After studies in piano and composition in Tokyo, he came to Berlin and Freiburg. In 1980, he participated in the Darmstadt Summer Courses for New Music. From 1990, he was a regular guest of the festival as a tutor.
From 1989 to 1998, the composer was the artistic director of the Akiyoshidai International Contemporary Music Seminar and Festival in Yamagushi which he had co-founded. Since 2001, he has additionally been the artistic director of the Japanese Takefu International Music Festival in Fukuj. He was appointed as permanent guest professor at the Tokyo College of Music in 2004.
Hosokawa’s compositions include orchestral works, solo concertos, chamber music and film music alongside works for traditional Japanese instruments. Influences from both Western music - from Schubert to Webern - and the culture of traditional Japanese music can be recognised in his compositions. Hosokawa considers the compositional process to be instinctively associated with the concepts of Zen Buddhism and its symbolic interpretation of nature.
Hosokawa has received numerous awards and prizes: Among them the first prize in the composition competition for the 100th anniversary of the Berliner Philharmoniker (1982), the Arion Music Prize (1984), the Kyoto Music Prize (1988) and the Rheingau Music Prize (1998). From 1998 to 2007 he was Composer in Residence at the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. Hosokawa was appointed member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in 2001. In 2006/07 and 2008/09, he undertook a period of research at the Institute for Advanced Study [Wissenschaftskolleg] in Berlin.
He was Composer in Residence at the Biennale di Venezia (1995, 2001), the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra (1998-2007), the International Music Festival of Lucerne (2000), musica viva in Munich (2001), and others. He was Artistic Director of the Suntory Hall International Program for Music Composition from 2012-2015.


" Regentanz (2018) "

Pour sextuor de percussions

Ed. Schott Music


This piece was composed for Les Percussions de Strasbourg, and it is my first piece for the percussion ensemble.

 “Regentanz” means a ritual to pray for rain in German. “Rain-making” which have been handed down at various places around the world are rituals to pray for “rain” as God’s grace when droughts continue. In many cultural regions around the world, people have a sense that “rain is a gift from God, if the rain stops, it is the punishment of God.” The ritual with performing music and dancing is held to gain the interest of God, to entertain God and to win God’s sympathy.

This piece is my imaginary rain-making ritual music. It consists of descriptions of various forms of rain with percussion instruments (raindrops, quiet rain, heavy rain, rain showers, a roll of thunder and thunderstorm, etc.), then the final part based on the rhythm of the American Indians’ rain-making dance appears, it evolves into the music which brings excitement and intoxication.

Toshio Hosokawa


(translated by Yuki Yokota, on Sep. 9th, 2018)

" Sublimation "

For cello and orchestra

Schott Music


This work was commissioned by the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition as the compulsory work of the final round of the cello division.
All of my concertos are composed under the idea of the soloist representing humans, and the orchestra representing the nature and the universe that expand within and outside of humans. The cello, as a human being, sings a “song” that is very much human like. The cello has been captured as an extent of the human voice. That “song” uses gradual intonations and portamentos of Japanese Buddhist chanting (voice of the monk). I call these brush stroke-like curves of calligraphy. These gradual lines eventually morph into the “song” with dynamic movements.
The orchestra as the nature, as the background of the solo, responds to the “song,” creates depth to the background, and responds cruelly as if giving trials to the “song.”
After such correspondences between the solo and orchestra, the song of cello gradually becomes deeper, and melts into the resonance of the orchestra.
I wish to express by music how a song of strong self-consciousness I desire to express sublimes within the magnificent resonance of the nature, and the process of how one’s ego melts.

" Stilles Meer "




My fourth opera, Stilles Meer, was commissioned by Staatsoper Hamburg. The original text was written by Oriza Hirata, and it was rewritten as a libretto by Hannah Dübgen.

What I’ve requested to Oriza Hirata, was to change the setting of the Japanese Nōh play Sumidagawa, a tragedy about a mother who lost her son, to Fukushima as the main stage of the story. The Nōh play Sumidagawa has already been adapted as an opera by Benjamin Britten in his parable Curlew River. Curlew River having an identity close to Christianity, I wanted to have a story more like Buddhism, which is closer to the original setting. Oriza Hirata has incorporated the novel "Maihime" by Ōgai Mori (a great modern Japanese novelist) to "Sumidagawa", and created Stilles Meer, a story which takes places where the Tsunami had struck and where the nuclear plant incident had taken place. Based on this, Hannah Dübgen, who was also the librettist of my opera Matsukaze, wrote the libretto for this opera.

