Botchan is also a study of individualism carried to the extreme - a mixture of juvenile stubbornness, intolerance and self-assertiveness. Thanks to its mild humor, Botchan became the all-time bestselling Japanese novel. Like I am a Cat, Botchan can be compared to realistic European fiction in its method of description and element of social criticism. The hero is a living member of society and his thoughts and deeds are logically explainable. Botchan was filmed several times, for example in 1935 by Yamamoto Kajiro with Fujiwara Kamatari.
(Translation: Botchan by J. Cohn, Penguin Classics)

Natsume Soseki also writes Kusamakura (The Grass Pillow), a poetic "haiku-like" novel (as Soseki himself stated) that describes the weeks a painter spends at a remote hot spring hotel in Kyushu where he is the only guest. What keeps him tied to the place are the mysterious encounters he has with Nami, the daughter of the establishment, who has fled home from a broken marriage. Nami is self-willed, startling and enigmatic, her character foreshadows that of Mineko in Soseki's next novel, Sanshiro. The scene is set for a romantic entanglement, or so it seems, but nothing happens... "The novel flirts with plot as Nami flirts with the young man," as translator Meredith McKinney puts it in the introduction. We meet several local characters, such as a Zen priest and Nami's father who is a tea master, as well as the local barber and a porter. But Nami, through the highly dramatized images of herself she holds out to the narrator, is the still point around which this experimental novel moves. It is also a picture of life free of emotional entanglements, and the novel ends suitably when Nami catches a glimpse of her ex-husband and can not restrain a look of compassion. Ueda Makoto has remarked (in Modern Japanese Writers) that this work "can almost be called an essay on aesthetics written in novelistic form."
(Translation: Kasamukura by Meredith McKinney, Penguin Classics)

Shimazaki Toson writes Hakai (The Broken Commandment), the story of a young man, a teacher like Soseki's Botchan, who is a member of the outcast eta class (now called burakumin). His father has completely withdrawn from society, severing his ties with the eta community, and lives as a solitary herdsman in the mountains. It is therefore possible for his son to hide his background and lead a normal life. His father exacts the vow from him never to disclose his antecedents. The novel is the story of how the son consciously decides to break this vow. Because it brings up the social problem of the eta, this is perhaps the Japanese Naturalist novel that is closest to Western Naturalism. But it is also a story about personal emancipation. As the first large-scale realistic novel to be written after Futabatei's Ukigumo of 1886 (!), it was immediately recognized as a work of great importance. Hakai was filmed several times, most notably in 1948 by Kinoshita Keisuke with Ikebe Ryo and 1962 by Ichikawa Kon with Ichikawa Raizo.
(Translation: The Broken Commandment by Kenneth Strong, University of Tokyo Press)


Shimazaki Toson (Shimazaki Haruki; 1872-1943) was born in Magome in Nagano Prefecture, a post town along the Nakasendo highway. In the 1890s he made name as a Romantic poet, but later he became interested in Naturalist theories of description. After the success of his first Naturalist novel Hakai, Toson produced a series of semi-autobiographical novels exploring relationships in his extended family, such as in the novel Ie (The Family). His last novel, Yoake mae (Before the Dawn, 1929-1935) is a broad historical canvas about the impact of the economic and political developments in the Meiji-period on the Shimazaki family that had lived for generations in the mountains of Shinshu (Nagano). Toson's major novels are part of the canon.
(Study: The Kiso Road: The Life and Times of Shimazaki Toson by Janet A. Walker, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011; The Dawn that Never Comes, Shimazaki Toson and Japanese Nationalism by Michael Bourdaghs, Columbia U.P.)

Japanese Naturalism. I use the term "Japanese Naturalism" for "Shizenshugi," because in Japan the Western term "Naturalism" has been applied in a different way from its original meaning. In the West, Naturalism was a movement that tried to demonstrate how social conditions, heredity and the environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. It did so by depicting everyday reality, often in an objective or "scientific" way. The novels are often deterministic, i.e. the protagonist cannot escape from his hereditary predisposition. In contrast, Japanese Naturalism tends to be "realism with an admixture of subjectivity," in other words, a realistic and true (as opposed to fictional) description of the daily life of the author and his circleHakai was an exception, but the element of subjectivity was added the next year to the equation by Tayama Katai's Futon. After that, also Shimazaki Toson would start writing about himself, his family and friends, rather than about fictional characters. The Family (1910) traces the decline of his own house covering three generations, and New Life (1918) treats his own incestuous relationship with his niece.

The heyday of Japanese Naturalism fell between 1906 and 1910 - as a movement it was relatively short-lived. Important Naturalist authors, besides Toson and Katai (see below), are Tokuda Shusei, Masamune Hakucho, Chikamatsu Shuko and Iwano Homei. Most Naturalists stemmed from small landowning and samurai families in the provinces and as young men had come to Tokyo for study. Many of the Naturalists had been through a phase of Christianity in the 1890s. In fact, the Naturalists formed a new literary group, the most influential one after the disbanding of the Kenyusha. But unfortunately they produced little of lasting worth - except the novels by Toson and Katai, nothing of their work has remained in the canon.

Okakura Kakuzo publishes The Book of Tea in New York City.


1907
Tayama Katai (1872-1930) writes Futon (The Quilt), a novel about the unconsummated attraction a middle-aged writer feels for an idealistic female student, whose mentor he was and who lived in his house, described in sometimes embarrassing detail. The young woman was a modern intellectual and, instead of having any interest in her married teacher, became intimate with a student of her own age (taking her teacher's advice about individualism and romantic love seriously!). In the end the teacher has to do his duty by persuading her parents to allow her to marry the young man. The conclusion of the story created a shock: when the teacher realizes that his protégé has left his house forever, he takes out the bedding on which she used to sleep and "pressed his face to the quilt, filling his lungs with the odor of the woman he loved." The shock was all the more severe as the teacher in the story was clearly Katai, who related an episode from his own life. In other words, The Quilt was the undisguised confession by a well-known author. It gave a new, subjective direction to Japanese Naturalism, as mentioned above, and contributed to the future rise of the Shishosetsu (see below).
(Translation and study: The Quilt and Other Stories by Kenneth G. Henshall, University of Tokyo Press; study in Indra Levy, Sirens of the Western Shore, Columbia).

Tayama Katai also writes "Shojobyo" ("The Girl Watcher" aka "Maidenitis")
A writer dissatisfied with his marriage falls into the voyeuristic habit of watching girls on trains and streetcars (these modern inventions indeed brought men and women in closer proximity than had been normal in the past) and becomes so enraptured that he tumbles out of a streetcar and dies. A tale of urban alienation.
(Translation in The Columbia Anthology I; The Quilt and Other Stories by Kenneth G. Henshall, University of Tokyo Press; interesting discussion in Tokyo in Transit by Alisa Freedman, Stanford University Press; study also in Indra Levy, Sirens of the Western Shore, Columbia).


Born in Gunma Prefecture, Tayama Katai (Tayama Rokuya; 1872-1930) was trained in the Kenyusha, but after the death of Koyo he switched from a highly romantic style to a more sober realism under the influence of French literature (Maupassant, the Goncourt brothers). The Quilt made his reputation and was followed by three autobiographical novels consisting of Life (1903), The Wife (1908) and Family Ties (1910), which treat of his family, he himself being the leading character. In The Quilt Katai established the confessional mode as typical for "Naturalist" Japanese fiction. Katai wrote on purpose in a flat and unadorned style which he called "heimen byosha," "flat description." Major novels as Futon and Inaka kyoshi (The Country Teacher, 1909) are part of the canon.

Tayama Katai's Futon is generally seen as the precursor of the shishosetsu (or watakushi-shosetsu), an important form of prose narrative in Japan (especially during the Taisho period) that purports to represent faithfully the ordinary experiences of the author. The term "shishosetsu" is often wrongly translated as "I-novel," which - although a literal rendering - is incorrect: shishosetsu do not have to be in the I-form and can very well be in the third person. But they have to be "true," so a form of autobiographical "confession." This is in fact the return of the traditional Confucian idea that fiction is suspect (and not high literature, that is why it is called "shosetsu," "small words") and that only writings which "sincerely" reflect true experiences are worth considering as literature. The Western idea that a fictional narrative can through its characters and plot be used to express a truth of a higher order, was foreign to Japanese culture. The shishosetsu is thus a single-voiced, self-referential and unmediated work of literature in which the protagonist can be assumed to be the author. It is close to autobiography, but is still fiction and should not be confused with a real autobiography in which a more balanced overview of a writer's life is expected. The shishosetsu picked out just a few elements, often of a confessional or "shameful" nature. The most important shishosetsu authors were Shiga Naoya, Chikamatsu Shuko and Kasai Zenzo; others are Uno Koji, Muro Saisei and Mushanokoji Saneatsu. The shishosetsu dominated Japanese literature for many decades. Later shishosetsu authors are Dazai Osamu, Ozaki Kazuo and Kawasaki Chotaro. A postwar example is the novel Confessions of a Mask by Mishima Yukio, but other writers from the 1960s are Shimao Toshio, Yasuoka Shotaro, Shono Junzo, Abe Akita, Yoshiyuki Junnosuke, and Tomioka Taeko.
(see Edward Fowler, The Rhetoric of Fiction,, University of California Press, 1988; Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Rituals of Self-Revelation: Shishosetsu as Literary Genre and Socio-Cultural Phenomenon, Harvard University Asia Center, 1996)

Onna Keizu (A Woman's Pedigree) by Izumi Kyoka. A story about the supremacy of love, in a more accessible style than usual for Kyoka and therefore one of his most popular stories (often filmed and brought to the stage). Hayase Chikara, a researcher of German literature, has secretly married Otsuta, a geisha who was intimate with his teacher, Sakai Shunzo. Taeko, the daughter of Sakai Shunzo, is sought in marriage by one Kono Eikichi, the scion of an important family from Shizuoka. The Kono family therefore probes the antecedents of Taeko and they also come to Hayase. Hayase gets angry at the high-handed attitude of the Kono family and sets out to obstruct the marriage. But that also means his secret marriage to Otsuta becomes public knowledge. When Sakai hears about their liaison, he effects a separation between Hayase and Otsuta. When Hayase next gets involved in a pickpocket incident, he also looses his job at the university. Onna keizu was filmed several times, for example in 1962 by Misumi Kenji with Ichikawa Raizo and Kogure Michiyo. There is no English translation.

