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Reviewed by:
  • Composing Japanese Musical Modernity by Bonnie C. Wade
  • W. Anthony Sheppard (bio)
Composing Japanese Musical Modernity. Bonnie C. Wade. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. viii + 272 pp., one halftone, notes, glossary, bibliography, index. ISBN 9780226085210 (Hardcover), $90.00; 9780226085357 (Paperback), $30.00; 9780226085494 (E-book), $30.00.

This book is about the development of modern Japanese art music and the individuals, institutions, and social factors that have enabled this cultural process, focusing particularly on recent decades but with multiple references to a longer historical perspective. Wade’s research is less concerned with the works of specific composers than on composing as a social role and on how musical modernity has been achieved and sustained in Japan. References to the careers of numerous composers are made throughout the book to offer a general assessment of the position of composers in Japan. Musical modernity is framed as a generalized condition, a process involving “the indigenization of Western music in Japan” (4) and one that allowed for global cultural participation for a nation that would otherwise have remained isolated. Though focused on the composition of art or “concert hall” music, Wade reveals a broader social engagement with music in Japan through her discussion of amateur performance and music education. With this book, Wade has composed a collage portrait of Japanese musical modernity and of those who participate in its creation.

Wade’s central finding is that in the process of realizing a form of musical modernity, Japanese composers remained “connected to the people” (2, passim) in various ways. Wade claims that Japanese composers are far more likely to create forms of Gebrauchsmusik for general use, to create “socially relational” music, than are their Western colleagues. This implies that, in contrast, Western composers tend to be more autonomous artists, disengaged from society and the immediate musical needs of the general population. Wade notes that even the most prominent composers in Japan have proven willing to compose for amateur groups and children. It remains unclear whether Japanese composers would continue to engage in this way even if they held full-time academic positions or received substantial state financial support that would enable them to choose not to. It is also unclear whether composers in the United States, for example, who work below the upper echelon of top university positions are actually as autonomous and disconnected from creating “useful music” for the general population as Wade assumes. Wade traces the evident Japanese dedication to useful music to the Meiji period project of musical modernization. Ultimately, Wade is most interested in identifying the factors that enabled and shaped the creation of new music in Japan rather than in detailing what new Japanese art music has afforded through its production. [End Page 132]

The book is divided into three large sections, though specific topics and individual composers naturally interpenetrate the three parts. Part 1 surveys the infrastructures that support composition in Japan. Following a brief historical perspective on the Meiji period, Wade brings us directly to the contemporary scene. She offers an overview of the current system of music education and introduces us to specific music schools in Tokyo. In doing so, she sets up her discussion of the participation of Japanese composers in musical education. Rather than focus on composers who hold full-time positions in higher education, Wade particularly notes the impact of commercial musical education endeavors, as exemplified by commissions for the several highly successful piano method books of recent decades. Wade also emphasizes the roles of the government and recording industry in shaping the composition profession in Japan through performance venues, copyright, and music publishing. We learn a good deal about the mechanisms of support and distribution for new music in Japan but not as much about which musical styles tend to receive such support.

Parts 2 and 3 are closely related. In part 2, Wade considers interactions with the West by Japanese composers throughout the twentieth century, building on the scholarship of Judith Herd. She claims that by adopting Western music in the late nineteenth century, the Japanese government and Japanese composers created a “shared cultural space for all Japanese” (57) and ultimately succeeded in connecting...