Music Toshi Ichiyanagi
Yayoi Uno Everett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0108


Toshi Ichiyanagi is an influential and prolific Japanese composer who has contributed widely to postwar aesthetic trends. Although he is best known for his affiliation with John Cage and involvement in Fluxus and other avant-garde activities during the 1960s, Ichiyanagi is a prolific composer who has composed music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, mixed ensembles (Japanese and Western), opera, chorus, electronic media, and film. Ichiyanagi’s music can be divided into four periods: formative years (up to 1959), indeterminacy and aleatoric procedures (1960–1971), minimalism and postmodernism (1972–1981), and cultural fusion and beyond (1982 onward). Born in 1933, Ichiyanagi learned to play piano and compose from an early age. From 1954 to 1957, he studied composition with Vincent Persichetti at the Juilliard School and received the Elizabeth Coolidge award (1955) and Koussevitsky award (1956). His encounter with John Cage in 1959 led Ichiyanagi to vigorously explore aleatoric and indeterminate methods of composition. Upon his return to Tokyo in 1961, he participated in concerts, happenings, and events at the Sōgetsu Center for the Arts (SAC), which was the hotbed of avant-garde artistic activities during the early 1960s. Ichiyanagi brought John Cage and David Tudor to Japan in 1962 and 1964, which led some critics to refer to the impact they caused as Keiji Shokku (“Cage Shock”); liberating music from rigid conventions, Cage and Tudor exerted an emancipatory influence on many Japanese artists and musicians. Between 1966 and 1967, Ichiyanagi returned to the United States to pursue his musical studies on a Rockefeller grant. With Piano Media (1972), Ichiyanagi ushered in minimalism in Japan. In 1976, he spent half a year as composer-in-residence in Berlin and received commissions to compose music for many festivals. From the 1980s onward, his style turned toward cultural fusion of traditional and Western music, on the one hand, and writing for traditional Western genres, that is, concerto, symphony, on the other. Through various commissions by the National Theatre of Japan, Ichiyanagi composed new works for traditional Japanese ensembles (gagaku, reigaku, shōmyō) and mixed ensembles, founded the Tokyo International Music Ensemble in 1989, and toured with the group in the United States and Europe. He received the prestigious Otaka prize twice for his first piano concerto (“kukan no kioku,” 1981) and the violin concerto (“junkan suru fukei,” 1984) as well as the Mainichi Geijutsu prize for Symphony (“Berlin Poems,” 1988). Since 1995, Ichiyanagi has composed operas based on various subjects: notably, Momo (1995), which explores different concepts of time by the German novelist Michel Ende, Hikari (“Light,” 2002); Ikuta-gawa Monogatari (“The story of Ikuta-gawa,” 2004); and White Nights (2005).

General Overviews

A number of sources in Japanese, English, and German offer concise biographical information on Ichiyanagi and summarize his contributions to postwar art music trends in Japan. While Sano 2000 provides a solid overview of art music development in Japan in the course of the 20th century, Sano 2007b is the most comprehensive Japanese source, chronicling all of the performances and concerts that involved Ichiyanagi as composer, lecturer, or performer. Along with Sano 2007a, these volumes offer several authors who provide a detailed survey of Ichiyanagi’s contributions to avant-garde music, electronic music, minimalism, postmodern and traditional musical genres, and cultural fusion. In particular, Yuji Numano (in Sano 2007b) comments on the radical change that took place in Ichiyanagi’s compositional orientation in the 1980s; he approaches composing for traditional genres of concertos and symphonic music from a renewed perspective based on Asian concepts of time. Kiser 2003 offers the most comprehensive overview in English; this is the only source that discusses Ichiyanagi’s early twelve-tone compositions from the late 1950s, offers an analysis of the Berlin Renshi Symphony (1988) from the perspective of a Japanese poetic form called Renshi, and provides a transcript of a talk Ichiyanagi gave on the topic of “time” and “space” in the appendix. Galliano 2003 discusses the role of Western music in the development of art music in the course of the 20th century and Ichiyanagi’s contribution to postwar aesthetic trends in two sections. Masakata and Shono 2000 and Maier 1997 provide concise, but limited biographical and bibliographic sources on Ichiyanagi. The Schott music catalogue Toshi Ichiyanagi (Kiser 2003) provides an up-to-date listing of scores.