Natsume Soseki delivers the lecture Bungei no tetsugakuteki kiso (The Philosophical Foundations of Literature), an attempt to provide a cross-cultural framework for the interpretation of literature.
[Translated by Sammy I. Tsunematsu, Tuttle]


1908
Death of Kunikida Doppo (1871-1908).

Sanshiro by Natsume Soseki. A novel about a naive country student, Sanshiro, who goes to study in Tokyo and there experiences many new things. Sanshiro’s name consists of two figures: three and four, implying that he is 23 and 24 during the course of  the story. He has been reared in Kumamoto, on the southern island of Kyushu, in accordance with samurai values and is a total innocent in comparison with the sophisticated modern people of the capital. On his way to Tokyo, he meets a woman in the same train compartment who is interested in him, and when they are obliged to spend the night in Nagoya, she openly entices him. But the straitlaced young student firmly preserves his virginity and is called “chickenhearted” by the woman. This woman disappears from the story, but she will be replaced in Tokyo by the tantalizing Mineko, whose strange personality reminds Sanshiro of the woman he met on the train. Mineko is a member of the new enlightened class of intellectual Tokyo women – a sort of person he has never met before and therefore doesn’t know how to cope with. She leads Sanshiro on, though she is not seriously interested in him and eventually she marries another man. From his side, Sanshiro has been unable to express his true feelings to her. On the same train Sanshiro meets Professor Hirota, a 42-year old bachelor who, for all his cynical comments on modern society is surprisingly unworldly – he doesn’t even hold a teaching post. A fellow student of Sanshiro calls Hirota “the great darkness,” because he has read everything but doesn’t give off any light. Hirota recognizes the inevitability of change and modernization, but is dubious about Japan’s chances of surviving in the 20th c. Sanshiro falls under Hirota’s world-weary spell and is in danger of rejecting society. There is little drama in the book but as Sanshiro meets various events in Tokyo, he slowly begins to change, although he remains an unsophisticated youth who is no match for the cynical Hirota or Mineko, who refers to him as a “stray sheep,” suggesting his hesitation and bewilderment. But as a tale about a young man from the hinterland who is at first naively impressed by everything he sees in Tokyo, even the crowded trams (it takes some time before he dares ride them), and who is slow in loosing his old-fashioned morality, this is a genuinely moving book.
[Translation: Jay Rubin in Penguin Classics]

Yume juya (Ten Nights of Dreams) by Natsume Soseki
Soseki's most experimental work, ten sketches each containing a dream, an exploration of the author's subconsciousness. Some of the dreams are outright nightmares and others involve death and have an eerie quality. For example, in the third dream a horrible blind child rides on the shoulders of the author, directing him to a certain spot where, a hundred years ago, he has killed the child - who was his own. Yume juya offers a glimpse into the inner anxieties of Soseki, who on the one hand had to maintain the life of a public figure and gentleman, while on the other hand being fully aware of the brutal undercurrent of human behavior. One could also say that his major realistic themes such as the modernization of Japan and the suffocating power of the past are here powerfully expressed within a unique, fantastic framework. Yume juya was filmed in 2006 by a group of ten directors (each one tale), including Ichikawa Kon and Jisshoji Akio.
(Translation: Ten Nights of Dream by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson, Tuttle Publishing)

Nagai Kafu publishes Amerika Monogatari (Tales of America) and a year later Furansu Monogatari (Tales of France). In 1903 the 23-year old Nagai Kafu was sent by his businessman father to the United States for study. He would spend four happy years in the U.S. and one in France (the country where he as Francophile really wanted to go). On the West Coast, he wrote about the various types of Japanese living in the U.S.; in New York, in what is one of his best stories, "Ladies of the Night," he visited a high-class brothel - but he also wrote about low-class bars and Chinatown. Another  excellent story is "Rude Awakening," about a Japanese branch manager who discovers that the American secretary he has hired is in fact a prostitute. Kafu also lived in Washington where he worked for the Japanese legation. Here he also started on the banking career his father demanded of him and after one year the bank obligingly transferred him to their branch in Lyon, so that Kafu finally could visit his beloved France! With his focus on French literature, Kafu's attitude was that of the flaneur, the uninvolved observer. The best story in the French collection is "Kumo" (The Cloud), about a Japanese diplomat in Paris; also interesting is "Tasogare no Chichukai" (The Mediterranean in Twilight), written on his way home from Europe to Japan and conjuring up his nostalgia, while also touching (like many of the stories do) on Kafu's heartfelt love for Western classical music. Both collections of tales established his reputation, identifying him as a distinctive writer in a new, aesthetic tradition. These stories foreshadow his later work, in which, amid an increasingly populist and tiresome present, he would compose elegiac tales about an earlier and elegant Japanese culture.
(Translation: American Stories by Mitsuko Iriye, Columbia University Press; "The Mediterranean in Twilight" from Furansu Monogatari in The Columbia Anthology I)

1909
Ito Hirobumi, the Japanese resident-general in Korea, assassinated by Korean nationalist. 

English potter Bernard Leach arrives in Japan.

Death of Futabatei Shimei (1864-1909).

Sore kara (And Then) by Natsume Soseki. Together with the earlier Sanshiro and the later Mon, Sore kara has been seen as part of a trilogy. That doesn't mean these novels continue one and the same story, but rather that they describe similar protagonists at different stages of their lives: Sanshiro as a naive young man, Daisuke in Sore kara as a grown-up who experiences an existential crisis, and Sosuke in Mon as a man at an older age who has been ostracized by society. All three heroes are "black sheep," in his trilogy Soseki has delineated their decline. The alienated Daisuke is 30 years old and clearly sees the conflict between old and new in modern Japan - yet he is paralyzed by his inability to find new values. He recognizes that the world of feudal Japan has been swept away by modernization but that nothing has been created to take its place. Modern society therefore, as it precludes meaningful action, imposes inactivity upon him. But circumstances bring on an existential crisis and force him out of his indolence. Some years before, he has allowed his best friend, Hiraoka, to marry Michiyo, the woman he himself loved (and still loves). He only realizes his mistake when, for business reasons, his father presses him to marry someone else. What shall he do? He can try to win back Michiyo, but she has a heart condition... The book ends with his possible madness, tormented by the guilty conscience that he has to make amends to the woman he wronged - this all in a frenzied description that could not have been bettered by the French existentialists of many decades later. Soseki's darkest, but also his finest novel. Sore kara was filmed in 1985 by Morita Yoshimitsu with Matsuda Yusaku, and this, too, is a very good film.
[Translated by Norma Moore Field, Louisiana State University Press]

Mori Ogai writes Wita sekusuarisu (Vita Sexualis), a satire on the obsession with sex of the Naturalists in the form of a sexual autobiography, from the young protagonist's first exposure to the erotic ukiyo-e woodcuts to his first encounter at age twenty with a professional courtesan. Ogai insisted that the sex instinct, strong as it was, must be considered as only one aspect of human life and not necessarily the most important. There are some interesting vignettes in this novel, which reflect the early Meiji-period: at school and in the dorms the protagonist carries a dagger to protect himself from the aggressive bisexuality of some of the sons of samurai (after all, in the Edo-period nanshoku was quite normal among samurai and priests). We also find him looking up dirty words in a German dictionary, apparently something of all times and all cultures, just as the watching of "dirty pictures" in the form of the shunga the boy "borrows" from his father. And he feels a strong attraction to a mature and voluptuous woman who lives next door. The book ends when the twenty-year old protagonist confesses to his publisher that he is still a virgin and then is taken to an oiran in the Yoshiwara for a quick fix. Although it contains nothing outrageous, the novel was banned by the censor and Ogai was personally reprimanded by the vice-minister of war. As his own high government position made it impossible to criticize this censorship openly, he did so in a story, Chinmoku no to (The Tower of Silence), about the tall towers on Malabar Hill in which the Parsis dispose of their dead - as a symbol for the way in which the Meiji government silenced people who wrote "dangerous books."
(Translation: Vita Sexualis by Kazuji Ninomiya and Sanford Goldstein, Tuttle Publishing)

Iwano Homei, one of the foremost Japanese Naturalists, writes "Tandeki" (Self-Indulgence). "Self-Indulgence" describes Homei's (here called "Tamura") summer in the countryside, where he had gone to write without being disturbed. He confesses to being "decadent," in the sense of leading the egoistic life of a man whose conduct is entirely determined by his own needs and moods. His lodgings happen to be next to a restaurant where the geisha in residence, Kichiya, performs for customers. She has rather coarse features but gradually Tamura becomes attracted to her and soon they are lovers. But he is not the only one - he realizes his mistress will share herself with anyone, something which makes him shudder, but teaches him that indulgence is the essence of life. He presses Kichiya to become an actress and even sells the clothes of his wife to buy her release from the geisha contract. But then she goes to Tokyo where another lover is waiting to marry her... and Tamura gives her up without regret in this totally unsentimental story. "Tandeki" could not have been written without the example of Tayama Katai's Futon. Homei's stories were so close to his own experiences that some people questioned - even in his own day - whether they should be called novels or diaries. We may now criticize the fact that the protagonist doesn't consider the consequences of his actions, but in its time the hero's impulsiveness was admired as genuine and convincing.

