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ClassicsOnline Home » XIAN: Ode to the Yellow River
Xian Xinghai (1909-1945) is a figure of great importance in the
history of the development of music in China in the twentieth century.
Born into a family of boat people, on his father’s death he was taken by his
widowed mother first to Macao and then to Singapore,
where she worked as a laundress to provide her son with an education. He moved
from there to Guangzhou, studying at Lingnan
University, where he
first developed his musical interests. He was among the first students of the
National Conservatory in Shanghai, leaving,
expelled for political reasons, and making his way to France to study
at the Paris Conservatoire, where his teachers in composition included Paul Dukas and Vincent d’lndy. In
1935, having completed his studies, he returned to Shanghai, where he received encouragement
from Alexander Tcherepnin and Aaron Avshalomoff, but little from the musical establishment. He
was soon able to involve himself in the patriotic struggle against Japan, finding
a place for himself in the composition of songs in support of the cause,
setting words by the writer Tian Han. In 1938 he was
appointed head of the music department of the Lu Xun
Arts Academy in the city of Yan’an, where the Communist Party
had established its headquarters, after the Long March. In 1940 he was sent to Moscow to work on the music for a documentary film on the political
struggle in China and it was
that he died in 1945.
Xian Xinghai left an enduring legacy of songs that reflect the
spirit of the time in which he lived. At the same time he continued to write
music for more formal use. Nevertheless it is by compositions like the Yellow River Cantata and his songs that
he is most widely remembered. The seven orchestral pieces included in the
present recording are instrumental arrangements of some of these songs,
providing a further insight into the work of the composer.
Ode to the Yellow
1939, Ode to the Yellow River was
originally a movement for baritone solo from the Yellow River Cantata. The river itself is considered the cradle of
the Chinese nation and the source of the five-thousand-year-old civilisation of China. The movement depicts the Yellow River, praising it as an example for the Chinese
people, whose spirit it will carry forward.
Go To The
Rear Area of The Enemy
a choral song, Go To
The Rear Area of The Enemy depicts the brave guerrilla troops operating
behind enemy lines. It reflects the determination of the people to defeat all
aggressors. Written in Wuhan in 1938, when Xian Xinghai was employed there by the Third Office of the
Military Affairs Commission’s Political Department as head of music, the song
won immediate popularity.
Song at Midnight
Xian Xinghai was working for the New China Film
Company and provided the music for the film Song
at Midnight. The theme song of the same title was sung in the stillness of
the middle of the night by the hero, a talented young actor, Song Danping, disfigured with nitric acid by his sinister
enemies. In the song he expresses his sense of solitude, his longing for his
beloved Li Xiaoxia and his hatred for the forces of
It was in Yan’an in 1939 that Xian Xinghai
wrote his Production Cantata, from
which February is taken. The movement
shows people ploughing the spring fields and sowing
in the base area of the forces ranged against the Japanese invaders. They are
determined to grow more grain in support of the national effort. The song has
enjoyed wide popularity.
Lamentation to the Yellow
Lamentation to the Yellow River is a movement for soprano solo
taken from the Yellow River Cantata.
It brings the lament of a woman who has suffered at the hands of the aggressor
in the occupied area of the country.
Song of Working Women’s Day
1938, Song of Working Women’s Day
expresses something of the demand for freedom marked by International Working
Women’s Day on 8th March. The women of the new China were anxious to cast off the
shackles of traditional society and become the heroines of a new age in their struggle
for national emancipation.
Thorns of the Wild Jujube Tree
movement from the Production Cantata,
Thorns of the Wild Jujube Tree
reflects the innocent artlessness of children, who also joined in the struggle
against Japanese aggression. Carrying swords and spears, they helped to guard
and defend the base areas of the forces mobilised against
the Japanese invaders.
Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra
Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra is among the most distinguished ensembles of
its kind in China.
It was established in 1952 as the East China Music Troupe, originally under the
direction of the well- known composer He Luting, who
was followed by Huang Yijun and Situ Han. The present
artistic director is Cao Peng.
Over the course of some fifty years the orchestra has given over three thousand
concerts, in addition to its work in broadcasting, television and film studios
and its many recordings for international release.
One of the
most distinguished conductors in China,
Cao Peng was born in Jiangyin, Jiangsu, in 1925.
In 1946 he entered the Arts Department of Shandong University and in 1950 was
appointed principal conductor of both the Shanghai Film Studio Orchestra and
the Beijing Film Studio Orchestra. In 1955 he moved to the then Soviet Union, entering the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory to
study under the conductor Leo Ginsburg. After his return to China in 1961 Cao Peng was appointed resident conductor
of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and is now artistic director and principal conductor
of the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as serving as music advisor and
resident conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and music director and
principal conductor of the Shanghai Chamber Orchestra.
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XIAN: Ode to the Yellow River