About this Recording
8.223950 - MA, Sicong: Symphony No. 2 / Song of the Mountain Forest

Ma Sicong (Ma Sitzon) (1912 -1987)

Ma Sicong (Ma Sitzon) (1912 - 1987)



Symphony No.2

Song of Mountain Forest



A native of Haifeng, Guangdong, where he was born in 1912, 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 he was at a primary school in Guangzhou. In 1923, at the age of eleven, he went to France for the first time to study the violin there, returning to China in 1929, after finishing his studies. As one of China's first violinists, he gave concerts in Shanghai, Nanjing, Guangzhou and other places. In 1930 he went to France for the second time, now to study composition. A year later he was again in China, now prepared to begin his career as a composer. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, he held the positions as director of the China Central Conservatory of Music, vice-chairman of the China Musicians Association and chief editor of the periodical Yinyue Chuangzuo (Creation of Music). From the late 1960s he lived in the United States. His important works include two symphonies, the orchestral suite Song of the Mountain Forest, the cantatas Democracy, Motherland, Spring and The Huaihe River, violin pieces Berceuse, Rondo No. I, Inner Mongolia Suite, Tibet Tone Poem, Idyll, Lantern Festival Celebration and Xingjian Rhapsody, two compilations of New Versions of Folk-songs and many other compositions. During his residence in the United States, he wrote music for the ballet Sunset Clouds and composed the opera Rebia.



Ma Sicong's Symphony No.2 was written between the autumn of 1958 and May of the following year and was first performed in Beijing in July 1961 by the China Central Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the composer himself. The symphony is a musical epic with the course of the hard struggle of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army as the subject. As the composer said, though the symphony is not about a specific battle, there is some connection between its conception and Loushan Pass, a poem by Mao Zedong. The symphony consists of three continuous movements. In order to develop the image of the Red Army organically throughout the whole piece, the composer adopted the original procedure of inserting the lyrical second movement between the development section and the recapitulation section of the first movement, in a unique structure.



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, which heighten the tense atmosphere of the battlefield. With the development of the principal theme, the music gradually increases in dynamics, the range of pitches expands and the harmony grows accordingly in complexity, leading to a climax with brass, woodwind and percussion. The succeeding bridge passage, with the bass instruments and the percussion, introduces a piano suggestion of the second subject, that is to follow. The motif appears in a transformation in the woodwind, leading naturally to the secondary theme, which begins in bar 72 and is played against the background of the principal theme. This grows from piano to a magnificent forte. Based on Tian Xin Shun, a north Shaanxi folk-song, the theme is symphonically treated in order to express the heroism and the resoluteness of the Red Army. The development section (bars 106 to 175) begins with whistling chords of the major seventh. The motif of the Red Army is inserted in various transformations into the principal theme, describing the battle. Sometimes it sweeps down from the high register, sometimes it pushes forward in canon to reveal the indomitable power of the Red Army. Finally when the music reaches a high degree of tension, the second movement begins.



The Adagio maestoso is in quadruple metre and sonata-form structure. Utterly different in mood from the first movement, it offers grief in mourning for dead comrades-in-arms. On a ground bass from the four-bar introduction in the Phrygian mode, two cellos declare with due reverence the main 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 in strength and with a feeling of righteous anger. In the brief recapitulation section, which contains only the first group, the violins praise the memory of fallen heroes, playing on the A string in the high register. The piano triplet figure once again brings the music back to the first movement and starts the recapitulation. The heroic dead now buried, the soldiers of the Red Army throw themselves into a new life-and-death struggle. The recapitulation section is actually a further development of the exposition, with the battle theme now even fiercer. The theme of the Red Army is presented in heroic splendour and at the climax all the strings playa loud trill passage, while the brass and woodwind play the theme of the Red Army, in imitation. The use of chords based on the interval of a fourth and of poly tonal overlapping adds to the power of the music. Eventually the battle subsides. For the first time the Red Army's theme is played by the whole orchestra without the appearance of other elements suggesting battle. A lively bugle-call leads to the third movement.