Iwano Homei (1873-1920) was born in the island of Awaji and studied in Tokyo at the Meiji Gakuin, a Christian college, where his interest in literature was stimulated by Shimazaki Toson. Besides being an important poet in the new style (shintaishi), Homei is also considered as one of the chief representatives of Japanese Naturalism. He also propounded his concept of Naturalism in various critical essays. His best know story is the above, Tandeki. There are no translations of his work.

Nagai Kafu writes "The Fox," one of his best short stories. After returning from his long trip abroad, Kafu had written only about his travels. In this story based on a childhood memory he records the ambivalence he felt toward his authoritarian father and his feeling for his mother. In the end, the fate of the fox in this story brings all notions of human justice into question. It also is very nostalgic, as Kafu's subsequent work would be. At that time, in early Meiji, there were many empty residences that originally belonged to the retainers of the daimyo who had been forced to maintain a second residence in Edo. The father of the narrator has bought up a number of these and built a mansion with a large garden. This means one could still feel close to nature in Tokyo, all the more since a fox roams around killing the chicken in the mansion. The story ends with the desperate hunt for the fox and its death, which seems a gross injustice to the narrator. The story can be interpreted as a "ritual murder (by the father) directed against the archetypal maternal, lurking in the wooded low-lying area below the precipice in the garden," and also as a symbolic drama in which brooding memories stored up in an Edo space are eradicated by the utilitarianism and rationalism of Meiji "civilization and enlightenment." Typically for Kafu, the narrator has already begun to escape from the masculine world of "civilization and enlightenment" that encompassed the father, and has instead set out on his lifelong project of recovering concrete memories of an Edo space suffused with the maternal archetype (Maeda Ai).
[Translated by Lane Dunlop in Autumn Wind and other stories, Tuttle;study in "The Spirits of Abandoned Gardens: On Nagai Kafu's "The Fox"" in Text and the City, Essays on Japanese Modernity by Maeda Ai, edited by James A. Fujii, Duke U.P.]

Shimamura Hogetsu publishes Kindai bungaku no kenkyu (Studies in Modern Literature), a series of essays. Shimamura Hogetsu (1871-1918) was active as a literary critic and playwright. After study in Europe, he became professor at Waseda University. Besides helping to establish a new theater in Japan, Hogetsu was a strong promoter of the realism of the Japanese Naturalists.


1910
High Treason Incident: Kotoku Shosui implicated in plot to assassinate the emperor; executed the next year - Korea is made a colony of Japan - Expedition headed by Shirase Nobu departs to explore Antarctica.
 
The literary coterie Shirakaba-ha (White Birch Group) is founded by Mushanokoji Saneatsu, Shiga Naoya, Satomi Ton and others. It publishes the literary magazine Shirakaba, which existed from 1910 to 1923. Shirakaba-ha was a loose association of alumni of the prestigious Gakushuin Peer's School in Tokyo. Members (all from powerful and wealthy families, so the government turned a blind eye to their unconventional ideas) included writers, artists and literary critics. The group emphasized idealism, humanism and individualism, over the Naturalism that had been the dominant trend in Japanese literature since 1906. The Shirakaba-ha  also promoted European art trends as Expressionism and Post-Impressionism in Japan. And they were interested in Japanese folk art, which had previously been disparaged by traditional art critics. Early members included Shiga Naoya (1883-1971), Mushanokoji Saneatsu (1885-1976), Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961), Satomi Ton (1888-1983) and Arishima Takeo (1878-1923).

The literature written by members of the group was typically of the shishosetsu genre, and was concerned with the life of individuals, often incorporating optimistic philosophy into their work. Some of these individuals came from wealthy families, and attempted to emulate Tolstoy in creating utopian agrarian communes in remote parts of Japan. Because of this positive philosophy, which was very different from that of the Japanese Naturalists, the shishosetsu as written by Shirakaba-ha members is sometimes also called "shinkyo shosetsu," ("state of mind novels"). The "shinkyo shosetsu" writer, like the novelist of other shishosetsu (which because of their strong negative tendency were called "novels of self-destruction"), believes in the ego as the primary subject matter, but where the latter represents the unredeemed self in crisis, the "shinkyo shosetsu" represents the serene and harmonious state of mind arrived at by the protagonist after he has come out victoriously from a life crisis. The novelist's object in writing is to cultivate his mind so as to attain perfect harmony - in this sense literature is a way of life, a moral training. This is clearest and most beautifully exemplified in the writings of Shiga Naoya (see below). 
[Study: Meeting the Sensei: The Role of the Master in Shirakaba Writers, by Maya Mortimer, Brill Leiden]

Shiga Naoya's first story, "Abashiri made" ("As Far As Abashiri"), is published in the Shirakaba magazine. As Donald Richie has said, "...many of Shiga's best pieces consist of a simple incident upon which is brought to bear an enormous weight. Disliking plot with its editorial falsifications, Shiga (like his admirer the film director Ozu Yasujiro) returns to the simple happening all its original meaning" (Japanese Literature Reviewed, p. 223). Shiga's stories are the archetypal shishosetsu, although it should be added that in several of his early stories we have (sometimes even ingenuous) plot in the form of ideal experience or imagination. But most stories are based on either observation or autobiography. Here are some examples from the early stories:
- "One Morning" (Aru asa, 1908): the simple story of a young man who has trouble getting out of bed one morning, leading to a psychological game of resentment and reconciliation between him and his grandmother. An early example of how Shiga takes the small, insignificant events of everyday life and turns them into a work of literary art. The story also "shows the conflict between the protagonist's needs as an individual and his needs as part of a social group," as Roy Starr writes - an important theme in Shiga's work (in An Artless Art, the Zen Aesthetics of Shiga Naoya, p. 20).
- "As Far As Abashiri" (Abashiri made, 1910): a description of the author's brief acquaintance with an impoverished young mother traveling with two fretful children to the northern end of Japan on a train.
- "The Razor" (Kamisori, 1910): an unsuspecting customer has his throat cut by a barber irritated by his vulgarity. A story built on excitement of feeling.
- "The Paper Door" (Fusuma, 1911): two unconnected families happen to sleep in rooms in an inn with only paper sliding doors in between their rooms. There is a small incident when one of the fusuma is briefly opened at night. The narrator interprets it rather self-servingly as "a gesture by the countrified maid of the family next door, to express her love for him."
- "Seibei and His Gourds" (Seibei to hyotan, 1912), a simple story about a boy who collects gourds, selecting them for their aesthetic beauty with an unerring eye. Finally, Seibei's father and teacher force him to stop collecting gourds, but Seibei maintains his aesthetic values in the face of philistine attacks. Perhaps Shiga's motivation for the story came from his unhappiness with his father who judged that literature was unsatisfactory as a vocation.
- "An Incident" (Dekigoto, 1913): we are inside a trolley, full of dozing passengers, when an incident happens: a small boy almost gets run over. The shocked passengers spontaneously make friends with each other. In the meantime, a butterfly observed inside the carriage by the protagonist has flown away. But nothing is meant symbolically here. A perfect story without the convenience of a plot.
- "Han's Crime" (Han no hanzai, 1913), the story of a Chinese juggler's impulsive wife-slaying. In the end, he is judged to be innocent.
[All stories, except "One Morning" translated in The Paper Door and Other Stories by Lane Dunlop, Tuttle]


Shiga Naoya (1883-1971) was born in Ishinomaki (Miyagi Pref.) and later lived in Tokyo, Kyoto and various other parts of Japan. He was a master stylist who excelled at the short story form. He was the son of a successful businessman and received his education at the prestigious Peer's School. Between 1906 and 1910 he studied English and Japanese Literature at Tokyo University. In 1910 he set up the journal Shirakaba, together with like-minded friends from the Peer's School, and the short pieces he published in this magazine helped him establish a reputation as a promising new writer. Besides about 60 short stories and novellas, Shiga Naoya is also famous for the novel Anya koro (A Dark Night's Passing), published between 1921 and 1937. Although he wrote in the shishosetsu form (of which he was probably the foremost practitioner), like other Shirakaba writers his work belongs to what has been called "shinkyo shosetsu" (state of mind novel), as in contrast to the negative and destructive shishosetsu, we find a harmonious and elevated state of mind acquired as a result of overcoming a crisis, and a great clarity of insight.
[Study: An Artless Art, the Zen Aesthetics of Shiga Naoya, by Roy Starrs, Curzon Press]

Mushanokoji Saneatsu writes Omedetaki hito (An Innocent). The hero, who has fallen in love with Tsuru, a young woman in his neighborhood, is time and again rejected by her, but he keeps proposing as each time he is able to convince himself that she didn't mean it. This self-delusion continues when he hears she has married another man, for now he tells himself that she must have been pressed into doing so. With a sort of childish innocence, the hero keeps optimistically believing in the future. Mushanokoji has been said to have added the essential element of self-confidence to the shishosetsu. Most Western critics see Mushanokoji's literature as too simplistic and naive, but in Japan he is highly appreciated for his primitive vitality. I remember Japanese fellow students mentioning him as their favorite author when I studied in Kyoto in the early 1980s.