Ever since the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear plant incident caused by it, I once again had to think about the power of nature and of human arrogance. My music is born through the deep correspondence with nature. Once again I thought about the human civilization that on one side respects nature but in the same moment is afraid of the fundamental power it possesses. And I thought about how we are trying to control and to dominate nature but instead are destroying it. My orchestral work Circulating Ocean (2005) is a musical expression of the circulating life: water coming from the ocean, becoming gas, transforming into cloud, rain, storm, falling back to earth, and returning to the ocean. Water is a metaphor of human life; life is born from and returns to the ocean. In Stilles Meer, the ocean, the source of life, has been contaminated by radiation, and the place to return is lost forever. (In this opera, villagers who will do the "Tōrō nagashi" will appear. "Tōrō nagashi" is a Japanese ceremony where the participants use a paper lantern to represent the soul of the deceased, and to return the souls of the deceased to the ocean, the source of life.)

The protagonist Claudia represents the role of the mother/mad woman in the Nōh play Sumidagawa. She cannot accept the loss of her beloved son. By singing this sorrow, and chanting the Buddhism prayer, a new dimension may open up to this sorrow. Sorrow gains a form by singing about it and thus transforming it into music; and so it may be possible to give it depth and transparency. I believe there is Shamanism in the source of music. Claudia is a shaman ("Miko"), and through her singing, she can connect this world and the afterlife, and can find a way for interaction with the souls of the deceased.

I would like to dedicate Stilles Meer to the victims of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

Toshio Hosokawa

" Woven dreams "

For orchestra

Schott Music


W O R L D   P R E M I E R E
August 28th 2010 - Lucerne, KKL, Konzertsaal (CH) Lucerne Festival 2010 - The
Cleveland Orchestra – dir. Franz Welser-Möst.
Order : La Fondation Roche for Lucerne Festival and Carnegie Hall.

I once had a dream that I was in my mother’s womb. In the dream, I experienced these things: the joy of being in the warm womb, pressure and obsession that I must be born before long, and the joy of coming into the world through the suffering and pain of the process of birth. These are deep experiences that will stay in my mind for all time [and which] I have tried to recreate in music. […] In this work there are many influences from the musical language of ”Gagaku“, the ancient Japanese court music that is the womb of my music.
(Toshio Hosokawa)


" Stermlose nacht "

for 2 sopranos, 2 narrators, chorus and orchestra

Schott Music


October 2nd 2010 - Testpielhaus, Baden-Baden (All.) – by MDR Rundfunkhor, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, dir. Kent Nagano, soprano Sally Matthews and mezzo soprano Mihoko Fujimura.

Concert program of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (2010) :
World Premiere of the new piece "Sternlose Nacht" of Toshio Hosokawa who is our music advicer for the International Takefu Music Festival.
Contemporary music has been featured regularly in the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s programming but now, for the first time in their 13 year history, they have commissioned a new work. With funding from the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, the orchestra chose Toshio Hosokawa to write an oratorio-like work entitled "Sternlose Nacht" (Starless Night) setting texts by for Georg Trakl amongst others for soli, mixed choir and orchestra. The world premiere will take place on 2nd October at the Baden-Baden's Festspielhaus during the city's Autumn Festival. Kent Nagano will conduct the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, soprano Sally Matthew and mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura.
"Sternlose Nacht" focuses on the idea of the cycle of seasons but with interjected memories of human tragedies woven into the music. Two tragic events from 1945 are reflected upon, the destruction of Dresden and the bombing of Hosokawa's birthplace, Hiroshima whilst winter turns to spring and to summer and so on. A second performance will take place at Dresden's Frauenkirche on 6th November. Leonard Slatkin will conduct the Dresdner Philharmonie.


" Matsukaze "


Schott Music



World Premiere: May 3, 2011 - La Monnaie, Brussels - Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado.
Libretto (Ger) by Hannah Dübgen, based on Zeami’s "Matsukaze" (2010).
Commissioned by the Theatre de la Monnaie (Brussels).


Toshio Hosokawa about his new opera Matsukaze, the N? theatre and the beauty of the transitory.

Ilka Seifert (=IS): Matsukaze, your most recent opera, goes back to a topic of the classical N? theatre that is well-known in Japan. It is a story about two sisters, Matsukaze and Murasame, who are in love with the same man. Since their wishes remain unfulfilled, both of them return again and again as spirits to the living after their death. What are the things that matter to you in this story of the two sisters?

