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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima has moved many to write music. There is far more “Hiroshima music” than “Nagasaki music” (which is in the section “On Peace”). Notohara Yumi, a member of the “Hiroshima and Music” committee, says the committee has identified over 1,900 pieces in all genres.
Kawasaki Masaru: Prayer music No.1 Dirge
Kawasaki was a hibakusha and composed this piece in 1975. It has been played at the Hiroshima Memorial Ceremony ever since. You can hear it being played from 21:18 in this video of the 2022 ceremony.
Erkki Aaltonen: Symphony No. 2 Hiroshima
The earliest major classical work was written by Finnish composer Erkki Aaltonen. No recording is available, but Notohara Yumi has written about the work in “Musical Narrative in Representing Hiroshima: A Case Study of Erkki Aaltonen’s Second Symphony Hiroshima (1949)” (paywall).
Ohki Masao: Symphony No. 5 “Hiroshima”
Whereas songs about Hiroshima were composed in Hiroshima starting in the months after the attack, the earliest large-scale piece of classical music in Japan to engage the bombing in Japan is Ohki’s Symphony No. 5. It was inspired by The Hiroshima Panels, a series of paintings by Maruki Iri and Maruki Toshi.
Takemitsu Toru: Music to the film Black Rain
Black Rain is a novel by Ibuse Masuji that was made into a film in 1989 by Imamura Shohei. The score is by composer Takemitsu Toru.
Hayashi Hikaru: Scenes from Hiroshima
A choral work that is performed each year by the Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo.
Akutagawa Yasushi: Orpheus in Hiroshima
A television opera with a libretto by Oe Kenzaburo. It is “a symbolic fantasy about a young man, hopeless because of facial scars received in the atomic blast” (New York Times).
Kohjiba Tomiko: Hiroshima Requiem for Strings
This work by Kohjiba Tomiko (along with Sept profils non érodés – pour piano et orchestre – which is also about the bombing) has been released on CD and performed under the baton of Seiji Ozawa and others. I am unable to find a YouTube version (although I possess the CD …) and this informative programme from the European Union Youth Orchestra tells of the performance in 1985.
Hosokawa Toshio: Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima
A major orchestral work (1989 / rev. 2001) by a native of Hiroshima.
This version of the piece (under the title Hiroshima Requiem) features testimony readings, recordings, sirens and explosions in an apocalyptic musical recreation of 6 August.
Dan Ikuma: Symphony No. 6 “Hiroshima”
Another symphony by Japanese composer Dan Ikuma.
Fujikura Dai: “Akiko’s Piano” Piano Concerto No. 4.
A concerto inspired by the story of a hibaku piano. It is performed here as part of a peace concert by the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra, which commissioned the piece as part of its Music for Peace programme.
Penderecki: Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
It is a challenging piece of music to listen to, but that is undoubtedly what Penderecki intended.
Other pieces by non-Japanese composers that are about Hiroshima or include movements about Hiroshima include: Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man.
Samuragochi/Niigaki: Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima”
And finally … This piece was overcome by controversy when it was revealed in 2014 that rather than Samuragochi Mamoru being the “Japanese Beethoven”, as the Japanese media had built him up to be, much of Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima” was ghost-written by Niigaki Takashi (see the documentary film “Fake”). In complete contrast to all the above pieces, this piece is tonal, even neoromantic in style, with strong elements of Bruckner and Shostakovich. It was also a huge commercial success, resulting in both major tours and a best-selling CD.
This complex scandal raised many issues: Why did a second generation hibakusha perpetrate such a fraud? Could the piece really honour Hiroshima victims when it was built on a lie? But the scandal also embarrassed the music industry and media. They had been caught out selling a hyped-up story about a deaf hibakusha composer’s masterpiece about Hiroshima, but is this sort of narrative the only way to market tonal classical music these days?
The music is what it is. Have a listen.
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