Mushanokoji Saneatsu (1885-1976) was a novelist and playwright who went on to become a Tolstoyan humanist in his later years. From 1918 to 1926 he lived in an utopian commune which he founded in Kyushu. Mushanokoji was the son of a viscount and the most aristocratic among his friends at the Peer's School. He was the driving force the Shirakaba-ha or "White Bitch Society," a group that promoted cooperation between artists who had in common that they were opposed to the Naturalists. Mushanokoji is part of the canon with such novellas as Omedetaki hito and Yujo (Friendship). The difference in appreciation outside Japan is demonstrated by the fact that there are no modern translations of his work.
[Study: Meeting the Sensei, The Role of the Master in Shirakaba Writings, by Maya Mortimer, Brill Leiden]

Mon (The Gate) by Natsume Soseki is the portrait of a married couple, who for their transgression in the past have been ostracized from society, but who hold together with a sort of quiet love, in muted suffering. Sosuke and Oyone live in gentile poverty, Sosuke earns just enough as a low-ranking civil servant to make both ends meet. They rent a rather dark and cheerless house in Tokyo, and have no contact with family, no friends or acquaintances. Their solitary existence is wholly uneventful. You could almost say that they live as recluses in the big city, their gate always closed. This seclusion has been caused by a dark spot in their lives. When he was a promising student at Kyoto University, Sosuke had a good friend, Yasui. Sosuke has shamelessly betrayed this close friend by robbing him of his beautiful wife, causing a scandal in the university town - these were strict times in which students were supposed to be models of society - that ruins both their careers. Their joint betrayal of Yasui has left both Sosuke and Oyone with a feeling of guilt. Although Sosuke loves Oyone tenderly, he is increasingly tormented by the memory of his past behavior.... Sosuke eventually seeks salvation through Zen, by staying at Engakuji in Kamakura, but in vain.
[Translation by William F. Sibley in New York Review Books (replacing the older translation by Francis Mathy in Tuttle Books); study "In the Recesses of the High City: On Soseki's Gate" by Maeda Ai in Text and the City, Duke U.P.]

Tanizaki Junichiro writes "Shisei" (Tattoo / The Tattooer), the first short story written by this major 20th c. author. Set in the Tokugawa period, the story tells how a tattooer becomes enslaved by a beautiful young woman whom he selects originally to be the victim of his painful skill by inscribing a giant spider on her body. Seikichi finds a secret, sadistic pleasure in piercing the skin of his customers with his tattoo needles. His dream is to find a beautiful woman and to inscribe on her skin a tattoo imbued with his own cruel spirit. After searching for four years, he finally finds a young woman who not only has an immaculate white skin, but who also has a hidden, cruel streak. After the artist has tattooed the giant spider on her body, the woman's beauty takes on a demonic, compelling power, in which eroticism is combined with sado-masochism. She becomes the "femme fatale" he has always dreamed about, but he also becomes her first victim. The epitome of the later literary style of Tanizaki is revealed in this early story: the author's indulgence in sensual romanticism, his taste for the grotesque, his aspiration for feminine beauty, his admiration for sadistic women... It marked the birth of a new romantic literature in the form of modern decadence, by fusing "Edo taste" with Western Modernism. The femme-fatale is a theme repeated in many of Tanizaki's early works, including "Kirin" (1910), "Shonen" ("The Children", 1911), "Himitsu" ("The Secret," 1911), and "Akuma" ("Devil", 1912). "Shisei" was filmed in 1966 as Irezumi by Masumoto Yasuzo, with Wakao Ayako. Another (contemporary) adaptation was made in 2007 by Zeze Takahisa.
[Trans. Howard Hibbet, in Seven Japanese Stories, Vintage).


Tanizaki Junichiro (1886-1965) was a master storyteller and stylist whose novels have influenced numerous writers in Japan. He was born in Tokyo, but moved to the Kansai area after the Great Tokyo Earthquake in 1923. Tanizaki started his writing career with sensual and decadent short stories as "Shisei" (The Tattooer) in which a tattoo artist inscribes a giant, evil spider on the back of a beautiful woman - this gives her a demonic power of which the artist becomes the first victim, something he masochistically accepts. Other novels, as Naomi, reflect the rapid modernization of Japanese society in the tale of a dandy who tries to groom a cafe girl with English and music lessons and in his obsession puts up with all her whims and even infidelities. After relocating to Western Japan, Tanizaki's dandyism and fascination with the West were replaced with a renewed appreciation of classical Japanese culture, as is evidenced by the essay In Praise of Shadows. His renewed interest in classical Japanese literature culminated in his multiple translations into modern Japanese of the eleventh-century classic The Tale of Genji (1941, 1954 & 1965). He first lived in (still rather Western) Ashiya, where he wrote masterworks as Arrowroot, The Reed Cutter and A Portrait of Shunkin - all stories of men who find happiness in absolute devotion to haughty or unapproachable women. He also started on what would become his most famous novel, The Makioka Sisters, a realistic tale about the decline of a proud Kansai family, which he completed five years later after moving to Kyoto in 1948. Tanizaki had of course often visited Kyoto even when he lived in the Kanto and was quite familiar with the city. The Shimogamo of his last Kyoto address returns in the beautiful novella The Bridge of Dreams - which Tanizaki wrote three years after he had exchanged the cold Kyoto winters for the warmer climes of Atami. Tanizaki was shortlisted for the Nobel prize in literature, but died in 1965 before anything could come of that. He was buried in the Honenin temple in Kyoto.
[Studies: Chambers, Anthony Hood, The Secret Window: Ideal Worlds in Tanizaki's Fiction, Harvard U.P.; Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists, Kodansha International; Ito, Ken Kenneth, Visions of Desire: Tanizaki's Fictional Worlds, Stanford U.P.]

Mori Ogai writes Seinen (Youth). In his creative work, Mori Ogai went through 4 phases: the three novellas as Maihime, written in a classical style but with a modern content; this was followed by a long period in which Mori Ogai was active (and very influential) as translator and critic, but published no new creative work; the second period from 1909 to 1912, in which Ogai wrote contemporary stories about his own experiences in a clear, modern style; the period from 1912 to 1916 in which Ogai concentrated on historical stories, often in a classical style; and the years from 1916 when Ogai wrote three biographies of doctors from the Edo period. Ogai was inspired by Natsume Soseki's Sanshiro when he wrote Seinen as his own novel of youthful discovery of the inner life. He was also inspired by the German "Bildungsroman," such as Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. Ogai's protagonist, Koizumi Junichi, is, like Sanshiro, a young man coming from the provinces to Tokyo in order to experience the excitement of the big city. Ogai himself appears in the book in the guise of the writer Hirata Fuseki. With themes as self-recognition and resignation, Seinen is best read in conjunction with Vita Sexualis, another account of a young man coming to maturity, in the intellectual as well as emotional sense, as well is the slightly later The Wild Geese. Youth is a great source of information about the intellectual, social and artistic attitudes of around 1910. It is full of authentic atmosphere.
(Translation: Mori Ogai, Youth and Other Stories, ed. J. Thomas Rimer)

Ie (The Family) by Shimazaki Toson, a sprawling novel that describes the disintegration of the Koizumi and Hashimoto families over a twelve-year period. Central are the characters of Koizumi Sankichi, a writer who is a schoolteacher in a poor mountain village; his older sister Otane who has married into the Hashimoto family; and Oyuki, the wife of Sankichi. Nothing is going as it should: Oyuki seems to be corresponding with a former lover, and the traditional business of the Hashimoto family declines. Otane tries to hold things together, even as her husband runs away with a geisha. Sankichi moves his family to Tokyo. While he struggles as a novelist, his children die from undernourishment. Friction with his wife Oyuki increases as Sankichi is on the verge of an incestuous relationship with a niece. Shota, the son of Otane, tries to revive the family fortunes by playing the stock market, but he fails and he dies from tuberculosis. At the end of the novel, the exhausted Sankichi and Oyuki seem to have reached a quiet understanding with each other. The novel, which has been designated a masterpiece of Japanese Naturalism, is largely an autobiographical account of Toson's own life and many members of his family appear as characters.
(Translation: The Family by Cecilia Segawa Seigle, University of Tokyo Press)

