Ma Sicong (Ma Sitzon) (1912 - 1987)
Song of Mountain Forest
A native of Haifeng, Guangdong, where he was born in1912, Ma Sicong (Ma Sitzon) was distinguished as a composer and as a violinist.
He began his instrumental study and pursued his interest in folk-music when hewas at a primary school in Guangzhou. In 1923, at the age of eleven, he went to France for the first time tostudy the violin there, returning to China in 1929, after finishing his studies. As one of China's first violinists, hegave concerts in Shanghai, Nanjing, Guangzhou and other places. In1930 he went to France for the second time, now to study composition. A year later he wasagain in China, now prepared to beginhis career as a composer. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, he held the positionsas director of the China Central Conservatory of Music, vice-chairman of theChina Musicians Association and chief editor of the periodical YinyueChuangzuo (Creation of Music). From the late 1960s he lived in the United States. His important works includetwo symphonies, the orchestral suite Song of the Mountain Forest, the cantatasDemocracy, Motherland, Spring and The Huaihe River, violin piecesBerceuse, Rondo No. I, Inner Mongolia Suite, Tibet Tone Poem, Idyll, LanternFestival Celebration and Xingjian Rhapsody, two compilations of NewVersions of Folk-songs and many other compositions. During his residence inthe United States, he wrote music for theballet Sunset Clouds and composed the opera Rebia.
Ma Sicong's Symphony No.2 was written between the autumn of 1958and May of the following year and was first performed in Beijing in July 1961 by theChina Central Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the composer himself.
The symphony is a musical epic with the course of the hard struggle of theChinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army as the subject. As the composer said,though the symphony is not about a specific battle, there is some connectionbetween its conception and Loushan Pass, a poem by Mao Zedong. The symphony consists ofthree continuous movements. In order to develop the image of the Red Armyorganically throughout the whole piece, the composer adopted the originalprocedure of inserting the lyrical second movement between the developmentsection and the recapitulation section of the first movement, in a uniquestructure.
The first movement, marked Allegro agitato and in 12/8 metre,makes use of the Phrygian mode, in a sonata-form structure. The first group(bars 1 to 71) of the exposition section begins with rapid triplets, whichheighten the tense atmosphere of the battlefield. With the development of theprincipal theme, the music gradually increases in dynamics, the range ofpitches expands and the harmony grows accordingly in complexity, leading to aclimax with brass, woodwind and percussion. The succeeding bridge passage, withthe bass instruments and the percussion, introduces a piano suggestionof the second subject, that is to follow. The motif appears in a transformationin the woodwind, leading naturally to the secondary theme, which begins in bar72 and is played against the background of the principal theme. This grows frompiano to a magnificent forte. Based on Tian Xin Shun, anorth Shaanxi folk-song, the theme issymphonically treated in order to express the heroism and the resoluteness ofthe Red Army. The development section (bars 106 to 175) begins with whistlingchords of the major seventh. The motif of the Red Army is inserted in varioustransformations into the principal theme, describing the battle. Sometimes itsweeps down from the high register, sometimes it pushes forward in canon toreveal the indomitable power of the Red Army. Finally when the music reaches ahigh degree of tension, the second movement begins.
The Adagio maestoso is in quadruple metre and sonata-formstructure. Utterly different in mood from the first movement, it offers griefin mourning for dead comrades-in-arms. On a ground bass from the four-barintroduction in the Phrygian mode, two cellos declare with due reverence themain theme (bar 180). The second group (bars 204 to 222) is funereal in mood.
The theme on the oboe and the trumpet offers a poignant memory of the fallen.
In the development section (bars 223 to 303), both the two themes grow instrength and with a feeling of righteous anger. In the brief recapitulationsection, which contains only the first group, the violins praise the memory offallen heroes, playing on the A string in the high register. The piano
triplet figure once again brings the music back to the first movement andstarts the recapitulation. The heroic dead now buried, the soldiers of the RedArmy throw themselves into a new life-and-death struggle. The recapitulationsection is actually a further development of the exposition, with the battletheme now even fiercer. The theme of the Red Army is presented in heroicsplendour and at the climax all the strings playa loud trill passage, while thebrass and woodwind play the theme of the Red Army, in imitation. The use of chordsbased on the interval of a fourth and of poly tonal overlapping adds to thepower of the music. Eventually the battle subsides. For the first time the RedArmy's theme is played by the whole orchestra without the appearance of otherelements suggesting battle. A lively bugle-call leads to the third movement.
Marked Allegro, in duple metre and sonata-form structure, thethird and final movement is poly thematic. The ardent and jubilant principaltheme (bars 496 to 540) of the first part is in some way related to the RedArmy theme of the first movement. The secondary theme (bars 541 to 585) isplayed on the trumpet against a lively and humorous flow of semiquavers. It isnaturally associated by the audience with the soldiers dancing the yangge
(a popular rural folk-dance) among the crowd. In the second part (bars 586 to605), against the rhythmic background of sequential dotted notes, the melody inthe woodwind, with a sudden rest, heightens the atmosphere of rapture. This feelingis further developed in the central section of the movement and in the dynamicrecapitulation of the first and second groups and a further recapitulation ofthe first group, which makes the movement something like a rondo. The grandcoda begins with a new march theme (from bar 844). It expresses the image ofthe people's army which has grown in strength through struggle. Finally, in thejubilant atmosphere of the dance march theme and in the solemn bugle-call,signalling advance, the whole symphony comes to an end.
In 1953, Ma Sicong received a letter, in which the writer said that Ma'sIdyll had reminded him of the days when he was tending sheep in a remoteregion by the Nu River in south-west China. In the letter were also enclosed the scores of severalfolk-songs which the writ