Program Notes for Yamada’s Symphony in F Major (“Triumph and Peace”)

by Dr. Memmi Ochi, based on materials provided by Mr. Yoshiyasu Hisamatsu, the chief editor for Yamada’s music at Craftone Inc. in Tokyo.


Symphony in F “Triumph and Peace”

Composed: June 25, 1912-November 18, 1912 (Berlin)

Premier: December 6, 1914 (Teikoku Gekijo, Tokyo)

U.S. Premier: January 24, 1919 (Carnegie Hall, New York)

The symphony is Yamada’s second orchestral work, composed as a part of degree requirements at Akademie der Künste in Berlin, and it is the first symphony written by a Japanese composer.  Yamada himself conducted the piece himself for both the American and Japanese premiers.  According to the publisher’s note, the work was only performed about 15 times in the first 97 years, and it was never performed in the United States after the premier.  

This is mainly due to the lack of availability of sheet music.  According to Yamada’s testimony given in 1922, he brought his score and parts (manuscript written in his own hand) to New York, then sent the music on a ship.  Unfortunately, due to a maritime accident, the entire music was lost.  (However, he also mentioned that he left the music with someone in New York, so it is not clear what exactly happened.)  In any case, there were a few parts left in New York, so Yamada re-created the score and parts to perform the piece after the U.S. premier.  Unfortunately, the majority of his own manuscripts (of the piece and many of his other pieces) were lost by countless air raids in Tokyo during the Second World War, and Yamada passed away before reconstructing them.  In 1997, the piece was re-constructed based on the few surviving parts and finally published by Shunju-sha Publishing Company in Tokyo as a part of the Anthology of Kousaku Yamada, Volume 1.  The edition used to perform the piece today is the authoritative, scholarly edition created by Craftone Inc. in 2016.

Because the piece was written while he was still honing his symphonic writing skills, some of the characteristics of Yamada’s mature compositions— incorporating the elements of Japanese folk and gagaku (traditional court) music, using more avant-garde texture, orchestrated with a hint of nostalgic darkness—are not found in this work.  However, many fragments of beautiful melodies used in this work foreshadow Yamada’s ability to evoke lyrical melodies, which were to become one of the characteristics of his compositional style in his later works.  Even the orchestration in this work lacks finesse in comparison to his later works; it is constructed in accordance with the traditional structure.  The piece is still worthy of recognition as the first Japanese symphony.  

First Movement:  Moderato—Allegro Molto

The opening theme based on Kimigayo, the Japanese National Anthem, is used as the first theme for the Allegro Molto.  A well-structured Sonata form.

Second Movement: Adagio non Tanto e Poco Marciale

Even though the music indicates march style, it is a peaceful and extremely beautiful adagio.  The theme as it appears in the violins is played as variations, woven in with other episodes.  The adagio reminds the listeners of the Third Movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Third Movement: Poco Vivace

Simple and classical “scherzo.”  Listeners can enjoy the effectively combined flowing melody and syncopation, and this creates the “Slavic” feel.  In the trio section, a slight influence of Schubert can be heard.

Fourth Movement: Adagio Molto—Molto Allegro e Trionfante

The opening theme in c minor reminds the listeners of the Finale from Brahms’ First Symphony; then Yamada takes us on to his own triumphant trumpet fanfare, which leads us on to the “trionfante” section.  While boldly using energetic rhythms, such as syncopations, Yamada didn’t forget to use many melodic and cantabile lines, which together creates the majestic finale.

Today’s performance was the second in the United States—almost 100 years after the U.S. premier.  Yamada’s daughter expressed her excitement and gratitude that her father’s work is being performed in Seattle today.  


Bio – Kousaku Yamada (Kósçak Yamada) 1886-1965

For many ordinary Japanese today, Yamada is known as a composer of children’s songs, including Akatombo (Red Dragon Fly) and Pechika (Pechuka–Russian Oven), which are dear to their hearts.

However, Yamada is much more than just a composer of children’s songs.  He is one of the first Japanese composers and conductors to be recognized internationally.  He is the first Japanese composer ever to compose a symphony and has conducted internationally notable symphony orchestras such as the Berlin and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Philharmonic Orchestras.

Born in Tokyo in 1886 to an upper-middle-class family, Yamada was brought up as a Christian, which was extremely rare at that time.  His father, who was a medical doctor and Christian missionary, passed away when Yamada was 10 years old.  Because his older sister was married to a Welsh linguist and musician, Edward Gauntlette, Yamada was able to receive basic western music instruction from the age of 13.  Eventually, he graduated from what is now Tokyo University of the Arts in 1908 as a vocal performance major.  With the financial patronage of Koyata Iwasaki, the head of Mitsubishi Group, Yamada went to Berlin to study composition and piano. In 1910-1913 he studied at Akademie der Künste in Berlin.  His primary instructor was the composer Max Bruch.

Upon graduation, Yamada planned a short trip to Japan to express gratitude to his sponsor and also to acquire some props for his opera, which was scheduled to be performed in Berlin the following year.  After returning to Japan, however, the onset of the First World War made Yamada’s trip to Germany impossible, so he shifted his attention to establishing symphony orchestras in Japan.   In addition, he wrote many method books and instructional treatises, which helped to spread the Germanic knowledge in music education.  Many of his books laid the foundation for the tradition of solid music education in Japan.  

In 1918, Yamada came to the United Sates and stayed in Manhattan for two years.  During his stay, two performances of his own compositions were given at Carnegie Hall, and Yamada himself conducted many of the pieces on the program.  

Upon returning from the United States, he continued to compose and actively conducted symphonies and operas—giving many Japanese premiers including Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Because of his active profile as a conductor and composer during WWII, Yamada’s reputation suffered after the War.  In 1948, he suffered from intracranial hemorrhage which left him with partial paralysis, but he continued to conduct his own pieces.  Among many awards given by the Japanese government and organizations, he is one of the recipients of 1936 L’ordre national de la légion d’honneur from France.

He passed away from a heart attack at the age of 79 in 1965.