Uta andon (A Song by Lantern Light) by Izumi Kyoka, two stories combined into one, about a young No actor who has been ostracized from his family because of his arrogance. The story ends in reconciliation. The reader must jump back and forth between two narratives, two sets of characters and two sites of narration until these merge near the end. The story also contains numerous references to Jippensha Ikku's famous novel Shank's Mare (Tokaido dochi hizakurige, 1802-1809), and especially the part where the two heroes become separated when traveling in the Ise area. It also makes use of the No play The Diver (Ama), in which the heroine sacrifices herself by diving deep into the sea. The structure can be said to anticipate cinematic collage. Boldly experimental, this is usually considered as Kyoka's masterwork. Filmed in 1943 by Naruse Mikio (with a changed, happy ending).
(Translation: In Light of Shadows by Charles Shiro Inouye)


Tono monogatari (Legends of Tono) by Yanagita Kunio. Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962) was interested in both literature and folklore studies and Legends of Tono stands at the borderline of these two activities: it is excellent literature but also a precious record of peasant life in the rural Tono area. Many of the 119 short pieces are a sort of "sketches of memories," i.e. "remarkable and extraordinary experiences told in the first person." Although two fairy tales have been included as well, many of the records are not even stories, but flimsy pieces of things heard or seen. That makes the book all the more interesting as a real account of the world of Tono - both things seen and unseen... much space is taken up by the fear for the supernatural.
[Translated by Ronald A. Morse, Lexington Books]

Chikamatsu Shuko writes Wakareta Tsuma ni Okuru Tegami (Letter to My Wife Who Left Me). A typical autobiographical shishosetsu describing in epistolary style the solitude and misery of the narrator, who has been left by his wife. In fact, this story is part of a series of six (also including the later Giwaku) which has been dubbed the "Estranged Wife" cycle. The narrator feels he has been betrayed by a woman who was no longer prepared to act the part of his wife unless he legally marry her. He, however, considers official marriage as nothing more than a piece of paper. The narrator reflects on his past life with his wife and hopes for her quick return, despite rumors that she now lives with another man. Strangely, much of the letter is devoted to a description of a rivalry with a colleague over a prostitute with whom he had become intimate in an attempt to overcome his loneliness. The narrator has been called a "holy fool" because of his continuous swings of emotion, his boundless egoism, his unreasonableness and his utter disregard for reality. This story has not been translated.
[Study in: The Rhetoric of Confession by Edward Fowler, California U.P.]

Chikamatsu Shuko (1876-1944) was born in Okayama and graduated from what is now Waseda University. He became a prominent writer of Shishosetsu in the Naturalist manner, known for his confessional tales of betrayal and humiliation. Except the above title, famous works are Giwaku (Suspicion, 1913) and Kurokami (Black Hair, 1922).

Ishikawa Takuboku publishes his first collection of tanka verse, A Handful of Sand


1911 
Feminist organization Seitosha (Blue Stocking Society) founded. 

Mori Ogai starts serializing Gan (The Wild Goose), a story about the tentative attraction between a medical student, Okada, who must soon leave for Germany, and Otama, the beautiful young mistress of an unpleasant money-lender, Suezo. She has become the moneylender's mistress to alleviate the poverty of her aging father and has been set up by him in a small house on a quiet street. The student often passes her house on his daily walk, and they start noticing each other - he even kills a snake for her - but the dream is more on her side and in the end he leaves Tokyo before anything like a romance can develop. Although the narrative is introduced and closed by a friend of Okada, the point of view later shifts to Otama, focusing on her situation and showing how she develops a modern self-consciousness and learns to stand up against her patron. This nostalgic and lyrical story is also a historical recreation of the Tokyo of around 1880, which is described in detail: the daily routine of Okada's walks, the environs of the old Tokyo Imperial University, the lonely slope called Muenzaka where Otama lives. Ogai records the activity of the university students, their boardinghouse lives, and their browsing in secondhand bookshops. Beautifully filmed in 1953 by Toyoda Shiro with Takamine Hideko.
[Translated by Burton Watson, University of Michigan; older translation as The Wilde Geese by Kingo Ochiai and Sanford Goldstein, Tuttle]

Nagai Kafu writes Sumidagawa (The River Sumida), his most lyrical but also elegiac story, about a disappearing way of life. After his return from abroad, Kafu sought the remnants of his own culture in various corners of modern Tokyo. In Sumidagawa, he attempts to find the shadows of the past in the lives of such people as a female instructor of tokiwazu music, a professional haiku master, a geisha, and Kabuki actors. The tale starts and ends with episodes about haiku master Ragetsu; in between these chapters we find the affecting story of a boy named Chokichi, his nephew. Chokichi's mother, although a teacher of traditional music, wants her son to follow the new Meiji times and go to university. She sacrifices herself to pay for his school so that he can become a bureaucrat. Chokichi is however drawn to the Kabuki and its music, and wants to become a professional shamisen player. At the same time, he looses his girlfriend, Oito, as she has to become a geisha and suddenly has grown up and become too old for him (reminding us of the story Udekurabe by Higuchi Ichiyo). At the end of the story, despairing of ever finding happiness, Chokichi falls ill, having caught typhus. The ending is open, we don't know whether he will recover as his uncle fervently hopes. The most beautiful section is the opening of the story, a sort of michiyuki, in which Ragetsu travels from his house on the left bank of the Sumida to visit his sister and nephew, who live in Imado on the other bank. Impressive are also the descriptions of the changes brought by the seasons to the river scenery, which occur in every of the ten chapters. As usual in Japanese novels, the story is of less importance than the atmosphere Kafu is evoking. As Donald Keene says, "The river, the little houses on the embankment, the bridges, the groves of trees visible in the temple grounds across the river are as much 'persons' in the story as Chokichi, Oito, and the rest. [...] The characters are hardly more than sketched, and remain two-dimensional, but the composition, as in a beautifully executed ukiyo-e, is flawless, and the coloring exquisite." (Donald Keene, Dawn to the West, p. 423). Indeed, the story reminded me of the romantic Meiji-period ukiyo-e of Kobayashi Kiyochika.
(Translation: Kafu the Scribbler, The Life and Writings of Nagai Kafu by Edward Seidensticker, Stanford University Press)

Masamune Hakucho writes the Naturalist story "Doro ningyo" (The Clay Doll), a fictionalized account of the unhappy start of his own married life. After having met a number of prospective brides without being impressed by any one of them, Moriya Jukichi, the central figure, is talked into marrying a young woman from the provinces with a traditional upbringing for whom he feels no affection. In an apathetic state of mind he agrees, but is later mortified to have to share his life with a wife he can only regard as "a doll of clay." From her side, the wife has been schooled to expect that patience and devotion to her husband will eventually be rewarded, but she waits in vain for some sign of affection from him, as he spends most nights out of the house with other women. A sarcastic story that demonstrates the negative point of an arranged marriage.
(Translation in The Columbia Anthology I)


Masamune Hakucho (real name: Masamune Tadao; 1879-1962) was a novelist, playwright and critic from Okayama. After studying English as a missionary school, at age 17 he moved to Tokyo, where he entered the English course of what is now Waseda University (receiving lessons in Shakespeare from Tsubouchi Shoyo; in the new century, Waseda University also became the center of Japanese Naturalism). He was a follower of the Japanese Christian thinker Uchimura Kanzo and was baptized in 1897. Uchimura promoted a mild brand of New England Protestantism which appealed more as philosophy than as religion and which gave young writers a perspective from which to criticize the Meiji state. Hakucho lost his faith already a few years later, like the other writers who had embraced Christianity in the 1890s. The first story proclaiming Hakucho's emergence as a Naturalist writer was Jinai (Dust) from 1907, a story in which he captured the bleakness of the life of a proofreader in a newspaper office. This and other stories that followed, such as Doko e (Whither?) from 1908, were deeply pessimistic, even close to despair. Shisha seisha (The Dead and the Living, 1916) treats the breakdown of the family system through the selfishness of contemporary urban life. Later in life, Hakucho mainly wrote plays and criticism, including a authoritative history of the Naturalist movement in Japan. Akutagawa rated Hakucho as the "best of the Naturalists."

Philosopher Nishida Kitaro publishes Zen no Kenkyu (A Study of Good).
 
[Reference works used: Dawn to the West by Donald Keene (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984); Modern Japanese Novelists, A Biographical Dictionary by John Lewell (New York, Tokyo and London: Kodansha International, 1993); Narrating the Self, Fictions of Japanese Modernity by Tomi Suzuki (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996); Oe and Beyond, Fiction in Contemporary Japan, ed. by Stephen Snyder and Philip Gabriel (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999); Origins of Modern Japanese Literature by Karatani Kojin (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993); The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature, 2 vols, ed. by J. Thomas Rimer and Van C. Gessel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005 and 2007); The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature by Susan J. Napier (London and New York: Routledge, 1996); Writers & Society in Modern Japan by Irena Powell (New York, Tokyo and London: Kodansha International, 1983).]

