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Akira Ifukube (伊福 部 昭 Ifukube Akira: Kushiro, May 31, 1914 – Tokyo, February 8, 2006) was a Japanese composer of classical and film music; in the second field, his best known works are those he composed for the Godzilla movie series, from the Japanese production house Tōhō.
Akira Ifukube was born on May 31, 1914 in Kushiro, a town on the Japanese island of Hokkaidō. He was the third son of a Japanese monk Shinto. Most of his childhood was spent among the Japanese population and ethnic groups of the Ainu, relying on his father’s good relations with the latter. Ifukube was strongly influenced by the musical traditions of the two cultures and studied violin and shamisen. His first encounter with classical music occurred when he was studying at the secondary school in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaidō. But I make the decision to be a composer after having listened in a radio broadcast to the ballet The Consecration of Spring, by Igor Stravinsky
Subsequently, Ifukube studied forestry at the University of Hokkaidō and composed in his free time. Ifukube belongs to the line of self-taught composers such as Tōru Takemitsu and Takashi Yoshimatsu. His first piece is a composition for piano: Piano Suite (later the title was changed to Japanese Suite, arranged for orchestra). This piece is dedicated to the pianist John Copland who lived in Spain. Atsushi Miura, musicologist and friend of the University of Ifukube, sent a letter of admiration to Copland. Copland responded “It’s wonderful that you listen to my record despite living in Japan, on the opposite side of the earth, I imagine you will be a music composer, send me some pieces for piano.” Then Miura, who was not a composer, sent him the Ifukube piece. Copland promised to interpret it, but the correspondence was unfortunately interrupted by the Spanish Civil War.
His great debut was in 1935, when his first orchestral piece, the Japanese Rhapsody, won first prize in the International Competition for young composers, promoted by Aleksandr Cherepnín. The judges in the contest were Albert Roussel, Jacques Ibert, Arthur Honegger, Alexandre Tansman, Tibor Harsanyi, Pierre-Octave Ferroud, and Henri Gil-Marchex, and were unanimous in awarding him the first prize. The following year, Ifukube studied modern composition Western style while Cherepnin visited Japan. Thanks to his help, in 1938 his Piano Suite received an honorable mention at the I.C.S.M. festival in Venice. At the end of the 30s his music, especially the Japanese Rhapsody, was presented in Europe several times.
After finishing college, he worked as an official forester and logger. Towards the end of World War II it was required by the Imperial Japanese Army to study the elasticity and strength of wood. During this period he underwent irradiation after having used X-rays without protection. As a consequence, upon returning prematurely from the war, he had to leave his job as a forester and became a professional composition teacher. Ifukube spent some time in the hospital due to exposure to the X-Rays, and one of those days was surprised to hear one of his marches on the radio, when American General Douglas MacArthur arrived to formalize the Japanese capitulation.
From 1946 to 1953, he taught composition at the Art College of Nihon University, and it was during this period that he composed his first soundtrack for the film The End of the Silver Mountains, which was born in 1947. During the following 50 years, it would compose more than 250 soundtracks, among which is that for Ishiro Honda’s movie, Godzilla. Ifukube was also the creator of the roar of the monster (It was produced rubbing a leather glove covered with resin on the loose strings of a contrabass) and their steps (They were created by hitting an amplifier).
Despite his financial success as a composer of soundtracks, Ifukube’s true love was his work as a classical composer. In 1974, he returned to teach at the Tokyo Musical College, becoming president the following year, and it was not until 1987 that he retired, but only to become the director of the ethnomusicology department at the school. Ifukube trained the next generation of composers such as Toshiro Mayuzumi, Yasushi Akutagawa and Kaoru Wada. He also published the book Orchestration, a book on music theory of 1000 pages. The Japanese government decorated him by giving him the Order of Culture and the Order of Sacred Treasures.
He died in Tokyo at the Meguro-Ku hospital on February 8, 2006 at the age of 91.
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