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About Rudolf Dittrich

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Rudolf Dittrich
(Photo from the collection of Hiroko Hirasawa) Click to enlarge (852kb)

Rudolf Dittrich's Japanese Song Arrangements for Piano

Some songs in the Daisyfield archive of Japanese traditional music are from:

Dittrich, Rudolf, Nippon Gakufu ("Six Japanese Popular Songs collected and arranged for the Pianoforte"), Breitkopf and Härtel, Leipzig, 1894.

Dittrich, Rudolf, Nippon Gakufu, Second Series ("Ten Japanese Songs collected and arranged for the Pianoforte"), Breitkopf and Härtel, Leipzig, 1895.

Rudolf Dittrich (1861-1919) was an Austrian musician who served in Japan (1888-1894) during the Meiji period as a violin and piano teacher and performer.  In his position as the first Artistic Director of the Tokyo School of Music, he played a key role in bringing knowledge of Western music to Japan.  While in Japan, Dittrich had a relationship with a Japanese woman who bore him a son.  (More about this below!)  After returning to Europe, Dittrich published the two collections listed above, consisting of piano arrangements of traditional Japanese songs.  He also published other arrangements of Japanese music, as well as original compositions (mainly for organ).

Front cover, Dittrich's Nippon Gakufu, 1894 Click to enlarge (815kb)

His arrangements of Japanese songs add the full machinery of late 19th century Viennese harmony and counterpoint to the comparatively unadorned original Japanese works.  Dittrich in some cases includes the lyrics for the songs, in German, English, and sometimes in (Romanized) Japanese.  I find many of these arrangements quite beautiful.

Some of the songs in Dittrich's collections appear in Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, and it is highly likely that Puccini had Dittrich's sheet music in hand as he composed that opera.  For a list of these songs and where they appear in the opera, see Japanese Songs in Puccini's Madama Butterfly on this website. 

In view of Dittrich's connection to Puccini's opera, the fact that Dittrich had a Japanese child is fascinating!  After all, Madama Butterfly is about a Westerner in Japan who acquires a Japanese wife and son.  However, there is no evidence that Puccini knew about Dittrich's Japanese family.

Dittrich's 1894 song book contains interesting and colorful artwork from the print shop of T. Hasegawa (長谷川) in Tokyo.

To download sheet music and audio files for some of Dittrich's Japanese songs, visit DaisyField.com Archive of Japanese Traditional Music on this website.


Rudolf Dittrich's Life

Dittrich was born in 25-Apr-1861, in Biala, Galicia.  He attended the Vienna Conservatory, where he excelled in violin, piano, organ, and composition.  His teachers there included Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), who became a friend and supporter.

In November, 1886, Dittrich married Petronella Josefine Leopoldine Lammer (15-Sep-1860 to 4-Jan-1891), nicknamed "Perine".  Perine too was a musician, in fact, a singer.

Artistic Director, Tokyo School of Music

End piece, Dittrich's Nippon Gakufu, 1894 Hasegawa illustration of bird and fan from Dittrich, 1894 Click to enlarge (163kb)

In 1888, Dittrich accepted an offer to become the first Artistic Director of the Tokyo School of Music, with a three-year contract expiring 1-Sep-1891.  The Tokyo School of Music's successor organization is the prestigious Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

Rudolf Dittrich and his wife Perine traveled to Japan and took up residence in Tokyo.  They both worked at the school, teaching and giving performances.  They performed not only at the school, but also at the famous Rokumeikan, a large hall in Tokyo whose purpose was to entertain foreigners.

While his musical qualifications were the main reason for Dittrich's selection to head the Tokyo School of Music, another factor was his fluency in English, the main language of instruction at the school.  The school's purpose was to teach European classical music to Japanese students, so the teachers were foreigners.  Since the Japanese did not expect the foreign teachers to learn Japanese, they selected a single European language as the standard.  Students studied English along with their music lessons.  Incidentally, Dittrich did learn some Japanese.

Dittrich taught violin, piano, organ, theory, and composition.  And, judging from the success of his students, he was an effective teacher.  Many of his students went on to distinguished careers, and he is recognized as an important figure in the musical history of Japan.  We know that Dittrich was very strict in the classroom, so much so that students sometimes broke into tears.  There is even a report of a student strike.  One commentator (Irene Suchy) has called his teaching methods "brutal".  However, his biographer Hiroko Hirasawa has a more sympathetic assessment, saying that while he was very severe during his classes, in other interactions he was an affable man.

Near the end of Dittrich's first 3-year term as Director, his wife Perine died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism (Lungeninfarkt).  Her death was unexpected: only a short time before, Perine had sung in a concert.  Dittrich took a vacation to deal with his grief, and then returned to the school, which at that time was facing serious financial problems.  The government was withdrawing financial support, moving funds into the military buildup for the coming war with China.