Marked Allegro, in duple metre and sonata-form structure, the third and final movement is poly thematic. The ardent and jubilant principal theme (bars 496 to 540) of the first part is in some way related to the Red Army theme of the first movement. The secondary theme (bars 541 to 585) is played on the trumpet against a lively and humorous flow of semiquavers. It is naturally associated by the audience with the soldiers dancing the yangge (a popular rural folk-dance) among the crowd. In the second part (bars 586 to 605), against the rhythmic background of sequential dotted notes, the melody in the woodwind, with a sudden rest, heightens the atmosphere of rapture. This feeling is further developed in the central section of the movement and in the dynamic recapitulation of the first and second groups and a further recapitulation of the first group, which makes the movement something like a rondo. The grand coda begins with a new march theme (from bar 844). It expresses the image of the people's army which has grown in strength through struggle. Finally, in the jubilant 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's Idyll had reminded him of the days when he was tending sheep in a remote region by the Nu River in south-west China. In the letter were also enclosed the scores of several folk-songs which the writer had often heard sung those days.

This letter and these songs immediately struck a strongly sympathetic chord in the heart of the composer, who had once lived in Kunming and the north Guangdong mountain areas during the War of Resistance against Japan. In September the same year, with these folk-songs as the material, and on the basis of his own experience of life in the mountain forests and his own impression of the place, the composer began to write the symphonic suite Song of Mountain Forest, completing it in May the following year. It is a programmatic work, with five movements, that can be considered as forming one whole, since the fifth movement is the transformed recapitulation of the first movement, while the three middle movements offer contrast.



The first movement, Call of the Mountain Forest, is marked Andante and alternates freely in metre, within a ternary form. In its first section, the lyrical melody played on the oboe in the yu mode* expresses the serenity of the mountain forest. In its middle section, by borrowing the poet Qu Yuan's** image of the mountain spirit calling her beloved, the music imaginatively represents the lament of the forest in the still of the night. The passage in the lower strings suggests the appearance of the mountain spirit. At first her call is played rhythmically on the horn and then is transferred to the violin to express her gentle female image.



The second movement, Over the Mountains, is marked Allegro, scherzo marciale. It is in the form of A + B + A1 + B1 + C + B2 + A2 + coda. With brisk and elastic rhythm, a witty melody, flexible and varied orchestration, and imitative progressions, the music vividly depicts the scene of the mountain villagers walking along a zigzag mountain-path.



The third movement, Love Song, is marked Andante and uses alternating metre in a sonata-form structure. The cello first states the passionate theme. With a pizzicato technique that allows the plucked string to strike the fingerboard when it is released, the double bass simulates the Yunnan dasanxian, a plucked string instrument, to accompany the cantabile melody. Soon after, the violin plays the subsidiary theme, which is less a contrast than a response to the main theme. The brief episode appears somewhat tense and mysterious because of the use of trills in the inner parts and triplets in the melody. The recapitulation section continues the feeling implicit in the movement, with the principal theme played by the horn and the viola, while the secondary theme is played with extended melancholy by the cello.



The fourth movement is a dance, marked Allegro vivace. In free rondo form, this movement depicts a joyful dance scene, as boys and girls sing and dance to the accompaniment of the reed-pipe lusheng and the dasanxian.



The last movement, Night, marked Andante, is in freely alternating metres and ternary form. The cor anglais introduces again the main theme of the first movement. Night has fallen. In the middle section, the strings playa gentler theme. A scale passage on the bassoon and the clarinet describes the gentle .mountain wind. Soon the brass replaces the strings, to depict the rays of the setting sun. Finally the call motif appears, repeated by the solo violin in the high register, before being taken up by the flute. A happy day is over. When the mountain forest sleeps once more, only the loving mountain spirit remains, endlessly calling to her beloved.


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