In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Walzenaufnahmen Japanischer Musik/Wax Cylinder Recordings of Japanese Music 1901–1913
  • Jay Keister (bio)
Walzenaufnahmen Japanischer Musik/Wax Cylinder Recordings of Japanese Music 1901–1913. Berliner Phonogramm-Archiv Historische Klangdokumente [Historical Sound Documents]. Series Editor: Artur Simon; Co-editor: Susanne Ziegler. Recordings by Otto Abraham, Erich M. von Hornbostel, Erich Fischer, Erwin Walter, and Heinrich Werkmeister. Notes in German and English by Ingrid Fritsch. One compact disc. BphA-WA 1. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin—Preußischer Kulturbesitz, 2003.

This collection of wax cylinder recordings from the Berlin Phonogram Archive offers a little something for everyone in the field of Japanese music research. While it is obvious from the outset that the limited sound quality of wax cylinder technology is a poor instrument for capturing the subtlety of timbre and dynamics so central to the appreciation of traditional Japanese music, these historical documents from the archive, and the well-researched, extensive notes by Ingrid Fritsch in the 96-page booklet accompanying this disc, are an invaluable contribution to Japanese music research. Although recordings of such low fidelity are not recommended for use in general survey courses of world music, this package provides a useful historical reference for any scholar of Japanese music, as it contains recordings ranging from theater music to court music to folk songs played on shamisen, shakuhachi, koto, and gagaku instruments.

This CD represents the first release of most of these recordings, with the exception of fifteen cylinders recorded by Abraham and Hornbostel and one cylinder recorded by Erwin Walter that were released on a 1920 demonstration disc by the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv and later released on a 1963 Ethnic Folkways recording. Tokumaru Yoshihiko selected the same fifteen cylinder recordings of Abraham and Hornbostel for a 1985 Nippon Columbia release. This new release includes recordings from three collections, Archiv Japan I (Abraham and Hornbostel, 1901), Archive Japan II (Fischer, 1909), and Walter/ Werkmeister (1911/1913), that comprise a total of sixty-six cylinder recordings, each cylinder consisting of about two minutes of music on the average. Not all cylinders within these collections are included on the CD due to unacceptable sound quality of certain selections. What is made available to our ears is a fascinating glimpse into Japanese traditional music as it actually sounded at the end of the Meiji era (1868–1911).

Archiv Japan I contains the earliest musical examples on the disc as recorded by Otto Abraham and Erich M. von Hornbostel in 1901, just two years before publication of their 1903 treatise, Studien uber das Tonsystem und die Musik der Japaner (Studies on the Musical System and the Music of the Japanese). These recordings informed their landmark study of Japanese music and the transcriptions [End Page 149] they created are included in the accompanying booklet. Recorded entirely in Germany, Archiv Japan I consists of performances of traditional music by Japanese musicians that underwent significant recontexualization in their European setting, the story of which is a fascinating tale of cultural encounter and is described in great detail in the booklet by Fritsch.

The majority of these recordings feature an 18-member theater troupe led by legendary Japanese theater stars, the actor Kawakami Otojirô and his wife, Sada Yakko, a former geisha musician, during a tour to Germany in 1901. Although Otojirô's theater background was based in contemporary agit-prop theater of Japan's citizens' rights movement (jiyû minken undô) of the late nineteenth century, he based his foreign tours on theatrical presentations drawn liberally from kabuki and drama and reduced the amount of language to the point of emphasizing the pantomimic visual elements of colorful costumed dances and dramatic combats. Otojirô's compensations for his foreign audiences were criticized by German scholars of the time, who questioned the authenticity of this "Europeanized" version of Japanese theater, and outraged the Japanese public upon their arrival back home. In spite of the controversy, Hornbostel and Abraham concerned themselves only with obtaining the best recordings possible of the musical accompaniment to these creative collages of Japanese theater.

Shamisen music from the second half of one of these plays, "The Geisha and the Knight," based on scenes from the famous kabuki play Musume Dôjôji...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 149-153
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.