About this Recording
8.570605 - MA, Sicong: Music for Violin and Piano, Vol. 2 (Hsiao-Mei Ku, Ning Lu)
English  Chinese 

Ma Sicong (1912–1987)
Music for Violin and Piano, Vol. 2


From high to low, east to west, my musical journey has been a remarkable roller-coaster ride. In the best of times, concert performances have taken me to many countries around the world: from Beijing Concert Hall to Carnegie Hall, from the Turpan Basin in China, 154 metres below sea level, to the highest capital in the world, La Paz, Bolivia, at 3,567 metres above. As a young artist, I played many times for China’s leaders including Premier Zhou En-lai, President Deng Xiao-ping and President Liu Shaoqi, and at the age of eleven first appeared on television.

In the worst times—throughout my teens that is—my musical training was interrupted by years of re-education: working in rice paddies, building roads, cleaning pigpens with waste up to my knees, hauling cow manure, carrying heavy sacks on my shoulders, sleeping next to hens in the rural Chinese countryside. Along with the instruments of other conservatory students, my violin was locked up in a storage closet by the “authorities” of the Cultural Revolution.

At the age of nine I had the honour to play for Ma Sicong, the most distinguished and best-known violinist in China. I have heard him play some of the very pieces I recorded on this CD. These happy memories, however, are juxtaposed in my mind with a terrifying image of Mr. Ma being physically abused by the Red Guards in front of a crowd of conservatory students and teachers a few years later during the Cultural Revolution. As staying in China was no longer an option, Ma and his family settled in the United States in the late 1960s. From then until the end of his life, never to return to China, Ma turned his energy to composition. In order better to capture the expression of Ma’s musical soul, etched onto the pages of his music, I have often incorporated an ‘erhu-style’ sound to mimic Chinese folk music.

Although Ma and I were born in different eras, both of which contained much adversity for those following artistic journeys, in the end, both of us still share a profound love for our motherland. Every note in his music resonates deeply in my heart, and I hope that any listener will share my affection for one of the oldest and richest cultures in the world.

Hsiao-mei Ku


The Chinese composer and violinist Ma Sicong (Ma Sitson) was born in Haifeng in the province of Guangdong (Canton) in 1912 and was among the relatively few Chinese musicians of his generation to study abroad. The son of a Guomindang official, he seems to have studied the violin at the Nancy Conservatoire and perhaps in Paris. He returned to China in 1929, but was able to go back to France he following year for composition lessons. In China he was invited by the nationalist government of Chiang Kaishek to establish a symphony orchestra in Chongqing, and in the following years held various teaching and administrative positions in regional conservatories and institutions. At the time of the Communist victory in 1949 he was in Hong Kong, but was invited by the new Communist government, in common with other Chinese intellectuals living abroad, to return to China. There he was appointed director of the Central Conservatory, which was finally moved to Beijing. He held various official positions and enjoyed a career also as a composer and as a performer. All this came to an end with the so-called Cultural Revolution, with its unbridled attack on Western culture. During these days he underwent considerable suffering, as many other Chinese intellectuals did, and in 1967 managed to escape, settling in America, where his younger brother had earlier established himself as a violinist. There the story of his travails was published in Life, a revelation of persecution about which many others have preferred to remain reticent. In America Ma continued his activity as a composer, combining, as always, Chinese inspiration with the Western musical techniques in which he had been trained.

Keith Anderson


Spring Dance (1953) is joyous in character, depicting life in China in the 1950s. The composer shows his love of life by taking his inspiration from a mountain song, a kind of folk-song in the Chinese province of Anhui.

Rondo No. 2 (1950) is mild and touching, with a fresh major theme and a peaceful and graceful secondary theme. The composer takes inspiration from a sketch in Meihudiao, a kind of folk-music from Shanxi Province.

Melody and Ballade, both composed in 1952, reflect the passion and warmth felt by Ma Sicong after he took part in the reconstruction of the Huai River. Ballade is developed from Zouxikou, a folk-song in Shanxi Province.

Dance of Autumn Harvest (1944) was originally entitled Tiaoshen, a kind of ancient Chinese folk-dance to ward against evil forces and pray for good fortune. It was given a new title to avoid being mistaken for the celebration of a superstition when it was published in 1953.

Violin Sonata No. 3 was written in October 1984 when Ma Sicong was over seventy years old and living a difficult life as an exile from China, according to his diary. This divertimento is actually a confession of his inner life, i.e. his homesickness. It consists of two movements. The first, marked Moderato, is melodious, with a slight sense of loss and frequent inner uncertainty. The second theme has an air of tranquillity. The second movement, marked Allegro vivace, is exciting and vigorous, firm and unswervingly resolute. Lyrical meditation moves gradually firward to the thunder and lightning of the climax.

Gaoshan Suite (1973) draws its inspiration from the tunes of the folk-songs of the Gaoshan minority nationality of Taiwan. The headings of the six sketches are:

1. Sacrifice 2. Drinking 3. Reed 4. Battle Dance
5. Calling Back Spirits 6. Dance of Good Year.

Both Rondo No. 3 and Rondo No. 4 were composed in 1983, the former on 25 May and the latter on 28 June. Staying in Philadelphia, Ma Sicong was homesick, quite uneasy about his life and his homeland, as he confessed in his diary on 21 February 1984: “When will things in China start to change? When can I end my exile? Nobody knows”. Sorrowful and restive, Rondo No. 3 is in the style of a sonata, while Rondo No. 4 is characterized by repeated echoes between the beginning and the ending.

Su Xia
Translated by Ding Shaoyan

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