Full score of “Hiroshima” symphony, conveying strength of Hiroshima people, is found

City hopes to see another performance of this symphony

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

The original full score of Symphony No. 2 Hiroshima was shown to the public at the Hiroshima Municipal Archives in downtown Hiroshima on July 8. This 1949 symphony by Erkki Aaltonen (1910-1990) was performed in Hiroshima in August 1955, ten years after the atomic bombing. With his symphony, the Finnish composer showed compassion toward the people of Hiroshima and conveyed their strength in enduring the tragedy of the bombing. There are no commercial recordings of this symphony on the market, and those in music circles are hoping that the piece will be performed again in Hiroshima.

The performance in Hiroshima, nearly 60 years ago, was given by the Kansai Symphony Orchestra (now the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra) under the baton of world-renowned conductor Takashi Asahina. (Mr. Asahina died in 2001 at the age of 93.) The full score, which remained among the possessions of the orchestra, was discovered by Yumi Notohara, 43, a member of the “Hiroshima and Music” committee. The Kyoto resident has been working to uncover important musical pieces on the theme of Hiroshima.

On the cover of the 182-page score is the word “HIROSHIMA,” written by the composer himself in ornamental writing of black letters rimmed in red. The score is believed to be a reproduction of the original handwritten sheet music.

According to Ms. Notohara, who visited family members of the late composer and listened to a recording of a performance held in Europe, the symphony is about 30 minutes long. The mournful melodies evoke the tragedy, but the music turns to a major key at the end. In the program for the Hiroshima concert, which is held by the Hiroshima Municipal Archives, Mr. Aaltonen said that the music reflects the great strength that lies hidden in the human spirit.

The symphony was first performed by the Helsinki City Symphony Orchestra in 1949 in Helsinki. It was also performed in other places in Eastern Europe. In the hope that the symphony would be played in Hiroshima, Mr. Aaltonen, who was a member of this orchestra, handed the score to Mr. Asahina, who was making a guest appearance. Hiroshima natives in the Kansai-area business community made financial contributions to benefit their hometown, and, sponsored by the Chugoku Shimbun, two concerts were held at the municipal auditorium (now the International Conference Center Hiroshima) on August 15, 1955. The newspaper’s morning edition said that 5,000 citizens were invited free of charge, and that the concerts were an enormous success.

Ten photos of the Hiroshima concerts and six letters of appreciation from Hiroshima people are held by the National Library of Finland. One of the letters describes the strong response from the audience: “The audience sat in silence for a moment after the performance, then a storm of applause swept the stage.”

Ms. Notohara said she can imagine how music connected the hearts of Hiroshima people and those who felt compassion toward them. There are no records which indicate that the symphony was performed after 1998, even in Finland. Ms. Notohara is asking orchestras both in Japan and abroad to perform the symphony. The score, on loan from the Osaka orchestra, as well as copies of the photos from the concerts and letters of appreciation, will be on display at the Hiroshima Municipal Archives until September 26. The building is open only on weekdays and admission is free.

(Originally published on July 8, 2014)