Goethe Medal for Japanese composer

Goethe Medal for Japanese composer


norman lebrecht

May 21, 2021

The Goethe Medal, Germany’s special honour for international cultural exchange, has gone this year to Toshio Hosokawa.

The Japanese composer, 66, had an opera based on Heinrich von Kleist’s ‘Earthquake in Chili’, premiered in Stuttgart in 2018.


  • John Borstlap says:

    What would Goethe have thought of the ‘modern’ German obsession with sound art?

    This is Hosokawa’s rather lugubrous ‘Blossoming’ (probably under bad weather conditions):


    Well-made impressionistic sound art at the border of music, dominated by the minor second and the augmented fourth – the best intervals to avoid tonality. (If you hear at beginning of an oldfashioned modern piece a single long tone, you can be sure that the next tone will be a minor second or an augmented fourth.)

    Goethe stands symbol for classicism, historic awareness (esp. of Antiquity), universal meaning, balance, clear structure, logic, spiritual and emotional sensitivity, intellectual clarity – exactly all the things that are always anxiously avoided in sound art, which is materialist, romantic in the sense of seeking the unlimited, infinite, and uncontrolled, the vague and incoherent, the morbid and anxious, the faint impression rather than the clear expression, etc. etc.

    Hosokawa’s work belongs to the best of sound art, especially because of his regularly ‘touching’ the musical territory – and shrinking back quickly as if unpleasantly surprised. But giving his work a medal that is named after everything that is opposed to what his work represents, invites the stunning conclusion that the people who made the decision don’t know who Goethe was. It’s like the catholics declaring a sinner a saint because of his sins.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I’m a roman catholic by birth and gravely offended by this nonsense. I looked-up this Goethe man on wiki and he was a true humanist. So, German taste for modernism is a protest against nazi music & stuff, so it’s very humanist. It’s immoral to denounce the social justice of rewarding true humanist music! You can hear the freedom in such music, and the courage to look forward, away from Hitler. Germany and Japan, the wrongdoers of the past, have become the standard bearers of a humanist future! And the beauty of the thing is that it’s all in the music, everybody can hear that.


  • Rob Keeley says:

    A composer I’ve never come across before – there are so many, too many for one lifetime! thanks for the heads up!

  • Terence says:

    I listened to Mr Hosokawa’s music on YouTube. Not quite my cup of tea.

    But via that I discovered the composer Karen Tanaka — her music is much more to my liking.