SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

The Music of Ancient Greece in Modern Japan

Jonathan Service
Jonathan Service (JRC Research Associate)

Date: 8 January 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 8 January 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G50

Type of Event: Seminar


Tokyo, 15 January 1882: an ‘ancient Greek Hymn to Apollo’ is performed on musical instruments associated with the ‘refined music’ (gagaku) of the Japanese Imperial Court. It is a curious performance for, as Isawa Shûji, Director of the Commission of Musical Investigations, records, ‘When the piece was played on those instruments, nobody could find any difference between ancient Greek and present Japanese music.’ Two years later, this same Isawa includes in his Report of the Commission—an epochal document that determined much of the terminology and exerted a great deal of influence on the future direction of both Japanese music and musicology—a short article titled, ‘Similarity Between Ancient Greek and Present Japanese Music.’ The article attempts to demonstrate the music-theoretical convergences that allow the identification of these two musics. In this talk, I will analyse the ways in which Isawa used, altered and (willfully) misread his sources in order to uncover the logic of his motivation and answer the question as to what ideological purpose this discourse on ancient Greek music played in the context of Meiji Japan.

Speaker’s Biography

Jonathan Service obtained his doctoral degree in Japanese history with a secondary field in music theory and ethnomusicology from Harvard University in 2012. He is currently a Research Associate at the Japan Research Centre, SOAS. His research involves the creative use of music theory as an index to the description, analysis and comparison of mentalités in early modern and modern Japan. He is working on his first book project, provisionally titled Orchestrating Modernity.

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