In the early 20th century, a musical piece titled "Tekona March" made a splash in Vienna, Austria.

Tekona is the name of a legendary beauty mentioned in "Manyoshu" (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poetry compiled in the eighth century. She is said to have drowned herself in a bay that is today a part of the city of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, saddened by how men fought to win her affection.

The composer of this march was Rudolf Dittrich (1861-1919), an Austrian musician who later became a prominent figure in the Viennese music world. In the mid-Meiji Era (1868-1912), he taught music for six years at the Tokyo Music School (now the Tokyo University of the Arts).

"Dittrich probably came to know of Tekona as a patron goddess of pregnant women and mothers of young children," said Masuo Kuwamura, 82, an Ichikawa resident whose self-appointed mission is to honor Dittrich by bringing him out of relative obscurity in Japan.

"He had a son with a Japanese woman," Kuwamura went on. "At the time of his return to Austria, he was worried about the future of the woman and the son he was leaving behind in Japan."

Kuwamura obtained the score of "Tekona March" that had remained forgotten in Vienna, and had it performed in Japan two years ago by an orchestra of which he is a member.

He is currently busy raising funds to publish Dittrich's biography.

As a foreigner hired by the Meiji government as an adviser, Dittrich is little known in Japan, but his contributions were substantial. He systematically taught European music composition, direction, singing and performance, and performed at the Rokumeikan, then a premier symbol of Westernization.

He also composed a piece to celebrate the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution, as well as performed a commemorative number for the establishment of the Imperial Diet.

Dittrich was famously strict with his students, but apparently had enough playfulness to stamp each student's test paper with his "hanko" seal, which bore his name in kanji characters.

After his return to Austria, he worked at incorporating traditional Japanese tunes, which he had collected in Japan, into his compositions. And he is said to have conducted "Tekona March" himself.

I listened to a recording of the march's first performance in Ichikawa. The rhythm was Viennese throughout, but it blended perfectly naturally with tunes inspired by Japanese "minyo" folk songs and "kouta" ballads.

Eyes closed, I savored the sensation of traveling in time and space, from Manyoshu to the Rokumeikan and from the Imperial Diet to a concert hall in Vienna.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.