Toshio Hosokawa (=TH): It is a drama of the salvation of souls. Both women suffer a very tragic fate. To me, they are shamans who connect two worlds with one other, the world of the living and the world of the dead. Upon composing, I thought that the two behave like yin and yang, they are like two sides of the same woman, they complement one another. Matsukaze and Murasame return to our world. They have a tragic fate and suffer from the great attachment to a desire of which they want to free themselves. It is the music, the singing and the dancing that redeems them. This is a very important aspect for me personally. By composing, I myself want to get rid of such attachments. This is a religious, very Buddhist matter.

IS: But music often is of spiritual significance not only in the Japanese, but also in the European tradition.

TH: To me, music always has a strong religious aspect. These days, we have lost a lot, we have lost our church, the certainty of faith. It is us artists who convey this redeeming role of the human soul. It is in the arts that many people look for the deliverance from worldly constraints, from strong desires, from these very attachments. I, too, want to cleanse my soul through music.

IS: Your soul or also the souls of the people who listen to and experience your music?

TH: Good music can be liberating to both the composer and the listener. This actually corresponds to our Japanese tradition as to why we practise the arts: ikebana, tea ceremonies, archery, calligraphy, all these arts have the same goal: salvation or enlightenment.

IS: In Matsukaze, this salvation is eventually accomplished through the dance which eventually reunites both women with nature.

TH: In the piece Matsukaze, even the title is important for the name of Matsukaze is a compound meaning wind (ikaze) in the pine trees (matsu). The chant of these women can be seen as sounds of nature. To me, this was a very important aspect of composing; without song, I cannot unite the score with nature. When making music, my sounds become one with the whole cosmos. In Matsukaze, it is the music, the song and the dance that establish this connection with nature.
At the end, Matsukaze turns into wind and Murasame into water and rain – this is a very Japanese way of thinking. Nowadays, we need shamans for we have lost the connection with the dead. We are living in a world from which we want to exclude death. We are forgetting the dead although all of us are going to die. But death is part of our existence. Shamans establish the connection with the world of the dead, they commute between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

IS: Is this what all N? theatre plays are about?

TH: There are quite different N? plays; the most beautiful or most important plays deal with exactly this issue of the disengagement from attachments.

IS: In Matsukaze, salvation is eventually accomplished by an ecstatic dance which unites the sisters with their beloved for the last time in a vision.

TH: Yes, but Japanese dance is totally different from European dance. European dance often fights gravity.

IS: Now you are referring primarily to the classical ballet. For Sasha Waltz who will choreograph and produce Matsukaze, it is especially the perceptibility of the body, its weight, the breath or the movements that play a special role.

TH: This is why I work with her.

IS: The N? theatre is a very strict, ritualised stage art with extremely slow, calculated movements. This artificial character is in contrast to your music which, in my opinion, develops quite organically.

TH: These strict movements and principles date from the time of origin of the N? theatre. At that time of the Samurais, the society was very strict and extremely hierarchical. I absolutely dislike this side of the N? theatre, it rather bothers me. But the idea, the main theme, interests me. In many Japanese arts, e.g. kabuki, I recognize a very strict social order. I see a hierarchy, a male-dominated society and very strict laws. It is almost impossible to breathe. I want to free myself and the arts from it.

IS: Matsukaze is your third work for music theatre. In early 1988, Visions of Lear dealt with Shakespeare whose influence on the European theatre may be compared to that of N? for Japan. A Japanese team produced and performed it on the Munich Biennial. In 2004, Hanjo was the first work to deal with an original topic of the N? theatre, though in the adaptation of a 20th-century Japanese poet. Matsukaze is based on a German libretto by Hannah Dübgen which, deliberately, adheres closely to the 14th-century text by Zeami.

TH: I have always been lucky with the artists with whom I have worked together. In my first opera, it was Tadashi Suzuki. He studied the Japanese theatre very carefully and thus found his own new theatre form. The second opera Hanjo was based on a topic from the N? theatre. Yukio Mishima had reinterpreted the text in the 1950s. In this production, I worked with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker which happened by chance for the Festival in Aix-en-Provence had chosen the both of us and brought us together. We had known each other before already, I had composed a little dance piece for her and she had interpreted it beautifully. And this is the third opera, this time with a real N? theatre play. I absolutely wanted to work with Sasha Waltz, this was my personal wish. I know her works and think that she could really find something new in this topic and develop something new from the original N? theatre.

IS: You saw Dido & Aeneas, Sasha Waltz’s first choreographic opera which reformulates the idea of the opera as 'Gesamtkunstwerk' in a very impressive way. Here, dance and song, language and music coalesce in a completely new and close way.

TH: In the European opera, music and movements are usually separated from each other. The singing is beautiful but the air is always the same. If you come from the Japanese theatre, you are used to the fact that singing and movement are always related to each other. The European opera is very realistic but when you watch it, it becomes boring. I would like to develop something new, an absolutely new opera. To do that, I absolutely need new impulses and people like Sasha Waltz.

