CHU / LIU / SHENG / SHI / XU / YIN: The Yellow River Piano Concerto / Chinese Solo Piano Works
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Yellow River Concerto
Colourful CloudsChasing the Moon (Cantonese folk song)
Seven Short PiecesBased on Inner-Mongolian Folk Songs
Four Dances from TheMermaid Ballet Suite
Red Lilies Crimson andBright
Three Variations on anAncient Chinese Melody
Throughout the long history of China music has occupied an importantposition, in earlier times not least in its association with ceremonies ofultimate political significance. For the new rulers of China who came to powerin 1949, music continued to have a significant r??le to play in society and inpolitical education. This resulted in inevitable limitations and restrictions,while certain acceptable works enjoyed enormous popularity. One of these, the YellowRiver Concerto, was based on the famous Yellow River Cantata, a workdating from the period of the Sino-Japanese War. In November 1938, after thefall of Wuhan to the Japanese, the famous poet Guang Weiran (Zhang Guangnian)led the Third Resistance Theatre Troupe eastward across the Yellow River to thecentre of anti-Japanese resistance in the Luliang Mountains of Shanxi province.
At the ferry near Hukou (Kettle Mouth), where the waters of the Yellow Riverflow down from a narrow gorge to form a magnificent waterfall, he listened tothe sound of the wind and the waves. When he reached Yanan in January 1939, hewrote the poem sequence Yellow River and recited it at a party on theeve of the Spring Festival. Greatly excited by what he had heard, Xian Xinghaiexpressed a desire to set the poems to music for the Theatre Troupe. Shelteringin a cave, the composer worked for six days without rest, to finish the vocalwork that has come to occupy a leading place in contemporary Chinese music. Thecantata was first performed on 13th April the same year and was soon to beheard throughout China as a symbol of resistance.
Xian Xinghai himself was born in Macau in 1905, the son of a fisherman.
After the death of his father he studied in Singapore, supported by his mother,who worked as a laundress at his school. He later returned to study in Canton.
His musical training, which he had started in Beijing, continued at theShanghai Conservatory and in 1930 in Paris as a pupil of Vincent d'Indy. Hereturned to China in 1935, to be involved in active resistance against theJapanese. In 1939 he joined the Communist Party and spent the years from 1940until his death in 1945 in Moscow.
The concerto derived from the Yellow River Cantata was devised bythe committee of composers then found advisable for such a task, Yin Chengzong,Liu Zhang, Chu Wanghua, Sheng Lihong, Shi Shucheng and Xu Feisheung. With asolo piano texture recalling the Warsaw Concerto as much as Rachmaninov,the work condenses the cantata, but carries the same heroic message. There arethemes representing anger, grace and nostalgia, illustrating various stages inthe story of the Yellow River, a symbol of Chinese civilisation, a source offertility but at the same time a force of nature that offered a certain dangerand had to be controlled by human effort. At the opening piano arpeggiosrepresent the waves of the river, leading to a strong and simple melodyassociated with the boatmen on the river, struggling against the forces ofnature. The second movement, introduced by a cello melody, depicts the grandeur of the scenery through which theriver passes and the achievement of the Chinese people in several thousandyears of civilisation. The third movement opens with a flute solo, in the styleof a Shanbei folk-song. The piano introduces the rhythmic Yellow Water melody.
Suddenly the mood changes and the river grows angry, the challenge offered bythe Yellow River a counterpart to the challenge offered by a foreign aggressor.
The final movement opens with the patriotic melody Defend the Yellow River, leadingto the triumph of The East is Red and the National Song, joining invictory.
The ballet TheMermaid, a work that won almost as much popularity, was written by DuMingxin and Wu Zuqiang, the former the composer of The Red Detachment ofWomen. The movement titles from the orchestral suite derived from theballet are self-explanatory, leading to the customary triumphant conclusion.
The work itself enjoyed considerable popularity and formed part of conventionalChinese repertoire at a time when this was otherwise restricted.
In addition to musicthat may have some extra-?¡musical moral to convey, such as Happy Loso inwhich the old man's happiness is attributable to predictable circumstances,folk-songs, often with words adapted to the new conditions of life, haveprovided a ready source of material. Colourful Clouds Chasing the Moon isbased on a Cantonese folk-tune, as are the seven short pieces based onfolk-songs from Inner Mongolia and Red Lilies Crimson and Bright. The ThreeVariations on an Ancient Chinese Melody suggest another thematic source forcontemporary reworking, in an idiom that remains thoroughly accessible to theaverage Chinese listener, a necessary prerequisite.