Music of Kikuko Kanai

Kikuko Kanai: Photo kindly provided by Hiroshi Kanai and Sachiko Kanai

From Okinawa to the World: The Music of Kikuko Kanai

Groundbreaking research, supported by The Arts And Humanities Research Council, brings the music of Japanese composer Kikuko Kanai (1906-1986) to new audiences via recordings and broadcasts on BBC Radio 3.
Dr. Maiko Kawabata

Kikuko Kanai belonged to a select group of trailblazers as one of the first Japanese women to compose Western classical music. Kanai’s story of a creative musical voice that prevailed against all odds is one that needs to be heard, sure to inspire numerous listeners -- particularly young girls from minorities. Her compositional output was prolific, encompassing more than 150 works for orchestra, choir, and stage (including ballet and opera); chamber music, woodwind ensemble music, vocal music, and works for piano. Tracing Kanai’s musical journey touches on themes that matter perhaps more now than at any other time in our history: themes such as identity and belonging, being a woman in a man’s world, and the power of her music to uplift in the face of war and destruction.

Kanai developed her own unique compositional voice by combining her extensive training in Western harmony, counterpoint and orchestration in Tokyo (with a pupil of Hindemith) with her Okinawan musical heritage. She devoted herself to collecting, transcribing and publishing more than a thousand folksongs, which formed the basis for her numerous orchestral, chamber choral and other works – among them symphonies, an opera, Tale of Okinawa, and the Hollywood film soundtrack ‘The Teahouse of the August Moon’ which was set in Okinawa.

Although some of her songs, music for piano and woodwinds are available on CD, few of her orchestral works have been recorded. This project will enable her orchestral music to be heard for the first time outside Japan - music bearing evocative titles such as ‘Shrine Maiden Dance’, ‘Good Harvest Dance’, and ‘Karate’ – via recordings and broadcasts on BBC Radio 3. In parallel, a critical appraisal of the triply marginalised (as a woman, as a Japanese, as an Okinawan) Kanai’s music in context is being prepared for publication and conference presentations.

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Photo: kindly provided by Hiroshi Kanai and Sachiko Kanai

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