IS: Like other N? theatre plays, Matsukaze is based on an aesthetic concept that is rather strange to the European way of thinking and on a concept of time which allows past, present and future at one moment. How would you describe this concept?

TH: Flowers are a good metaphor. Flowers are also used in ikebana. Flowers die within a short time, they show us the transitoriness of life. If flowers would be there forever, they would no longer be beautiful. Since they wither, they show us how beautiful and precious life is. In his aesthetics, Zeami tried to describe the outstanding N? actor as 'flower'. This corresponds to our Buddhist way of thinking: Transitoriness is beautiful. And so is music. It sounds but always disappears quickly. Music is beautiful because it always lives in the respective time. It remains in one's heart, but it is fleeting. It's the same with Matsukaze – an event is unique and always followed by death, silence, emptiness, space, and this is why everything that we do has to be beautiful. In the art of ikebana, we cut the flowers which will lead to their death. We know that they will stay with us for only one or two days but this is the reason why we think the flower is beautiful. You know our Japanese cherry blossom; it only lasts five days and then fades away like the rain, so beautiful. In contrast to the art of the West which tries to grasp the eternity and permanence of beauty, here you find beauty in the sadness of a life that withers and dies.

IS: How do you see your own role as an artist between two cultural worlds as different as Japan and Europe where you live and work?

TH: We need other ways of thinking and musical material from the outside for we cannot make any progress solely on the basis of the Japanese way of thinking. I need them both, music from Japan and music from the rest of the world. I love European music more than Japanese music; as a child, I studied European music already. Almost all Japanese love European music because it opens a wide space. The Japanese space is quite narrow. I regard our Japanese music as less independent. It is not just an individual piece of music, it is not just pure music. Our music needs atmosphere, context, climate and special places in order to exist, and it is only through the combination of these components that it becomes alive. European music, on the other hand, is an abstract space, a big world. You can separate the ground from this space and use it in a different context. This is impossible with Japanese music which is always part of a ceremony or associated with certain places. This is different with European music: You can also listen to Beethoven in a temple; it is a music conceived from sounds, and the musical idea is very strong.

© Salvation through music


" Horn Concerto Moment of blossoming "

For horn and orchestra

Schott Music



February 10th 2011 - Berlin, Philharmonie (D) - Berliner Philharmoniker - Stefan Dohr, Horn - Conductor: Simon Rattle.
Commissioned by Berliner Philharmoniker, Barbican Centre London and Concertgebouw Amsterdam.


This work was commissioned jointly by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, and the Barbican Center of London. It is dedicated to the horn player Stefan Dohr, who first performed it.

Thus far I have composed several works on the theme of "lotus" or "blossoming." Piano concerto Lotus Under the Moonlight, chamber music Stunden Blumen, and Blossoming for string quartet, etc. all treat similar themes. The lotus blossom is a mysterious flower of the East. Its roots take nourishment from deep beneath the mud, and its stalk passes straight up through the water, receives sunlight from the sky at the water's surface, and brings forth its beautiful jewel-like blossoms. Without the chaotic world of the mud, the blossom could not open toward the sky. The physical form of the blossoming resembles that of a human being at prayer. The closed bud of the lotus flower suggests the shape of human hands pressed together in prayer. Eastern people compare the blossoming of the lotus with the blossoming of the human being from within, and have continued to think of it in this way. They have felt in this blossoming the power of, and rapport with, the cosmos.
Japanese artists have traditionally taken the connection between man and nature as a theme. I feel that they are seeking in art the ultimate dissolution of man into nature and the ecstasy of becoming one with it.

As in many of my other concertos, in this horn concerto too I am imagining the solo horn as the "flower" or "human being," while the orchestra in the background is nature, the cosmos, the place where the flower blossoms (in this case, I imagine a lotus and its pond). At the beginning, one long sustained sound is taken to be the water surface, and from that water surface the lotus flower quickens, begins to squirm, and aims at blossoming. Nature throws back various echoes at it. Before long, a low note begins to squirm on the water surface as if to indicate the water's depths. Further, the quickening and longing toward the violent blossoming evoke a small storm, and a conflict occurs between the flower and nature. Deep within the quiet blossom is a quickening toward a violent opening up. Eventually, the pond recovers its deep silence, and the flower welcomes its hour of blossoming in peace.
I have arranged the brass instruments in a space, and imagined the concert hall itself as the pond spreading out widely toward the sky.
Toshio Hosokawa
© Schott-music