October 2011

Three Violin Maidens (3): Tsuji Hisako 辻久子

October 27, 2011 05:05

The ”Three Violin Maidens”: Japan’s First Child Prodigies Part 3: Tsuji Hisako 

Tsuji Hisako, the third of the girl prodigies and the only one still active today, was born in the same year as Iwamoto Mari, in 1926. Unlike the other two she came from the Osaka area and has been based there throughout her long career. Her father Tsuji Kichinosuke (1898-1985) was also a violinist; he performed in the Osaka area in the 1920s and was concertmaster of the Takarazuka Symphony Orchestra, but later concentrated on teaching. He began teaching Hisako in 1932 when she was six, given her daily lessons. Soon she was practising most of the day and hardly going to school.
 
In 1938, a year after Iwamoto Mari, Tsuji Hisako won the Seventh Music Competition. The newspapers duly hailed yet another “girl prodigy.” But her father later used to remark, “I am always saying, all those people who are called virtuoso or prodigy have trained extremely hard, you know; but actually, as a parent, I don’t know how often I have felt sorry [for my daughter].” Tsuji Hisako gave regular recitals in Osaka, where people were proud have their very own prodigy. In 1940 she gave a recital debut in Tokyo, and over the following years she performed several concertos with Tokyo orchestras.
 
Like Iwamoto Mari she toured Manchuria in the 1940s, where she performed under the baton of Asahina Takashi (1908-2001), who after the war became the conductor of the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra. Once the war ended, Tsuji, like the other two young women, was in great demand as a performing artist. She played for the Occupation forces and she toured the country playing recitals. She performed concertos with the newly formed or re-formed orchestras. In 1955 she performed Aram Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto (composed in 1940). Her performance is sometimes described as the Japanese premiere of the concerto, but the child prodigy Watanabe Shigeo (1941-99) had already performed it the year before. Among the works by Japanese composers she premiered in Japan was the Violin Concerto by Kishi Kôichi (1909-37), the first violin concert by a Japanese composer. The first movement was performed already in 1934 in Berlin, by Georg Kuhlenkampff. There is a recent recording of the first part of the movement on Youtube here. It doesn’t say, but I believe the performers are the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra conducted by Komatsu Kazuhiko with Suzumi Kishiko playing the solo part.
 
Tsuji impressed David Oistrakh when he came to Japan, and in 1959 he invited her to tour the Soviet Union; she also gave concerts in Czechoslovakia. Most of her long and active life, however, Tsuji Hisako has spent in Japan, which explains why she is not known abroad. By the time she celebrated ’50 years in music’ since she first started the violin, in 1982, she was the only one of the “Three Violin Maidens” of the pre-war era still performing publicly.
 
In 1977, Tsuji famously sold her house to buy her own Stradivarius, the “Dickson Poynder 1715” (or maybe 1703, the sources I consulted don’t seem to agree). The story made newspaper headlines and brought her name to the attention of people who otherwise neither knew nor cared much about her music. Her name again reached a wider public in 1984, when a film was made about her father on Mainichi TV, Gen Nariyamazu (The Strings Never Cease to Ring), in which she herself played the violin, although her character was played by an actress.
 
In 1993 Tsuji opened her own violin studio in Osaka, which in 2010 had 37 students of all ages; she also organizes concerts with her students. According to my internet researches, Tsuji herself has still been performing in this millennium, and celebrated the 70th anniversary of her debut in 2002. So perhaps her fans can look forward to performances to celebrate her 80th anniversary next year…
 
The years when Tsuji Hisako grew up where also the years when internationally famous foreign artists began to include Japan in their tour circuit. My next blog will be about the first foreign virtuosos to perform in Japan.

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