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Best Symphonies from the Twentieth Century, Part One (1900-1933)

The 19th century witnessed a symphonic tradition under the leadership of the German-speaking countries. Seen from an intercultural viewpoint, the symphony with its intricate structure based on sonata form is a typical product of German "engineering." Composers from other countries, from as far away as Russia and America, therefore all traveled for study to Germany. It is only in the last decades of the century that symphonic activity spread evenly to other countries, thanks to the technical revolution which brought greater wealth. At the same time, nationalism was on the rise, and the symphony was a suitable vehicle for the expression of the various "national styles." Even in opera-crazy countries as Italy and France, composers started writing symphonies, and the same was true for countries as England and The Netherlands, which had been in a deep musical winter sleep until about 1880.


In the early 20th century, German-lead symphonism found its highest expression in the mega-symphonies of Gustav Mahler, but ended abruptly with the defeat in the Great War of both Germany and the Double Monarchy - that last state fell apart, leaving Austria with Vienna as a small rump-state. Typically, the two symphonies Schoenberg wrote were for chamber ensemble, as was the miniature Symphony by Webern.

The symphonic tradition was however continued elsewhere, in the Soviet Union (where Shostakovich, the 20th century's greatest symphonist after Mahler, lived; he wrote 15 symphonies; other Russian symphonists are Myaskovsky (27), Weinberg (22) and Prokofiev (7)), in the United States (Harris, Schuman, Copland, Hanson, Bernstein, Piston, Thomson and others), in Scandinavia (Sibelius, Madetoja, Nielsen, Langgaard, Pettersson, Holmboe, Wiren, Nørgård, Rautavaara etc), in England (Elgar, Bax, Brian, Walton, Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold), in The Netherlands (Vermeulen, Andriessen, Pijper, Gilse, Badings), in France (Roussel and Milhaud), in Italy (Casella, Malipiero), in South America (Chavez, Villa-Lobos), in Japan (Yamada, Akutagawa, Mayuzumi, Bekku, Ohki, Ifukube), and elsewhere.

The symphony kept flourishing and even survived the 20th century's next disaster, that of the Second World War, which in Europe led to a strong disillusionment with traditional culture (as this had been implicated in Nazism). Music went down the path of increasingly sterile atonality, finally winding down into non-musical "sonological" experiments. Thankfully, we have survived even the destruction by the postwar generation, and... the symphony is still doing great! Now, as in the past, writing a symphony is considered as the highest proof of musical mastery.

In the 20th century, symphonies were written in all countries of the world that were influenced by Western culture, and they show the greatest variety imaginable. We also find many eccentric composers, who stubbornly went their own "enfant terrible" way. The symphony in the 20th c. provides a colorful and multi-faceted spectacle, ranging from the mystical struggles of Scriabin and Langgaard, the Gothic choral edifices of Brian, the multiphonies of Ives, the ironies of Nielsen and Sibelius in their last symphonies, a symphony honoring silent film Hollywood stars by Koechlin, to the extreme essays in aleatoric music with a great diversity of quotations by Schnittke, the meditations by Hovhaness which include not only Armenian and Indian elements, but also Chinese and Japanese, a symphony including a full performance of a traditional Japanese Nagauta by Yamada and a symphony bringing Buddhist shomu chant on stage by Mayuzumi, or Philip Glass' symphony "Heroes" which is based on music by David Bowie and Brian Eno...

Here are my favorite 20th century symphonies (Part One, from the first three decades of the century):

1. Alexander Scriabin, Symphony No 3 in C minor Op 43 "Le Divin Poème" [1904]
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1916) was an eccentric who lived in his own fantasy world. He also was a typical fin-de-siecle artist, a voluptuary who translated some of the period's Art Nouveau atmosphere into lush and often orgiastic sound. Scriabin wrote five "philosophical" symphonies: the Mahlerian Symphony No 1 (1899-1900), in six movements and with solists and chorus in the exalted hymn to art of the final movement; the Symphony No 2 (1901), a gloomily introspective work which however doesn't lack in vitality and grandeur; the Symphony No 3 (1902-4) subtitled "The Divine Poem," in three movements: "Luttes," "Voluptés" and "Jeu Divin;" the Poem of Ecstacy (1905) which Scriabin called his Symphony No 4 even though that rather stretches the definition of the form - it is again a combination of sensuality with spirituality crashing over the listener in undulant waves of sound; and finally the similar Prometheus "Le Poème du feu" (1910) with a rhapsodic and hieratic character. The last two works are shorter than the first three (roughly 20 minutes in playing time rather than 50) and are of course more like symphonic poems. My favorite is the Third Symphony, about which I have already written in my post about eccentric symphonies by cult composers. Here are the main points. Scriabin's Third Symphony is a sort of fin-de-siecle "soul drama," written for vast orchestral forces. The subject matter of the symphony is the development of the human spirit towards the divine. Man's Ego consists of a "divine part" and "slavish part" and these continually struggle with each other, until they finally attain unity and bliss and so true freedom. The symphony consists of three parts, linked without pause: (1) Luttes ("Struggles"), a mysterious and tragic Allegro in c minor; (2) Voluptés ("Delights"), a sublime Lento in E major; and (3) Jeu divin ("Divine Play"), a radiantly joyful Allegro in C major. The work starts with a short prologue (Lento) which introduces the three leading motives of the symphony: "Divine Grandeur" (an unforgettable motif in the low brass), "The Summons to Man" (an ascending trumpet call) and the "Fear to approach, suggestive of Flight" (literally "flighty" strings). And of course, if you prefer to regard all these metaphysics as so much hot air, you can also enjoy Scriabin's music on a purely abstract level!
[Youtube] [Performance listened to: Neeme Jarvi with The Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra on Chandos]

2. Josef Suk, Asrael Symphony for large orchestra in C minor Op 27 (1905-1906)
Another mega-symphony in an intensely personal vein, although here a more singular utterance as Josef Suk only wrote one more symphony, an earlier one which is a somewhat bland affair borrowing heavily from Brahms and Dvořák. Suk was more a salonesque miniaturist (he wrote many small piano pieces, although these were usually linked in series) than a symphonist. Except in this huge and shattering funeral symphony, dedicated to the memory of the composer Dvořák, Suk's mentor and father-in-law, and Suk's wife Otylka, who also happened to be Dvořák's daughter. Suk started work on the symphony about eight months after Dvořák's sudden death; when he was in the middle of the composition, in July 1905, also his wife Otylka died at age 27, so he recast the work in two parts to commemorate both persons nearest to him: the first three movements dedicated to Dvořák, and the last two to Otylka. The resulting ambitious work was a novelty for Suk in its grand scale and solemn style. The solemn opening of the first movement starts with a fate theme that is heard throughout the symphony. Asrael, by the way, is the Angel of Death. The fourth movement is a gentle portrait of Suk's wife, warm in tone. The finale culminates in an all-passion-spent version of the fate theme as a musical sign that Suk had come to terms with his grief. The final chord is in C major. Asrael is hyper-emotional music, a larger-than-life creation.
[Youtube] [Performance listened to: Libor Pesek with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra on Virgin Classics]

3. Alfredo Casella, Symphony No 1 in B minor Op 5 (1906)
A first symphony, written by a 22-year young composer, but with a truly distinctive identity. Alfredo Casella (1883-1947) came from an old Torino family and studied at the Conservatoire in Paris with Gabriel Fauré. Although Ravel was a good friend, Casella was not influenced by French Impressionism, but rather by the great Austrians as Mahler and Strauss, as well as Russian composers as Rimsky-Korsakov. Thanks to his Italian lyricism and keen sense of drama, his music is all his own, as is demonstrated in this symphony, the first of three (the second was written in 1909, the third in 1940). The orchestration, for one thing, is very imaginative, making frequent use of dark, crepuscular sonorities. The symphony is in three movements (which may be the only French aspect) and starts with gloomy cello/bass led music answered by rocking woodwind and harp. The slow movement is a melancholy meditation, the 20-minute long third movement employs the second theme of the opening movement as a chorale. There are several big climaxes, but the music ends softly, with an enigmatic return of the opening melody on solo cello. A symphony brimming with energetic youthfulness.
[Performance listened to: Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma conducted by Francesco La Vecchia on Naxos]

4. Arnold Schoenberg, Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 (1906) 
Schoenberg represents the reaction against the huge (in length and number of performers) symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler. Anyway, ten years after Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony, when the war had been lost by Austria and the empire fallen apart, there was no interest anymore in exaggerated utterances and small chamber-like symphonies became the norm in the German-speaking world (and not only there: in the 1920s, also elsewhere in Europe Neo-Classicism with its smaller forms took hold, while the contents changed from deep confessions to light entertainments). We also find a further step in the dissolution of tonality in this symphony from 1906. The symphony is remarkable for its whole-tone and quartal harmony, and its initiation of dynamic and unusual ensemble relationships, involving dramatic interruption and unpredictable instrumental allegiances. The form is a Lisztian model, that is to say, in the broad outlines of a single-movement sonata, the scherzo and andante are interpolated between the sonata's formal sections. There is an unparalleled beauty and wealth of ideas in this work, which belies its short duration of only 20 minutes. The 15 solo instruments have all individualized parts (like in chamber music), which has been combined with a symphonic approach.
[Youtube] [Performance listened to: Michael Gielen with the SWF Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden on Philips (with piano concerto)]

