About this Recording
82081 - 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 in Russia 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 River

Composed in 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

Originally 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

In 1936 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 oppression.


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 River

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

Composed in 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

A choral 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

The 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.

Cao Peng

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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