Dittrich acquires a Japanese family

In spite of his school's financial difficulties, Dittrich's contract was renewed in 1891 for 3 years, to expire 1-Sep-1894.  He continued the work of instruction, performance, and administration without his Austrian wife at his side.  Then, sometime in 1891 or 1892, he formed a relationship with a Japanese woman, Kiku Mori (Mori is the family name), with whom he had a son Otto Mori, born 26-Aug-1893.  Kiku Mori was a shamisen performer and instructor, and we can assume that she taught Dittrich the words and music for the Japanese songs in his 1894 and 1895 collections.

I do not know whether Rudolf Dittrich and Kiku Mori had a formal wedding ceremony, nor whether the pair lived together, or if so, for how long.  Nor do I know whether the existence of Dittrich's Japanese family caused or hastened his departure from Japan (he left one month before the expiration of his contract).  Here is what we do know.  Dittrich's biographer, Hiroko Hirasawa, has seen and transcribed a declaration that Dittrich signed at the Austro-Hungarian Empire's consulate in Yokahama 3 weeks before his departure from Japan.  Here is my English translation of that document (original is in German) [Hirasawa, p. 86]:

In the records of this Imperial and Royal Consulate it is hereby confirmed that Professor R. Dittrich has in this office today made the following formal declaration:

I hereby obligate myself, for the benefit of my illegitimate son Otto, born on 26 August, 1893 to Miss Kiku Mori and myself, to make a yearly payment, in advance, of at least sixty (60) Japanese silver yen to the child's mother.  If the above-named Kiku Mori prevents the child from being turned over to me, should I demand it, this will cancel my obligation. —Yokohama, 10 July, 1894

Unfortunately, the final sentence, about turning over the child, may be transcribed incorrectly from the original hand-written manuscript, because the German wording ("Sollte s.Z. [sic] genannte Mori Kiku sich weigern mir das Kind über mein Verlangen auszufolgen [sic], hört diese meine Verpflichtung auf") is unidiomatic and ambiguous.  But I think my English translation above is accurate. 

I infer that Dittrich thought he might want the child to join him in Austria at some time in the future—but he wasn't sure.  The political and social realities both in Japan and in Austria made it inconceivable that Kiku Mori would accompany Dittrich back to Austria.  But Dittrich probably thought that there might be a possibility of his son Otto coming to live in Austria when he grew a few years older.  I don't think this ever happened.  Otto grew up in Japan as a Japanese, with his mother receiving yearly stipends from Dittrich until Otto reached adulthood. 

Otto Mori followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a professional violinist.  Otto married a woman named Yoshika Miyake [see Gnaedinger genealogy website], and the couple gave Rudolf Dittrich 3 grandchildren and at least 5 great-grandchildren.  Otto Mori's eldest son was movie actor Fujio Mori (1923 to 24-Oct-2005), known professionally as Jun Negami.  In addition to appearing in over 30 Japanese movies, Jun Negami played "Mr. Seiko" in Teahouse of the August Moon, starring Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford (1956).

Postcards to Kiku Mori from America

Dittrich left Japan forever on 1-Aug-1894, aboard a British ship bound for Tacoma, Washington, U.S.A. (On this same day, the Sino-Japanese War began.)  After reaching Tacoma, Dittrich took a train to Vancouver, B.C., and there began a trip by train that took him to New York and to a ship bound for Europe.  During this trip Dittrich wrote at least two postcards, in Japanese katakana script, to his Japanese wife Kiku Mori.  Hiroko Hirasawa in her dissertation [between numbered pages 87 and 88] displays facsimiles of these notes, but provides no translation from the Japanese.

The first postcard is postmarked Tacoma, 17-Aug-1894, and says, in English translation:

August 16

My dear Kiku,
I am in Tacoma today.  Please don't worry about me—I am not sick, although it was a long voyage.  How are you doing?  How is Otto?

Please take very good care of yourself.  I will write a letter to you again from America.

Take care of yourself,

The second postcard is postmarked Hamilton, Ontario, 23-Aug-1894:

Miss Kiku Mori
2 Hongo Yayoi-cho. Tokyo.

From Niagara Falls

My dear Kiku,
Today I am at Niagara Falls. I am not sick.

You and Otto, please take care of yourselves,

What do we learn from these brief messages?  A first observation is that the greeting in the cards, "My dear Kiku" ("okikusan"), shows affection.  Also, Dittrich indicates a paternal interest in his son by inquiring about his well-being and wishing him well.  Finally, the fact that Dittrich asks questions in his message suggests that he expected replies, and that a prolonged correspondence may have ensued.  So far as I know, however, the above messages are up to now the only published corrresponce between Dittrich and his Japanese family.  It would be interesting to learn more about this sad story of a family torn apart by circumstances beyond their control.

Dittrich's Life in Vienna, 1894-1919

After returning to Vienna in 1894, Dittrich had to struggle at first in the musical job market.  In the first years after his return he was active as a violinist and violist in chamber music concerts.  Eventually he secured more stable employment, rising to become in 1901 one of three Hapsburg court organists.  In that role he was a successor to his mentor Anton Bruckner, appointed court organist in 1868.  In 1906 Dittrich became professor of organ at the Vienna Conservatory.  He was a principal designer for the great organ in the Musikverein auditorium, where the Vienna Philharmonic plays its New Year's concerts.

