The Japanese composer Kishio Hirao was born in Tokyo in 1907. He studied music theory while he was a medical student at Keio University. Upon graduation, Hirao moved to Paris and enrolled in the Schola Cantorum but soon moved to École César Franck. At these schools, Hirao studied composition and flute performance.
Kinuta is based on a Japanese Noh play by Zeami (1363?–1443), and is about a feudal lord and his wife, both from the village of Ashiya in Kyushu. The Lord of Ashiya has been called to the imperial capital to bring a lawsuit. He thought it would not take much time. But as three years go by, he worries about his wife. He sends his maidservant Yugiri to Ashiya with a message to his wife, informing her that he should be able to return before the end of the year. But he fails to fulfill his promise, plunging his wife into despair.
The sound of the kinuta is heard from a distance. This kinuta is a fulling block with which the women of the village beat their cloth. The mournful sound of the kinuta reminds the Lady of a story from ancient China. A man named Sobu was captured by the enemy and isolated from his family. His wife and children felt lonely in poverty. They went to the top of a local tower and beat their cloth with kinuta hoping the sound would reach Sobu. The Lady of Ashiya and Yugiri begin to beat the kinuta together, praying for their master’s return. He finally returns, only to find that his wife has died. Her spirit appears before him, still beating the kinuta. Only by reciting the Lotus Sutra can he bring her spirit to rest.
Hirao’s Kinuta does not intend to depict the story of the Noh play literally. Rather, it musically recreates the atmosphere and the emotional content of the story, especially the Lady of Ashiya’s tragic destiny.