5. Gustav Mahler, Symphony No 10 in F sharp (1910)
Mahler is the most typical late 19th-early 20th century symphonic composer, the man of the mega-symphony, of symphonies in which he expressed a whole world view. Mahler wrote ten symphonies: 1 (1888), 2 (1894), 3 (1896), 4 (1901), 5 (1902), 6 (1904), 7 (1905), 8 (1907), 9 (1910), 10 (1910), as well as Das Lied von der Erde (1908-1909), which was in fact his Ninth Symphony but not counted as such for superstitious reasons. Mahler's first four symphonies are often classed as his "Wunderhorn" group owing to thematic links with settings of songs from the anthology of German folk poems "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("Youth's Magic Horn"). Symphonies 5 to 8 are then "middle period," and 9 and 10 "late works." As Mahler said: "My symphonies represent the content of my entire life." Mahler used his symphonies to explore psychological states and philosophical questions that still mesh powerfully with audiences 100 years after his death. When 40 years ago I started listening to Mahler (I had a series of records with Rafael Kubelik as conductor, which I played until they were gray), he was by far not as popular as today, although his ascent had already begun thanks to among others the efforts of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and, separately, Leonard Bernstein. When I was a student, Mahler's music was my daily companion. I got to know his symphonies very well, except one: No 10, Mahler's last, uncompleted symphony, and that is therefore the one I want to discuss here. No 10 is often left out of recordings of the full symphonies, and I developed the mistaken idea that it was just a series of sketches. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Not only is there a complete draft score, Mahler also already scored movements 1 and 3. A draft score is not a final score - Mahler used to change many details while scoring - but close enough to say that what we have of the 10th symphony is true Mahler, and not Deryk Cooke (the musicologist who with several collaborators made the performing version which is usually played today). Moreover, the 10th symphony also is more positive than the "dark night of the soul" of the 9th Symphony. Instead of plunging farther into a preoccupation with death, Mahler was clearly moving again towards a more vitally creative attitude. The 10th Symphony has an extraordinary structural balance: two Adagios frame two scherzos, which themselves frame a sort of intermezzo called "Purgatorio." The symphony starts in death-haunted nostalgia, moves to forced happiness and unease, until finally achieving serenity in the finale. It is interesting to ponder what Mahler's 11th Symphony would have been like, and how his career would have proceeded had he lived longer...
[Article in The Atlantic about the 10th Symphony]
[Youtube] [Performance listened to: Simon Rattle with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on EMI Classics]

6. Edward Elgar, Symphony No 2 in E Flat, Op 63 (1909–1911)
That Edward Elgar was not only the patriotic composer of imperial Pomp and Circumstance cliches, is demonstrated by his sensitive Second Symphony (and by his excellent chamber music). Elgar wrote his First Symphony in 1908 when he was 50, a confident, triumphant, but also rather imperialistic work, an expression of the jingoist ideals of Edwardian England. The Second Symphony followed three years later and was very different: a work full of nagging doubt and with a sense of struggle below the surface, an elusive attempt to capture the "spirit of delight" (as in the Shelley quotation on the score that reads: "Rarely, rarely comest thou, Spirit of Delight!"). This can be heard right at the beginning where the opening note has to wrench itself into being before blossoming forth into the first theme. The second movement is a massive funeral march, with something of a veiled radiance, publicly dedicated to the memory of Edward VII, and privately to several friends of Elgar. It has been called an expressive combination of tenderness and melancholy, typical of Elgar. The scherzo contains a violent crescendo, like a nightmare, and the Finale is deceptively serene, closing the symphony with a radiant quietness (very different from the boisterous First Symphony). An ambiguous and multi-layered work.
[Youtube] [Performance listened to: Bernard Haitink with the Philharmonia Orchestra on EMI]

7. Franz Schmidt, Symphony No 2 in E flat major (1911-13)
Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) is an Austrian composer who is combined a reverence for the great Austro-German lineage of composers with very personal innovations in harmony and orchestration. Unfortunately, as so many composer of his generation, he seems to have fallen between two stools: his works are too complex for the conservatively minded, yet too obviously traditional for the avant-garde. Since the last decades of the previous century his music has enjoyed a modest revival like that of his contemporaries. The Second Symphony is a glorious symphony, a real tour de force: three large movements, of which the second is an extremely inventive set of variations. Where Mahler had given way to modernity by breaking up classical forms, Schmidt (two years after the death of Mahler) takes stock by bringing the most important architectural schemes since the Baroque together: fugue technique and variation and sonata form, at the highest level of craftsmanship, realized by a giant orchestra in late-romantic, post-Wagnerian ecstatic sound - while that was still possible. Note that in this 3-movement symphony in fact the Scherzo, the fourth part of the classical symphony, is not lacking: Variation 9 is the scherzo of the Symphony, Variation 10 its Trio, after which the Scherzo is repeated. The Finale, a Rondo, starts with a fugue as introduction, and here the theme of Variation 11 is used. And this again thematically close to the theme of the first movement. The symphony ends with a large apotheosis, a chorale that in its turn is based on variation 8... This is gloriously lyrical writing for the lush Viennese strings and brass (containing eight French horns). A sunny symphony.
[Performance listened to: Neeme Jarvi with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Chandos]

8. Charles Ives, Symphony No 4 [1910-1916]
Charles Ives (1874-1954) was a modernist who has been called the greatest American composer. Perhaps the most remarkable piece of orchestral music Ives completed was his Fourth Symphony (1910–16). The list of forces required to perform the work is extraordinary and eccentric in the sense that although six trumpets are called for, one of them only plays one note in the whole piece; and a whole choir has to join and sit on stage during the length of the symphony, while it only sees 30 seconds of action at the beginning and again at the end. For a certain part of the work, a second conductor is necessary. No wonder this symphony, although considered as the culmination of Ives' musical achievement, is seldom performed. The first complete performance was given in 1965, more than a decade after Ives' death. The symphony starts with a prelude that asks questions to which the succeeding movements try to provide answers - in the style of Ives' The Unanswered Question. It also contains a hymn, "Watchman, tell us the night." The second movement is a riotous multiphony quoting dozens of well-known American tunes, an Allegretto inspired by a story of Hawthorne. Ives himself described the third movement, a fugue, as "an expression of the reaction of life into formalism and ritualism." The final movement, Largo maestoso, is a sort of struggle between dissonance and traditional tonal music, taking up earlier motifs and building to a tremendous climax (with the choir) after which the piece ends quietly with just the percussion playing as if from a distance. Ives said this "had something to do with the reality of existence and its religious experience."
[Youtube] [Performance listened to: Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus conducted by Seiji Ozawa on Deutsche Grammophon]

9. Karol Szymanowski, Symphony No. 2 in B flat major Op 19 (1911)
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) was the most celebrated Polish composer of the early 20th century. Written at age 27, the Second Symphony is one of the first works by Szymanowski in his mature style. As we also see in his string quartets, there are several unconventional elements, such as the fact that the symphony is in two movements and that it begins with a violin solo. The opening movement has a passionate and grandiose character and provides contrasts in its use of solo instruments in a varied orchestral texture. The second movement is almost self-contained and consists of a theme and five variations. It is playful, festive and dance-like. Also in this movement, the solo violin makes an emotionally effective appearance. The movement ends with a sixth variation followed by a fugue, its chromatic subject dramatically introduced and developed with continuing contrasts of orchestral texture. After an interruption by a gently lyrical section, there is a massive conclusion to the symphony.
[Performance listened to: Karol Stryja with the Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra Katowice on Naxos]

10. Rued Langgaard, Symphony No. 6 "Det Himmelrivende" [1919-20]
Rued Langaard (1893-1952) was a Danish "cult composer" whose musical style was at odds with his Danish contemporaries. Only in recent decades becoming recognized, he has more than 400 works to his name, including 16 symphonies, the Music of the Spheres, 150 songs, works for piano, organ, and an opera entitled The Antichrist. Langaard saw music as a fight between good and evil and the 6th symphony, with the title "The Heaven Storming" is the embodiment of such a cosmic conflict. Langgaard's music is visionary, extreme and bizarre. The Sixth Symphony of 1919-1920 is one of Langaard's strongest works. Here Langgaard releases the forces of good and evil, light and dark, and God and Satan against each other. This Christian-based contrasting of "good and evil" is not my worldview, I rather think in shades of grey, but it makes for good drama. The apocalyptic symphony is in one continuous movement that takes the form of variations on a theme. That theme permeates the whole symphony and has two different shapes, a pure, light one, and a dark, chromatic one. Langaard displays absolute technical mastery of the orchestra and invokes the enormous power of the brass to drive "the storming armies of evil under the canopy of heaven." One of the most astonishing symphonies I know.
[Performance listened to: The Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi on Chandos]