  • Galliano, Luciana. Yôgaku: Japanese Music in the 20th Century. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2003.

    Offers a comprehensive overview of art music development in Japan in the 20th century. Galliano focuses on Ichiyanagi’s contribution in two sections: his experimentation with graphic notations during the 1960s at SAC (chapter 7) and his “return to tonality” during the 1980s in which he wrote works such as Paganini Personal (1982) that exploit tonal connotations in themes by Paganini through intermingling atonal procedures (chapter 8). Originally published in Italian.

  • Ichiyanagi, Toshi. Tokyo: Schott Music, 2008.

    A printed catalogue of Ichiyanagi’s compositions, published by Schott Music. It contains a comprehensive biography. The catalogue is regularly updated online and available for purchase.

  • Kiser, Molly. “Toshi Ichiyanagi: His Life and Works.” DMA diss., Juilliard School of Music, 2003.

    An important source in English that provides a biographical overview, analysis of representative compositions, and a summary of Ichiyanagi’s concept of time and space. Kiser offers analysis of his early twelve-tone piece for string quartet (1957), which Ichiyanagi composed as a student at the Juilliard school, Music for Piano (1959–1961) based on chance operations, Piano Media (1972) and Time Sequence (1976) from the minimalist period, and Symphony Berlin Renshi (1988). She also includes an interview with Ichiyanagi in an appendix.

  • Maier, Thomas M. “Toshi Ichiyanagi.” In Komponisten der Gegenwart: Loseblatt-Lexikon: Nachlieferung. Edited by Hanns-Werner Heister, Munich: Edition Text + Kritik, 1997.

    German source that includes a short biography, list of works, bibliography, and discography of Ichiyanagi’s work up until 1997.

  • Masakata, Kanazawa, and Susumu Shono. “Ichiyanagi.” In Grove Music Online. 2000.

    Online source in English. It offers a concise biography and bibliographic sources up until 2000. The coverage is limited, but offers a good starting point for research. Available online by subscription.

  • Sano, Koji. “Ichiyanagi Toshi.” In Nihon no Sakkyoku Nijyuseiki. Edited by Kyo Hori, 136–139. Tokyo: Ongaku no Tomo, 2000.

    Japanese source. This collection of essays presents a concise history of development of art music in Japan in the 20th century and provides a list of representative composers, accompanied by a short biography and list of compositions. Sano contributes a short biography and a comprehensive list of compositions by Ichiyanagi up to 2000.

  • Sano, Koji, ed. Sengo Nihon Ongakushi. Vol. 1, 1945–1973. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2007a.

    Japanese source. Section III, chapter 4 discusses the specific context in which Ichiyanagi introduced the music of John Cage and Fluxus to his Japanese colleagues upon his return to Japan in 1961 and specific events that took place at SAC, including Ichiyanagi’s solo concert and involvement with ensemble New Direction (authored by Yoko Narazaki). Ichiyanagi’s contribution to electronic music and minimalism is also discussed under section IV, chapter 3 (authored by Kazushi Ishida).

  • Sano, Koji, ed. Sengo Nihon Ongakushi. Vol. 2, 1973–2000. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2007b.

    Japanese source. Section VI (authored by Yuji Numano) discusses Ichiyanagi’s stylistic change from minimalism to postmodern style, emphasizing his distinctive treatment of time and space while adopting more traditional formal processes. A representative work from this period is Berulin Renshi (“Series of Poems on Berlin,” 1988) for chorus and orchestra, based on poems by both Japanese and German poets.

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