About this Recording
8.225849 - Piano Recital: Koo, Kwok Kuen (Popular Chinese Piano Pieces)
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Popular Chinese Piano Pieces – Dances from China

Folk-dance has always been of importance in peasant communities. China, with its wide variety of climate and terrain, has an equally wide variety of regional dances. On the present record a number of these are collected in versions designed by modern Chinese composers for the piano. Included is part of the famous Mermaid Suite, a revolutionary ballet that formed part of the limited repertoire open to trained dancers in 70s.

A number of the pieces recorded here are based on dances from the remote areas of China, in particular from Xinjiang which forms part of Chinese Turkestan, and from Manchuria. There are also dances from Fujian, and an unusual attempt at Western formality in the use of a typical dance rhythm to form the subject of a fugue.

Folk Song and Dance (Prelude and Fugue No. 2) (Chen Mingzhi)

Preludes and fugues are unusual in modern Chinese music. Here the so-called Prelude is a pastoral introduction to a more characteristic dance rhythm which provides the Fugue subject. Three voices duly enter, one after another, in what is an attempt to adapt Chinese material to a Western form, a preoccupation of Chen Mingzhi who taught at the Shanghai Conservatory.

Collecting Tea and Catching Butterflies (Liu Fuan)

Liu Fuan studied music at the Shanghai Conservatory, and later became an Assistant Professor there. He was known as a composer of film music, as well as for his work with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Collecting Tea and Catching Butterflies is drawn from Fujianese folk songs.

Dance (Wang Jianzhong)

In Dance a typical five-note melody is treated with great energy, framing a quieter middle section.

Celebration Dance (Yin Chengzong)

Yin Chengzong, like so many Chinese musicians, was educated at the Shanghai Conservatory. His Celebration Dance is based on a Manchurian folk-dance, and depicts the planting of rice seedlings in flooded fields. It frames a section with a pastoral lilt between the lively movements of an energetic dance.

Dance with the Morning Wind (Ding Shande)

A vigorous rhythm accompanies the Dance with the Morning Wind. The first five-note scale melody gives way to something less oriental in effect, and the piece ends with a glissando up the keyboard.

Xinjiang Dance No. 1 • Xinjiang Dance No. 2 (Ding Shande)

Ding Shande is one of the best known modern Chinese composers. He had been closely associated with the Conservatory of Music in Shanghai where he worked. The Conservatory was occupied by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and staff and students were dispersed. Ding Shande was unable to compose music during this period.

The two Xinjiang Dances were written in 1950 and 1955, a few years before his famous Long March Symphony. They epitomise the vigour of the Xinjiang people.

The Mermaid (Du Mingxin) Dance of Ginseng • Dance of Seaweed • Mass Dance at the Wedding

Du Mingxin was trained in Beijing and Moscow. He was responsible for the score of the revolutionary ballet The Red Detachment of Women. The Mermaid is a popular ballet in the modern Chinese dance tradition. Ginseng, the magic root that ensures longevity, is represented by a dance of little old men. The seaweed swirls underwater, and the final dance brings hero and heroine happily together.

Cathgel Dance (Shi Fu)

Shi Fu was born in Hubei and studied in Beijing where he later worked for the Central Ballet and in the Central Conservatory. The Cathgel Dance takes us back to Central Asia in mood, with a melody that recalls the Middle East.

Prelude and Dance (Huang Anlun)

Huang Anlun, son of a pupil of Hindemith, taught in the Beijing Central Conservatory. His Prelude and Dance opens with a repeated note, off-beat, accompanying a strongly characteristic Chinese melody. The Dance follows without a break. This is in the usual tripartite form, a strongly rhythmic section being followed by a mood of relaxation, before the first rhythmic dance returns.

Piano Music by Wang Lisan

Wang Lisan, a native of Sichuan born in Wuhan entered the Music Department of the Art Institute of his native province in 1948. He later became a student of composition at the Conservatory in Shanghai under Ding Sande, Sang Tong and Arzamonov. In 1957, when he had completed his studies in Shanghai, he was branded as an adherent of the political right wing, and was exiled to the Great Northern Wildness to work as a farm-labourer in 1959. In 1963, however, he became a teacher of composition at the Harbin Art Academy and the Harbin Normal University. Rehabilitated fully in 1978, Wang Lisan was appointed a director of the Association of Chinese Musicians, and was a director of the Standing Committee of the Heilongjiang Province of the Association, while working as an assistant professor at the Harbin Normal University.

Wang Lisan’s piano works have been warmly received in China. These are firmly rooted in Chinese tradition, drawing particularly on the arts of painting and literature for inspiration.

Prelude and Fugue in F sharp Shang Mode “Calligraphy and the Qin” (1980) (Wang Lisan)

Calligraphy and the Qin, in the form of a Prelude and Fugue using the Shang mode, forms part of an anthology of pieces under the title Other Hills, its title derived from the traditional saying “Stones on other hills may serve to polish the jade on this hill”, that is, advice from others may help one to overcome one’s own short-comings. The contrast between rapid calligraphy and the calmer style of playing of the traditional Chinese qin, the horizontal plucked instrument of the ancient scholars, is shown in the rapidity of the Prelude and the relative tranquillity of the Fugue.

Prelude and Fugue in F Gong Mode “Mountain Villages” (1980) (Wang Lisan)

Mountain Villages is the second of the pieces included in Wang Lisan’s anthology Other Hills. The music describes the scenery and the life in the country of the Yao people, in South West China, the rugged simplicity of the men, the beauty of the women and the splendour of the landscape.

Lanhuahua (Orchid) (1953) (Wang Lisan)

Lanhuahua is based on a Shaanxi folksong and was written when Wang Lisan was a student. The song describes the adolescence of a girl called Lanhuahua and her later life. The opening theme has about it a certain sweetness, in which there lurks a touch of ominous bitterness, a prelude to the drama to come.

In the Wasteland (1977) (Wang Lisan)

In the Wasteland is a well-known folk opera devised in the 1940s. The story tells how a young man goes with his sister to work in the wasteland, and how the boy pretends to be lazy to annoy his sister, but in the end both work happily together. The piano first takes the place of the drums and gongs that would start a dramatic performance. A series of duets follow, with a characteristic use of the discord of combined major and minor sevenths, and a descriptive use of dissonance in depicting the harsh landscape.

Sonatina (1957) (Wang Lisan)

The Sonatina of 1957 has three movements. The first Sunlight, is cheerful and vivid, the piano imitating Chinese percussion, work songs and later the song of birds. The second movement, After the Rain, describes a scene of silent freshness, recalling traditional landscape painting. This is followed by Dance of the Mountain People, derived from a Sichuan folksong, but referring to the material of the previous two movements.


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