The Evolution of the Yellow River Piano Concerto


Xian Xinghai Alive

1905 - 1945

China becomes a republic

1912 - 1949

Since the 17th Century, China was ruled by the Qing dynasty. It's power waned with the rising influence of western powers over trade, leading to political and social instability in the 20th century, which includes war, revolution, famine, and political repression.

Civil War with the Communists

1925 - 1937

The Kuomintang gain control, and initiate a civil war against the communists, until the parties temporarily united against the Japanese in 1937.

Xian Xinghai in Paris

1930 - 1935

Xinghai travels to Paris, and studies with Paul Dukas (composer of 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice') and Vincent D'Indy. Impressionistic music was popular, and his approach to Orchestration and Harmonisation is likely to have beeninfluenced by debussy and similar artists at that time.

Japan invades

1931 - 1945

Japan invades, starting a gradual occupation until defeated at the end of WWII.

Xian Xinghai Back in China

1935 - 1940

Xian Xinghai becomes involve in the communist-backed 'National Salvation Song Movement' whose purpose was to create mass songs with political messages in order to politicise the workers and thus gather support and influence for the communist party.
He composed over 400 of these songs, with strong patriotic messages and titles such as 'Battle song of the resistance against Japan'

Xian Xinghai appointed head of the Lu Xun Arts Academy


Xian Xinghai appointed head of the Lu Xun Arts Academy Yan'an, the communist party's headquarters. Here he composed a further 600 mass songs, four cantatas, and two operas.

The Yellow River Cantata Composed


Mao Zedong and Jiang Qing impressed by performance of cantata

13 April 1939

Xian Xinghai in Russia

1940 - 1945

Xian left for Russia to work on music for documentaries, but was unable to return before he died of pneumonia in 1945.

While here Xian reorchestrated the work for a large orchestra.

Civil War Commences

1945 - 1949

The Civil War against the communists continues now that Japan was been defeated, until Mao declares victory in 1949

Communists come to power

1949 - present day

Mao founds the People's Rebublic of China

1949 - Present Day

After declaring communist victory, Mao founds the People's Republic of China.

The Great Leap Forward

1958 - 1961

Mao establishes an authoritarian regime and forcible redistributes land from landlords to people's communes, developing large infrastructure projects.
Private farming was prohibited, and those engaged in it were labeled as counter revolutionaries and persecuted. Restrictions on rural people were enforced through public struggle sessions, and social pressure, although people also experienced forced labor. Rural industrialization, officially a priority of the campaign, saw "its development ... aborted by the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward."
The Great Leap ended in catastrophe, resulting in tens of millions of excess deaths and famine. Historian Frank Dikötter asserts that "coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the very foundation of the Great Leap Forward" and it "motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history."
The years of the Great Leap Forward in fact saw economic regression, with 1958 through 1961 being the only years between 1953 and 1983 in which China's economy saw negative growth.
In subsequent conferences in 1960 and 1962, the negative effects of the Great Leap Forward were studied by the CPC, and Mao was criticized in the party conferences. Moderate Party members like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping rose to power, and Mao was marginalized within the party, leading him to initiate the Cultural Revolution in 1966.

Yin Chengzong sets out to rehabilitate the piano in China


Shajiabang Symphony Composed


Jiang Qing played a key part in the creation of this work, which was based on a populist opera celebrating the communist heroism during the war with Japan.

The 8 model plays popular

1966 - 1976

Jiang Qing was the chief advocate and engineer of the transformation from traditional opera to revolutionary opera, and chose the Beijing opera as her "laboratory experimentation" for accomplishing this radical change in theater art. Traditional Beijing opera was revolutionized in both form and content. Eight yangbanxi, or model operas, were produced in the first three years of the Cultural Revolution. They consisted of six modern operas:
-The Legend of the Red Lantern
-Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy
-Raid on the White Tiger Regiment
-Ode of the Dragon River
-On the Dock
And two ballets:
-Red Detachment of Women
-The White-Haired Girl

The significance of these works can be seen in Anchee Min's book 'Red Azalea.' She writes:
"To love or not to love the operas was a serious political question, and meant to be or not to be a revolutionary."
For a decade the same eight operas were taught on radio and in school, and were promoted by neighborhood organizations. Min recalls:
"I listened to the operas when I ate, walked and slept. I grew up with the operas. they became my cells. I decorated the porch with posters of my favorite opera heroines. I sang the operas wherever I went. My mother heard me singing in my dreams; she said that I was preserved by the operas. It was true. I could not go on a day without listening to the operas. I pasted my ear close to the radio, figuring out the singer's breaths. I imitated her. The aria was called 'I won't quit the battle until all the beasts are killed.' It was sung by Iron Plum a teenage character in an opera called The Red Lantern. I would not stop singing the aria until my vocal cords hurt. I went on pushing my voice to its highest pitch. I was able to recite all the librettos..."

Mao Lauches the Cultural Revolution

1966 - 1976

Claiming to be concerned that China was becoming governed by the intellectually elite, Mao launched the Cultural revolution, although many claim it was an attempt to regain respect from other political leaders at the time.
The aim was to stated goal was to enforce communism in the country by removing capitalist, traditional and cultural elements from Chinese society, and to impose Maoist orthodoxy within the Party.
The regime involved intellectuals being sent to the countryside to carry out hard manual labour and to be 're-educated' by the peasants. Classes were cancelled in Primary and Secondary schools.
The worst violence ended in 1969, but the revolution continued until Mao's death

Jian Qing suggests the reworking of the Yellow River Piano Cantata

1969 - 1970

Jiang Qing oversees the formation of a team of musicians to compose this new version of the work, including:
Liu Zhuang
Chu Wanghua
Sheng Lihong
and perhaps Shi Shushang and Xu Fei-Sheng.

They go on a retreat to the caves of a former revolutionary base next to the banks of the Yellow River. Here they interviewed peasants who survived the war with Japan, listened to Bamboo flute music from the Shaanxi Region, studied communist literature and helped the boatmen with their work.

Yellow River Piano Concerto Finished


The finished work condenses the Cantata's 8 movements into 4, including a piano part greatly influenced by Yin Chengzong's repertoire- notably: Rachmaninov, Chopin, and Liszt. The fourth movement also culminates in a climactic statement of 'The East is Red', the anthem of the Cultural Revolution.

Mao Dies


Deng Xiaoping takes power

1978 - 1997

After the Gang of Four was purged in October 1976, Deng gradually emerged as the de facto leader of China following Mao's death on 9 September 1976.

Deng Xiaoping advised to open up and institute reforms