11. Carl Nielsen, Symphony No 5, Op 50, FS 97 (1920-22)
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) is widely recognized as Denmark's most prominent composer. His Fifth is a very unconventional and original symphony, a one-of-a-kind work. It confounds all expectations of what a symphony is supposed to be. At the premiere, the audience was stunned by the weird battle between the snare drum and the orchestra in the first of the two movements; a near riot ensued, like the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The symphony has been cast in two movements. The first section of the opening movement is a sort of prelude, with bizarre color combinations and amorphous themes. The second section starts with a broadly flowing theme, treated contrapuntally, while the music grows to a cacophonous climax. The above mentioned snare drummer is given the task of interrupting the orchestra, playing ad libitum and out of time, as if to destroy the music. The second movement begins with a scherzo-like section. The work's final section starts with an elegiac and harmonically intricate fugue, after which a bustling coda is based on both the section's opening music and the first movement's wailing figure. A sort of battle between the forces of order and chaos.
[Youtube] [Performance listened to: Esa Pekka Salonen with the Swedish radio Symphony Orchestra on Sony]

12. Jean Sibelius, Symphony 7 in C (1924)
The Seventh Symphony was Sibelius' last published symphony, and it is as unconventional as the above symphony by Nielsen. It is notable for having only one movement. Development is continuous from the outset, making a discussion of first and second subjects irrelevant. The form is open to various interpretations - for example the slow opening section has been labeled both as an introduction and as an exposition. The strings dominate in this symphony, but there is also a distinctive trombone theme - in fact, the trombone solo, which occurs three times, punctuates the symphony like three great pillars. The Seventh Symphony must be counted among the most individual examples of organic growth in all music. Its formal aspect is unique and arises as the inevitable result of the content.
[Youtube][Performance listened to: Sir Alexander Gibson conducting the Scottish National orchestra on Chandos (with First Symphony)]

13. Sergei Prokofiev, Symphony No. 2 in D minor Op. 40 (1924-5)
When Prokofiev wrote his Second Symphony, he was settled in Paris and intent on writing a piece in the vanguard of musical modernism. Although the two-movement form is modeled on Beethoven’s final (Op. 111) piano sonata, this is music “of iron and steel,” an onslaught comparable to Stravinsky’s Sacre. The first movement, full of nervous energy, starts with strident trumpet fanfares and charging strings – it is fact an 11 min assault full of anger, bitterness and violence. The second movement, a set of six highly brilliant variations, starts more gentle, with a glorious oboe theme. Each variation is clearly delineated and the range of emotions is remarkable: fast, mercurial music; beautiful slow passages; vigorous percussive writing; patches of aggression and violence; and it all ends with a glowingly orchestrated march.
[Youtube][Performance listened to: Mstislav Rostropovitch conducting the Orchestre National de France on Erato (with Third Symphony)]

14. Willem Pijper, Symphony No 3 (1926)
Willem Pijper (1894-1947) has been called the most important and influential Dutch composer of his generation. He was mostly self-taught. In the early 1920s, he grew into one of the most advanced composers in Europe, working with "cell technique," polytonality and bitonality. As long-time teacher at the Conservatories of Amsterdam and Rotterdam he exerted a large influence over several new generations of Dutch composers. 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 impressive Third Symphony was written for Pierre Monteux, who performed it frequently. It is in one movement, but as usual the sections allegro, adagio, scherzo and allegro can be discerned.
[Youtube][Performance listened to: Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jac van Steen]

15. Havergal Brian, Symphony No 1 in D minor "Gothic" [1919-27]
Although rarely performed, cult composer Havergal Brian (1876-1972) was extremely prolific until a very advanced age - he wrote a total of 32 symphonies, of which the First one calls for the largest orchestral forces demanded by any conventionally structured concert work. "Gothic" as Brian uses the term here, points to the Gothic style in architecture, to the age in which the great cathedrals of Northern Europe were built. Brian saw these huge stone edifices as symbols of Western culture, as monuments to the struggle of the human spirit against immense odds. Such a struggle had just taken place: the Great War, which had shaken Western values by its cruel violence and unbelievable death toll. Brian, however, reaffirms the idealistic Western tradition in the vast choral movements of the symphony - the Te Deum is meant in a secular rather than religious way. On the other hand, in the orchestral movements Brian reflects on the horrors of the war. Take for example the start of the first movement which its violent tympani attack propelling the music forward, or the brutal, raw march in the second movement. But war and peace go together, there are also moments of great beauty such as the passage for solo violin near the end of the first movement. Brian uses traditional (late-Romantic) idioms in a wholly nontraditional way, thereby severely undercutting the expectations of the listener. He places harmonic opulence at the side of lean polyphony, he combines types of music that are mutually inimical, he elides transitions, suddenly switching from one mood to the next. His music is often extremely violent, but that is paired with sudden patches of peaceful and soft music. In other words, he continually pulls the rug away under the feet of the listener.
[Performance listened to: Martyn Brabbins with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Concert Orchestra on Hyperion]

16. Virgil Thomson, Symphony on a Hymn Tune (1926-28)
Not the cacophony Ives made of his hymn tunes, but also not a straightforward "populist" peroration, in his First Symphony Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) wrote sensitive and affectionate music in which he often falls back on small groups of solo instruments so that the symphony has a strong chamber music character. The main theme (which returns in every movement) is based on an old Scottish melody called "How Firm a Foundation." When the theme appears in the first movement, the harmonization is on purpose half out of focus. This is followed by various dance-like passages derived from the theme. The first movement ends with a humorous "farmyard" cadenza for trombone, piccolo, solo cello and solo violin. The contemplative andante in its turn ends with a suggestion of a distant railway train. The next movement is a strongly rhythmic passacaglia on the hymn-tune bass. The concluding Alla breve reintroduces all the chief material of the symphony, including the hymn in full. This movement was used by Virgil Thomson as the finale of the film The River, for which he later composed the musical score. A rural America that has long since disappeared, but that was dignified and sweet.
[James Sedares conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on Naxos]

17. Anton Webern, Symphony Op 21 (1928)
A miniature symphony for small orchestra that lasts only 10 minutes, but packs more punch than many much larger works. This is pure twelve-tone serial music, deliciously atonal. Webern's tone rows have been arranged to take advantage of internal symmetries, which gives his work motivic unity. Webern also uses a technique called "Klangfarbenmelodie," splitting a musical line or melody rapidly between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding color and texture to the melodic line. The Symphony consists of two movements: the first movement is based on a complex canon; both halves of the movement are repeated. The second movement is a very concentrated set of variations. An enigmatic work of immense restraint and luminous clarity.
[Performance listened to: Pierre Boulez with the Wiener Philharmoniker on Deutsche Grammophon]

18. Albert Roussel, Symphony No 3 in G minor Op 42 (1930)
Albert Roussel (1869-1937) has been called the greatest French symphonist of the first half of the 20th century, but that reputation rests mainly on his two last symphonies (of four), and especially on his Third Symphony. This is a vigorous masterpiece, concise and classical in form. It was one of the many works commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky for the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where it had a triumphant premiere. A simple five-note motive serves as the cyclic bond between the four highly succinct movements. The music brims with energy, the harmony is harsh and often polytonal. There is a strong motoric drive in the fast movements, like in Prokofiev's music of the 1920s. The initial, hammering Allegro Vivo has an unforgettable impact. The Adagio ascends to a majestic double-fugue. The Scherzo takes the form of a witty fast waltz, and the symphony ends with a vigorous Allegro con Spirito.
[Performance listened to: Charles Dutoit with the Orchestre National de France on Erato (with First Symphony)]

19. William Grant Still, Symphony No. 1 in A-flat, "Afro-American" (1930) 
The first symphony written by an African American to be performed by a leading American orchestra. The work combines a fairly traditional symphonic form with blues progressions and rhythms characteristic of popular African-American music at the time. In this way, William Grant Still (1895-1978) integrated black culture into the classical form. The Afro-American Symphony is centered on a single blues-like theme which runs through the entire symphony, and is treated differently in each of the four movements. In the third movement, a banjo is used for atmosphere. Still gave the four movements the subtitles "Longings," "Sorrows," "Humor" and "Aspirations." Still was born in Mississippi as the son of two school teachers. He earned his living writing background music for radio and television. In addition to symphonies, Still's classical compositions include chamber music, operas, and ballets.
[Performance listened to: Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Jarvi]

20. Aaron Copland, Short Symphony (Symphony No 2) (1933)
What is designated as Copland’s "Second Symphony" is better known as his "Short Symphony." Strangely enough, this attractive, concise rhythmical work is almost never played and there are only few recordings. It shows us Copland before his populist, sometimes rather bombastic (Third Symphony) Americana phase, letting us glimpse him in neo-classical guise, the Copland of The Symphonic Ode, the Piano Variations and the piano trio Vitebsk which were written around the same time. The Short Symphony is preoccupied with complex rhythms, and although the Mexican composer Carlos Chavez premiered the work in Mexico City in 1934, no Northern-American orchestra dared attempt a performance of this intricate work. In 1937, Copland therefore reworked the symphony into the Sextet for Clarinet, Piano and String Quartet, with hardly any changes to the music itself. It was only in the late sixties that the Symphony received a limited circulation in performance in the U.S. The work is in three movements played without pause. The first movement is scherzo-like in character. The second movement features a song-like middle part, but also has several dissonant climaxes. The finale is once again bright in color and rhythmically intricate. In fact, this is one of Copland most successful compositions, full of marvelous colorations and (poly)rhythms.
[Performance listened to: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop on Naxos]
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