As a continuation of the previous post about Shinpei Nakayama’s composition “Tokyo March”, this article will focus on Nakayama and his other well-known works.

Shinpei Nakayama (中山晋平) was born in 1887 in Nagano prefecture. He attended Tokyo School of Music (present day Tokyo University of the Arts).

One of his most beloved works is “The Gondola Song” (ゴンドラの唄, Gondora No Uta), which was used in Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1952 film, Ikiru (生きる). During his career, Nakayama composed a great number of popular melodies, including nearly 800 children’s songs, many of which were featured in the children’s picture magazine Kodomo No Kuni (Children’s Land).

  • Rekion access in OSUL – Rekion Identifier for the 1934 recording of The Gondola Song” (ゴンドラの唄 ) is “info:ndljp/pid/1322660”

Nakayama was active at a time when radical changes were occurring in the nature of Japanese music and performance. When Western-style theater was introduced to Japan during the Meiji restoration, it was feared that traditional forms of Japanese performance such as noh and kabuki would go out of style and therefore must either be reformed or replaced. In order to please the changing tastes of audiences, Hogetsu Shimamura founded a theater troupe that utilized popular music as an added element to stage productions. Nakayama was the composer of some of these musical numbers, and his composition for Leo Tolstoy’s Resurrection, “Katyusha’s Song” (カチューシャの唄)became an instant hit, and along with “Tokyo March” was considered to be one of Japan’s first pop songs.

  • Rekion access in OSUL – Rekion Identifier for the 1932 recording of Katyusha’s Song (カチューシャの唄)is “info:ndljp/pid/1334429”

OSUL’s 1914 recording of Katyusha’s Song, titled as「復活唱歌」(Fukkatsu Shōka)

Katyusha’s Song is written in a pentatonic major tonality, which can be heard  in occidental tunes such as “Comin’ Through the Rye” and “Auld Lang Syne”. This was particularly pleasing at the time to Japanese ears, which were mostly accustomed to traditional Japanese modes, which are also based on pentatonic tonality. Nakayama made use of this scale pattern and combined it with Western-style rhythms and instrumentation to create a hybrid of the two musical cultures. This was a stepping stone in accustoming Japanese listeners to these never before heard musical genres and paved the way for an influx of West-inspired popular music.

OSUL’s copy of the 1914 recording of Katyusha’s Song, titled as「復活唱歌」(Fukkatsu Shōka) — shown in the image — cannot be played but can be viewed upon request at the Music & Dance Library.

NOTE: This is one of a series of posts highlighting content available in Rekion (れきおん), the Historical recordings collection of the National Diet Library (Japan), which is available at a dedicated computer in the Music and Dance Library at Ohio State.  See the Introductory post in this series for more information about the database.