Yasushi Akutagawa

Biography

Born: July 12, 1925; Tokyo, Japan   Died: 1989  
Yasushi Akutagawa was the son of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892 -- 1927), one of Japan's most important authors of the early twentieth century. He studied music in Tokyo and was later a student of Akira Ifukube and Kunihiko Hashimoto during the late '40s. Akutagawa's music was much more Western in character than that of Ifukube, and he was strongly drawn to the music of the Soviet Union, as exemplified by Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Akutagawa's work Read more encompassed both programmatic and absolute music, the former including the opera Kurai Kagami (1960) (later revised as Orpheus of Hiroshima) and dozens of film scores (among them the music for such celebrated works as Teinosuke Kinugasa's 1953 Gate of Hell and Kon Ichikawa's 1959 Fires on the Plain), while the latter encompassed symphonies, a concerto for cello, and the Triptyque, Movements (3) for Strings (1953). During the 1950s, Akutagawa also played an important artistic role in the post-World War II reopening of cultural relations between Japan and the rest of the world. Indeed, he straddled the two sides of the Cold War. To the west, Akutagawa's Music for Symphony Orchestra (1950) was one of his first major successes. Premiered in Tokyo by the NHK Symphony Orchestra under Hidemaro Konoe, it achieved popularity in Japan almost immediately, and its playful, extrovert character and its rich scoring for flutes, strings, and brass also made it attractive to listeners in the United States; the piece was taken up by conductor Thor Johnson, who programmed it into concerts by the RCA-sponsored Symphony of the Air and ensured it was widely heard by American audiences. At the same time, Akutagawa's youth and his affinity with modern Russian music made him attractive to the Soviet Union on both cultural and ideological grounds. With that government's imprimatur, many of his works received performances in the Soviet Union and he may easily have been the most well-known Japanese composer of his generation in the Eastern bloc. Akutagawa continued writing movie scores into the 1980s and his work -- including his film scores, being heard anew amid the DVD boom as the movies themselves go back into circulation -- seems poised for a revival on CD. Read less

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