One of the Japanese composers who developed a compositional practice in earnest and built the foundation of Western music culture in Japan, including translation of music books and education, is Kiyoshi Nobutoki.
Nobutoki was born in Osaka on December 29 in 1887. He was close to Christian hymns and Western music in his early days because of his father, Hiroki Yoshioka, who was a minister of the Osaka North Church. In 1898, Nobutoki was adopted as a son of Yoshimasa Nobutoki, who was a follower of the church ministered by Kiyoshi’s biological father. For four years from 1901 onwards, Nobutoki studied at the prefectural Ichioka Junior High School (now Ichioka High School). The painter, Narashige Koide, and Takeo Tamiya, who became the head of the Institute of Infectious Disease at Tokyo University, studied at Ichioka Junior High School at the same time.
In 1906, Nobutoki was admitted to Tokyo Ongaku Gakkō, the predecessor of the Faculty of Music at Tokyo University of the Arts. Since there was no department of composition at the time, Nobutoki majored in cello at the Department of Instruments under H. Werkmeister. Kōsaku Yamada was one year ahead of Nobutoki and Nagayo Motoori was his senior by two years.
After graduating the regular course in Tokyo Academy of Music, Nobutoki proceeded to the graduate course. The earliest works written by him are as follows: the piano piece “Kieyuku Hoshikage (Starlight is getting out)”, the choral work “Haru no Yayoi (March of Spring)”, and the violin solo “Ayatsuri Ningyō (Puppet)”.
Nobutoki was sent abroad by the Japanese government in 1920 to study cello and composition, and he devoted himself to his studies under G. Schumann in Berlin. During his stay in Germany, Nobutoki often went to concerts and listened to numerous pieces of music including, for example, “The Woman without a Shadow” conducted by R. Strauss, “Tristan and Isolde” written by R. Wagner, and “Purified Night” composed by A. Schoenberg. Nobutoki brought back a great quantity of scores and music books when he returned to Japan in 1922.
From 1923, Nobutoki took up the position of professor at Tokyo Academy of Music, but he subsequently became a lecturer when the Department of Composition was established at the academy in 1931. Some of the most important works of Nobutoki, such as the vocal solo “Sara”, the choral work “Iroha-uta (Iroha Song)”, and the piano solo “Konoha-shū (Collection of Leaves)” were written in the 1930’s. Among Nobutoki’s commissioned works are “Umi yukaba (If I go to the Ocean)” and “Kaidō Tōsei (Along the Coast, Conquer the East)”. Songs included in the ‘Shintei Jinjō-shōgaku-shōka (Newly Revised Songs of Elementary School)’ such as “Ichibanboshi mitsuketa (I found the first Star of the Evening)”, “Densha-gokko (Play Trains)”, and “Poplars” are also Nobutoki’s works.
Nobutoki visited the Tōhoku region as a member of the ‘Tōhoku folksongs audition team’ in 1941, and he composed the piano piece “Collection of Folksongs in Tōhoku” the same year as well as the choral work “Collection of Folksongs in Tōhoku” in 1946.
After the Pacific War, Nobutoki continued to compose and completed works such as “Koka Nijūgo-shu (25 Old Songs)”, “Kikyorai”, and “Chūgoku Meishi Goshu (5 great Chinese Poems)”. Until the end of his life, Nobutoki continued to work on his compositions “Nyonin Waka Renkyoku (A Series of Japanese Poems by Women)” and “Kojiki (the Ancient Chronicle in Japan)”.
In 1963, Nobutoki was honored by a distinguished service medal and the following year, he was decorated with the Third Order of Merits, Gold 21 Rays with Neck Ribbons. Nobutoki passed away on August 1 in 1965 because of a myocardial infarction.
The Japanese musicians who were under Nobutoki’s tutelage are too numerous to mention in total, but they include Kanichi Shimofusa, Kunihiko Hashimoto, Toshio Kashiwagi, Kyōko Watari, Kazuo Yamada, Saburō Takata, and Megumi Ōnaka.
The number of ‘group songs’ such as school songs and company songs written by Nobutoki amount to about a thousand tunes. Moreover, important activities of Nobutoki apart from work as a composer and educator include compilations of textbooks as well as translations of music books. He took part in the composing, editing, and supervising of ‘Watakushi-tachi no Ongaku (Our Music)’ and ‘Shōgakkō Ongaku (Elementary School’s Music)’ as well as ‘Shintei Jinjō-shōgaku-shōka (Newly-revised Elementary School’s Music)’. Nobutoki furthermore translated various important music books, the representative work of which is the translation of ‘Chorübungen’ first published in 1925. Nobutoki’s translation has subsequently been republished in several editions.
Reconsideration of Nobutoki’s achievements has improved in particular during the 21th century. ‘Kiyoshi Nobutoki’, the book written by Yūji Shimpo, was published in 2005, and ‘Reissue Discs of SP Record Source; Complication of the Works by Kiyoshi Nobutoki’ consists of six CDs which were put on sale in 2005 as well. In addition to these, Nobutoki’s essay collection ‘Bach ni arazu (Non-Bach)’ was published in 2002. Te copyright of Nobutoki’s works became invalid from December 31 in 2015 and since they now belong to the public domain, the performance opportunities of his works are increasing.
Some pieces such as “Umi yukaba”, composed by Nobutoki as a commission, were often played in the radio and performed at ceremonies during the first half of the 1940s, and Nobutoki has therefore been considered as a supporter of the war. However, we must take notice of the fact that Nobutoki’s works in reality were utilized against his intentions. Besides, although Nobutoki has been regarded as a composer in a conservative style modeled on the German classicists, he also studied the contemporary music of his day enthusiastically, such as the music of A. Schoenberg and B. Bartók.