Bronze statue of Xian Xinghai

2009-12-15 15:46 BJT

Xian Xinghai was a Chinese composer. Although he composed in all the major musical forms (two symphonies, a violin concerto, four large scale choral works, nearly 300 songs and an opera), he is best known for his Yellow River Cantata upon which the Yellow River Concerto for piano and orchestra is based.

Born in Macau with ancestry from Panyu into a poor sailor family, Xian Xinghai started learning the clarinet in 1918 at the YMCA charity school attached to the Lingnan University in Guangzhou (Canton). In 1926 he joined the National Music Institute at Peking University to study music and in 1928 he entered Shanghai National Music Conservatory to study violin and piano.The same year he published his well-known essay The Universal Music. In 1929 he went to Paris(where he met Ma Sicong who introduced him to many artists there) under government sponsorship and two years later he was admitted to the Paris Conservatory to study composition with both Vincent D'Indy and Paul Dukas. During this period he composed Wind, Song of a Wanderer, Violin Sonata in D Minor, and other works.

In 1940 Xian went to the Soviet Union to compose the score of the documentary film Yan'an and the Eighth Route Army. Before departure Mao Zedong invited him to dinner. In 1941 the German invasion of the Soviet Union disrupted his work and he attempted to return to China by way of Xinjiang but the local anti-communist warlord, Sheng Shicai, blocked the way and he got stranded in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan. It was here that he composed the symphonies Liberation of the Nation and Sacred War, and the suites Red All Over the River and Chinese Rhapsody for winds and strings. He developed pulmonary tuberculosis due to overwork and malnutrition. After the war, Xinghai went back to Moscow for medical treatment but could not be completely cured and died in October, 1945 in a hospital nearby the Moscow Kremlin at the age of 40.

Xian Xinghai composed over 300 works, published 35 papers, including Nie Er—the Creator of New Chinese Music and On the National Styles of Chinese Music. His influence in Chinese music won him the title People's Composer.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when all the Western and some Chinese art was forbidden, the pianist Yin Chengzong arranged the Yellow River Cantata into a concerto for piano and orchestra, by the name of Yellow River Piano Concerto (1969).

After China opened its doors to the world in late 1970s, Yin planned the performance of the piano concerto. There was a debate whether some politically incorrect anthems like The East Is Red, which Yin interpolated into the concerto, should be removed. It was decided that the work itself was a cultural legacy of the time when it was created, the melodies reminding listeners of that period and creating a unique sense of history. Hence, the work remained intact as it was originally arranged.

Beginning in the 1970s, the Yellow River Concerto has been heard in the West, often performed by Yin Chengzong himself, and in 1988 the Italian pianist Riccardo Caramella became the first Western pianist who performed it in China with a Chinese orchestra, the Beijing Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Both the Xinghai Conservatory of Music and the Xinghai Concert Hall in Guangzhou were named after Xian Xinghai.

Editor: Zheng Limin | Source: wikipedia