drplacebo: (Neuro notes)
[personal profile] drplacebo
It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

Although I post recordings from YouTube, most of the pieces I post are in my CD collection, and I just look for the same piece online. This is not one of them. This is a piece I discovered less than a week ago while looking for a different piece, and probably the most obscure recorded composer I know of.

The Chinese composer Sheng Lihong (b. 1926) has virtually no biographical information available online, but perhaps this is not so surprising considering the era in which most of his music was composed. From 1949 to 1978, composers in Communist China were rarely credited on their own; most of the music composed in China in that era was composed by groups of composers, reflecting the Communist government's ideals. The two best-known Chinese concert works composed before 1990, the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto and the Yellow River Piano Concerto, were both collaborative efforts of multiple composers. Sheng Lihong is best known as one of the four composers who produced the Yellow River Piano Concerto in 1969.

Sheng's Ocean Symphony, composed in 1980, is literally the only piece with which he is credited as sole composer. Like much other Chinese music, it is programmatic in character, but this symphony reflects a new-found freedom to explore themes other than the nationalist and "revolutionary" ones that had been approved before. This symphony is largely inspired by the Chinese coast in the Yangtze Delta, but in contrast to the Yellow River Piano Concerto (which quotes "The East Is Red" and the Internationale in its final movement), Maoist "revolutionary" themes are nowhere to be found in the Ocean Symphony. Instead, it draws its inspiration from the sea and shore, similarly to more familiar nautically-themed pieces such as Debussy's La Mer.

The first movement is titled "Son of the Sea," the literal meaning of the Yangtze River's name. The second movement, "View of the Fishing Village" (beginning at 15:16), is a festive-sounding scherzo with a lyrical middle section whose melody is woven back in at several points after the scherzo theme returns. The movement seems to end with a final cadence at 21:39, but a solo viola introduces a brief, melancholy interlude based loosely on the theme from the movement's middle section. This is followed by a hauntingly beautiful third movement, "Meditation After the Storm" (beginning at 22:41), and then a frenetic, folk music inspired final movement titled "Festival" (beginning at 33:19).

EDIT: times may no longer be accurate; the YouTube video I originally linked to was taken down, so I've switched it to another.
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