Today is the 106th anniversary of Meiji composer TAKI Rentarō 滝廉太郎's death at the age of 23.

You might remember him as the composer of early Euro-style melodies like "Hana" 花 ("[Cherry] blossoms") and "Kōjō no tsuki" 荒城の月 ("The moon over the ruins of a castle"), the latter of which the Scorpions used to cover when on tour here. He also wrote what was eventually canonized as Japan's first solo piece, a serviceable if unadventurous minuet in B minor, while still a student in 1899.

In 1901, he travelled to Germany to continue his musical studies, but came down with tuberculosis after just two months, and returned to Japan in 1902. Back at his family home in Oita, he wrote his second (and final) piano piece just months before dying: "Urami" 憾, published posthumously.

"Urami" is not a subtle piece. The melody storms up and down the minor scale, trapped and frustrated, while naked minor chords pound the harmonic sensibilities raw. It's primitive, lacking even the prom-pomade finish of the minuet. And because the word "Urami" has evolved somewhat in meaning over the years, the meaning (and ideal English translation) of the title is a topic of debate.

OGAWA Noriko's Just for me (which is a must-own for anyone interested in early Japanese piano music) translates it "Grudge" without comment—apparently based on the modern meaning of the verb uramu—but this makes little sense. A grudge is something you hold long-term, not a deathbed outburst like this. "Regret" is another common translation, but in my opinion this music lacks the quiet resignation that this would imply.

Me, I would go with "Resentment." Resentment at coughing up blood on an Oita sickbed instead of studying with the Viennese masters; resentment at being dragged off the stage of history just as things were getting interesting. Resentment at the prospect of becoming a period curiosity, written up in blogs a hundred years later for writing Japan's first minuet—rather than its best one.

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L.N. Hammer:

"Urami" may not be subtle, but it's kilometers more interesting than the "Minuet", which is about as adventuresome as something written by the ell then cut to shape for a court patron by a student of one of Bach's less successful sons.



I feel like "resentment" might be a little mild, but then my experience is colored by 13th century men writing that something is 生涯遺恨也. (The particular case I'm quoting being having been passed over for a position or promotion.)


生涯: now that's a grudge.

It's true, L.N.; Takahashi Aki certainly has yet to revive the piece. I don't think it's that bad by the standards of second-year student work, though.


滝廉太郎 is a somewhat unfortunate character to me. And these pieces are fairly insipid. Considering the period of time he could he lived on into, Taki had much potential; as it stands, his music is at best an imitation of the piano music that was around 40-50 years before he was born.

As for the translation, I like your defense of using resentment. I find it interesting that cross referencing this word in an E-J dictionary turns up ルサンチマン. Maybe there's a German word for this emotion that will better convey the whole story.


Yes, I like to imagine Taki taking his melodic gift and figuring out how to combine it with the ideas of, say, Debussy. Or at least Wagner (probably more likely given the greater separation between French and German schools back then). Instead, he died tragically twee.

I also suspect that he might have had a German word in mind. The emotion I am thinking of is a less Romantically expressed version of Beethoventic deafness-rage, perhaps...

L.N. Hammer:

Very student work, yes. You're right that it's interesting to imagine what would happen if he had internalized Wagner and nativized it.


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