Nippon Kokoro: Akira Ifukube – Works for Guitar and Baroque Lute, Fontec, 1991 on #neuguitars #blog


1 Toka, Cantilena Ballabile Sul Mode Antico di Giappone

2 Toccata Per Chitarra

3 Kugoka, Aria Concertata Di Kugo-Arpa

4 Fantasia For Baroque Lute

Composed By – Akira Ifukube

Guitar – Yoh Nishimura (tracks: 1-3)

Lute [Baroque] – Deborah Minkin (tracks: 4)


Akira Ifukube (伊福部 昭 Ifukube Akira; Kushiro, 31 maggio 1914 – Tokyo, February 8, 2006 was a Japanese composer of classical music and soundtracks. If his greatest successes concerned the creation of the soundtracks of the Godzilla movies series, Ifukube also produced several interesting classical guitar pieces, well interpreted in this cd, released in 1991. Third son of a Shinto priest, Ifukube was born in Sapporo, in Hokkaidò. The island of Hokkaidò had been extensively inhabited (almost colonized to the detriment of the local Ainu tribes) in relatively recent times and due to its remoteness it had minimal contact with Tokyo, at the time the center of European school music. Akira Ifukube studied forestry sciences (Ifukube successfully practiced as a forest engineer in Hokkaidò until the end of the war, when he moved to Tokyo and began a full musical activity; he studied a new plant to which he gave his name and worked for the government when the conditions of the military commitment became difficult, studying the resistance of wood to vibrations and its aptitude to replace metals in certain war machines.) and at the same time self-taught music; playing the violin and attending his friend Miura, the future music critic, who introduced him to scores by Stravinsky, Satie, Debussy and urged him to compose. At 19, Ifukube composed a Suite for piano based on Japanese melodies for the American pianist George Copland, with whom Miura was in correspondence; the Suite was played by Gino Gorini and was awarded in Venice in 1938 as part of the ISCM Festival. Ifukube was the first Japanese composer to use popular material (specifically on ainu’s melodies) in a European-style musical context; in this work the use of obstinate was already evident, which will remain a feature of the style of Ifukube and was inherited by his pupils, including Mayuzumi. Ifukube used a maximum pentatonic scale to which one or more sounds added to the melody were added, generally limited to the fourth and, rather than creating a vertical harmonic structure, it superimposed different lines of countermelody, canon or simple doubling, using instrumental colors for to move the musical fabric. This kind of musical dynamics so fascinated Cerepnin that he went up to Hokkaidò to visit Ifukube and collaborate with him in a ballet, Bon Odori, which was performed and staged by a Russian dance company in Vienna in 1940. The piece Nihon kyàshikyoku (Japanese Rhapsody), winner of the Cerepnin award, was performed in Boston in 1935 under the direction of Fabien Sevitzky. Works such as Dozokuteki Sanrenga (aboriginal triptych), one of his most popular works, composed for orchestra in 1937, very naive, which exploited the energy of popular music with the redundancy of western forms and instruments, cannot fail to make one think of how much said by René Leibowitz, precisely with regard to Ifukube: “In his creative personality, more than peculiarly Japanese characters we can feel a nationalized colonized physiognomy”.


From 1945 to 1953 he taught at the Tokyo School of Music (Tokyo University of Arts), and in this period he composed his first music for a film, the closing theme of The End of the Silver Mountains (1947). In the following fifteen years, Ifukube composed over 250 soundtracks, among which the most famous are probably those composed for Godzilla (1954) and The triumph of King Kong (1962). Ifukube is also the creator of the characteristic Godzilla roar, obtained by rubbing a leather glove covered with resin along the strings of a double bass. Despite the enormous success achieved in the cinematographic field, Ifukube continued to cultivate his passion for classical music. In 1974 he returned to teaching at the Tokyo College of Music, becoming its director the following year. In 1987 he left it to become president of the university’s ethnomusicologist department. Ifukube had among his students Toshiro Mayuzumi, Yasushi Akutagawa and Kaoru Wada. He also published Orchestration, a theory book of over a thousand pages. In 1956 he won the prize for Mainichi Film Concours in the Best soundtrack category for three films: Mahiru no ankoku, Burmese harp and Onibi. In 2007 he won the Awards of the Japanese Academy award for his career. The Japanese government awarded the Order of Culture Ifukube. Later he was also awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure.


At the end of 1967, Ifukube spent a lot of time putting the finishing touches on a piece he had been working on for more than a year, his first concert composition, although on a much smaller scale, from the time of “Rhythmic Ostinata” in 1961: “Tôka, Cantilena ballabile sul Mode Antico di Giappone” for solo guitar. Tôka was the first guitar concert that Ifukube wrote from the days of “Jin” in 1932 and “Nocturne” in 1933, now lost. The desire to write Tôka came from observing the guitar lessons of his 18-year-old son Kiwami. Kiwami was a talented musician and his father decided to write a sufficiently advanced work to help his son improve his already impressive abilities. Note the title of the song in Italian that means “Dancing singsong on the Ancient Mode of Japan”.

According to the composer, the tôka was a widespread dance in Japan during the seventh century. It was usually played on a koto with percussion accompaniment, such as tsuzumi. Using the guitar instead of the koto, Tôka becomes a mix of languid slow and moderate rhythmic incisive sections, making however extensive use of the composer’s brand obstinate. It is an attractive, technically demanding job that takes about sixteen minutes and was dedicated to Kiwami. Tôka was previewed on a French radio broadcast on 11 February 1968 and published in 1969.


In 1969 Ifukube made another composition for guitar, “Kugoka, Aria Concertata by Kugo-Arpa”. Like Tôka, Kugoka is based on a type of ancient music, in this case the music for Chinese konghou harp. In antiquity, konghou arrived in China from the west to Assyria and then arrived in Japan in the eighth century. In Japan the instrument was known as “kugo” and was used, for a short time, in court music. The idea of writing Kugoka came to Ifukube when he visited the Buddhist temple Tôdai-ji in the city of Nara. There he saw the remains of a kugo on display.

This triggered his imagination leading him to think of the various types of melodies that the instrument would be able to produce. As he had done with Tôka, Ifukube turned to the guitar as the instrument to give life to this mysterious music of the past. Kugoka, which lasts about eighteen minutes, is in ABAB form and alternates noble adagios and fluid small allegros. Ifukube dedicated Kugoka to guitarist and violin maker Masaru Kono who had donated one of his guitars to the composer in 1968. One of Kono’s employees, Norihiko Watanabe, held the first performance of the opera on May 27th at Tokyo’s Toranomon Hall. It was published later that year.

At the beginning of 1970, Ifukube completed his third guitar work, “Toccata for guitar”. Toccata is an attractive but thoughtful work based on ancient Japanese ways. This song requires a very precise and fast fingering job in a style that easily remembers the Spanish guitar. Ifukube dedicated the work to the famous Japanese guitar virtuoso, Yasuo Abe (1925-1999), who had studied with Andrés Segovia. Toccata was published in the April issue of Gendai Gitâ (Modern Guitar), a Japanese guitar magazine. Unfortunately, at the moment there is little information available on this work; while the date and place of the first of Toccata are apparently lost in history, it is known that it was Abe playing it in public for the first time.

As for the 1980 song “Fantasia for Baroque Lute” I could not find information.

I reserve the right to return to the subject if I can find more news.

“Works by Akira Ifukumi” is a really interesting record. It’s a pity that these music are not performed more often.


Luciana Galliano. Yogaku: Japanese Music in the 20th Century.

Bonnie C. Wade. Composing Japanese Musical Modernity.