A Weird Relationship Between Japan and Beethoven Ninth Symphony

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Dec 3, 2011 02:46 第九 ベートーベン 合唱 Classical music orchestra symphony No.9 Beethoven WWI
The Symphony No.9 composed by Beethoven is affectionately called "Daiku" in Japanese.

Concerts featuring the symphony "Daiku" are held throughout Japan in every December.

Why is "Daiku" so popular in Japan? 

Why is it performed in December?


A movie showing a reason, called "Bart no Gakuen" (Ode an die Freude), was screened in Japan in 2006.

It starred one of the greatest Japanese actors, Ken Matsudaira, and one of the greatest German actors, Bruno Gantz.

However it turned out to be a failure due to poor communication between the Japanese director and the German actors.

This is a trailer followed by some scenes.




It was based upon the true story about a prison camp during WWI.

I read some books and checked the Internet in order to investigate the truth about the movie, and I found that fact is stranger than fiction.

Japan had been allied with Great Britain since 1902.

When World War I occured in 1914, Great Britain engaged in warfare with Germany, so Japan also declared war against Germany.

The Japanese army using 29,000 soldiers launched a bitter attack on the Qing Tao Fortress in China where 4,300 German soldiers were stationed.

Eventually, the German soldiers raised the white flag in surrender.

They were detained in several camps in Japan.


There was one camp at a very small town, Bando, on the Shikoku Island during WWI.

Captain Toyohisa Matsue ran the camp, but he was an odd director.

He treated the prisoners humanely according to the Haag Convention, which was not well known among Japanese commanders then.


He came from the Aidu Domain in the northeast Japan.

The Aidu Domain took sides with Shogun in the Meiji Restoration, so they were beaten and massacred by the Imperial Forces.

Matsue was a son of an Aidu samurai, who survived the oppression from the Meiji Government, and then entered the military.

He decided not to make any of the prisoners feel such humiliation.


The German prisoners of war were treated as such in order to restore their dignity.

They showed the people of Bando their advanced skills and technologies in return.

Before long, the locals respected the prisoners.

There formed a strange friendship.

Then the Ninth Symphony was performed by an orchestra made up of a select group of the prisoners, for the first time.

Some Japanese, who had been taught by the prisoners, joined the orchestra.

The "Daiku" was very touching.

Since then "Daiku" had often been performed by Japanese orchestra.

It was played as the indication of friendship across nationalities then and became gradually popular.



On December 31, 1940, "Daiku" was conducted by Joseph Rosenstock, perfomed by the New Symphony Orchestra (currently, the NHK Symphony Orchestra) and broadcast live on the radio in order to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of founding the nation.

According to a myth, it is said that the first Emperor Jinmu took to the throne in the year 660 B.C.

When the concert producer was asked why "Daiku" was selected, he answered that there were special performances of the Ninth Symphony throughout Germany every December 31.

This is partly because we have the tradition of having "Daiku" concerts near the end of the year.

To tell the truth, only the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig has the annual concert on New Year's Eve, so the answer was incorrect.


The other reason is the financial problem of an orchestra member.

Bill collectors always persecuted debtors in the recession after WWII.

They used to demand full repayment from a borrower by New Year's Eve.

Musicians were always poor and needed much money in December.

However when "Daiku" would be performed, the concert tickets are always sold out.

So they wanted to perform "Daiku" near the end of the year.


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One of these annual concerts may seem peculiar to the Western people.

It is the biggest classical concert, "Suntory Presents Beethoven's 9th with a Cast of 10000," in the Osaka Castle Hall.

It is performed by a special orchestra that includes foreign players and an amateur chorus group consisting of 10,000 people mainly from the Kansai district.

The choir trains intensively for about four months.

The audience of 7,000 is also allowed to sing a part of the chorus.

It may not be so much a concert as a religious ritual.


This year's concert is going to be held on December 4th.

Moreover the 200 member of the Tohoku choir, who were affected by the 3.11 disaster, will join the chorus via live remote broadcasting.


The current conductor is Maestro Yutaka Sado.

He was an apprentice of Leonard Bernstein and then won the International Besançon Competition for Young Conductors in 1989.

This is the video of the last chorus from the concert in 2009.



If Beethoven attended the concert, would he be happy or mad?

The concert will be broadcast on December 23, the Emperor's Birthday.