On 10-Jul-1900, Dittrich married his second Austrian wife, Katharina Kriegle (9-Aug-1880 to 1945).  She bore him two sons, Oswald Franz Dittrich (4-Jun-1901 to 10-Oct-1966) and Rudolf (1903-?). 

On 18-Oct-1916, during a concert at which he was a performer, Dittrich fell to the floor, the victim of a stroke.  He never fully recovered, and died in Vienna on 16-Jan-1919.  Dittrich's son Oswald married Maria Anna Girschik (1903-1976).  His other Austrian son, Rudolf, moved to Germany in 1928; after that, what became of him is unknown.

Remarks on References

The most complete source of information on Rudolf Dittrich is Hiroko Hirasawa's dissertation.  This musical biography of Dittrich contains facsimiles of many documents such as concert programs, the contract as director of the Tokyo School of Music, photographs of Dittrich and his students, etc.  In her introduction, Hirasawa thanks for their help several Dittrich descendants, including Dittrich's Japanese grandson Fujio Mori (Jun Negami).  Perhaps it was he who showed her Dittrich's 1894 paternity declaration and the postcards displayed above.  Her footnotes for these documents say simply "Privatbesitz" ("private property"). 

Irene Suchy's earlier dissertation is valuable because it places Dittrich in the context of other German-speaking musicians who worked in Japan.  Also notable are some fascinating details about Dittrich's teaching in Japan.  (Irene Suchy's personal website irenesuchy.org, should be visited by anyone with an interest in the history of European music in Japan.) 

Kunio Hara's master's thesis is the best place to learn about Dittrich's influence on Madame Butterfly.  Niklaus Gnaedinger is a descendant of Dittrich who has placed valuable information on the Internet about Dittrich's ancestors and descendants.

I have not been able to consult a work cited by Hirasawa that may have further information about Dittrich's Japanese family:

Matsumoto, Zenzo, "Rudolf Dittrich to nippon no shoki Waiorin kai" (in Japanese), in Ongaku gendai, Tokyo, June, 1987, p. 150.



Dittrich, Rudolf, Nippon Gakufu ("Six Japanese Popular Songs collected and arranged for the Pianoforte"), Breitkopf and Härtel, Leipzig, 1894.

Dittrich, Rudolf, Nippon Gakufu, Second Series ("Ten Japanese Songs collected and arranged for the Pianoforte"), Breitkopf and Härtel, Leipzig, 1895.

Gnaedinger, Niklaus, webpage on Dittrich family genealogy, on the Gnaedinger family website at http://www.gnaedinger-ramsen.ch/ahnenforschung/wien/dittrich.htm

Hara, Kunio, Puccini's Use of Japanese Melodies in Madama Butterfly, Master's thesis, University of Cincinnati, 2003.  Download from http://www.ohiolink.edu/etd/send-pdf.cgi?ucin1060955367 [Large pdf file, 3MB].

Hirasawa, Hiroko, Rudolf Dittrich, Leben und Werk (Rudolf Dittrich, Life and Work), (in German), Doctoral dissertation, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 1996.

IMDB (Internet Move Database) article on Jun Negami, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0624346/

"Obituary: Jun Negami", Japan Times, 26-Oct-2005, http://search.japantimes.co.jp/member/member.html?nn20051026a8.htm

Schwertberger, Gerald, "Ein Österreichischer Musiker in Japan, Fujio Mori, und Madame Butterfly", web article posted on Gerald Schwertberger's personal website, visited, December, 2007.  [Gerald Schwertberger is an Austrian musician and music teacher.  Among the many interesting items on his website is a photo of Hiroko Hirasawa visiting Rudolf Dittrich's grave!]

Suchy, Irene, Deutschsprachige Musiker in Japan vor 1945 (German-speaking Musicians in Japan before 1945), (In German) Doctoral dissertation, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 1992.

Suchy, Irene, "Versunken und vergessen, zwei österreichische Musiker in Japan vor 1945" (in German), in Sepp Linhart / Kurt Schmid, eds., Mehr als Maschinen für Musik, Literas Ges.m.b.H., Universitäts-, Buch- und Zeitschriftenverlag, Vienna, Austria, 1990. View online at http://www.irenesuchy.org/pdf/versunken%20und%20vergessen.pdf



Special thanks to Irene Suchy for helping me gain access to works about Dittrich.

Many thanks also to Hiroko Hirasawa for permitting me to use the above photo of Rudolf Dittrich from her collection, and for other assistance.  I am very grateful to Gerald Schwertberger for forwarding a copy of this photo and for helping me check facts about Dittrich's Austrian family.

I am also grateful to Katrin Bean and Doris Mühlestein for assistance with some difficult phrases in German, and to historian Jerry Harder and musicologist Kunio Hara for helpful conversations on this material.  Thanks also to Toshie Miyake and Reiko Fukushima for translating Dittrich's postcards from America.

Tom Potter
May, 2007

Page updates:
  September, 2007
  December, 2007

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