2007-09-09

Tyzen Hsiao

This week I was delighted to experience for the first time the orchestral music of Tyzen Hsiao, a Taiwanese composer now living in Los Angeles. I had long heard his art songs in the recital halls and practice rooms of Taiwan's music schools. It was a thrill to hear his uplifting music resound on the large canvas provided by musicians of National Taiwan Normal University conducted by Apo Hsu.

The following information formed the basis of an article I created for Wikipedia.

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Tyzen Hsiao (蕭泰然) (b.1938) is a Taiwanese composer of the neo-Romantic school. His music is widely admired for its romantic lushness and unabashed lyricism. Many of his vocal works set poems written in Taiwanese, the mother tongue of the majority of the island's residents. His music is representative of the Taiwanese literature movement that revitalized the island's literary and performing arts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Music

Tyzen Hsiao's rich tonal style has earned him an international reputation as 'Taiwan's Rachmaninov.' Hsiao's compositions include works for solo instruments and chamber ensembles, many works for solo voice, and large-scale pieces for orchestras and choirs with soloists.

Hsiao's most widely performed large-scale pieces include:

  • Formosa Symphony, opus 49 (1987)
  • Violin Concerto in D, opus 50 (1988)
  • Cello Concerto in C, opus 52 (1990)
  • Piano Concerto in C minor, opus 53 (1992)
  • 1947 Overture for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1993)
  • Ilha Formosa: Requiem for the Formosan Martyrs (2001)

Hsiao's art songs enjoy frequent performances in Taiwan. His folk anthem-cum-revival hymn 'Taiwan the Formosa' is regarded by many as Taiwan's unofficial national anthem. Hsiao's 1947 Overture quotes the song. Other well-known art songs by Hsiao include 'The Fairest Flower', 'Eternal Hometown', a Taiwanese-language setting of Psalm 23, and 'I Love Taiwan.' He has also won acclaim for his folk song settings, such as 'Brother Andon Goes to Market' and 'The Grasshopper and the Rooster.' Many of Hsiao's songs, originally composed for solo voice and piano, also exist in versions for solo voice with orchestra.

Hsiao acknowledges Rachmaninov, Bartók and Chopin as important influences on his personal style, along with Presbyterian hymnody and, above all, Taiwanese folk music. His songs combine the seemingly artless elements of folk song with romantic melodies and lush harmonies reminiscent of Canteloube.

Hsiao's fusion of Taiwanese and international music traditions has influenced a number of younger composers, many of whom he has trained through teaching positions at the National Taiwan Normal University, the Tainan Women's College of Arts and Technology (now the Tainan University of Technology), and the Tainan Theological College. His music has been the subject of graduate research at the National Sun Yat-sen University in his hometown of Kaohsiung, the Florida State University in Tallahassee (US) and other institutions.

Life and Career

Tyzen Hsiao was born in Taiwan's southern port city of Kaohsiung. His father, a physician, served as an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. His mother, a church pianist, began teaching him piano at an early age. As an adult Hsiao's career has encompassed composition, piano performance, and conducting.

  • 1959-1963 Majors in music at the National Taiwan Normal University. Teachers include Hsu Tsang-Houei (composition), Kao Tsu-Mei (piano) and Li Fu-Mei (piano).
  • 1963 Graduates from NTNU, begins performing and teaching.
  • 1965-1967 Studies at Musashino Music University in Japan. Teachers include Fujimoto Hideo (composition) and Nakane Nobue (piano).
  • 1967 Appointed to faculty at National Taiwan Normal University.
  • 1971 Composes opera Jesus Christ on a libretto by his father.
  • 1974 Composes Fantasy Waltz for Two Pianos, opus 38.
  • 1975 First 'Hsiao Tyzen Night' at Jhongshan Hall in the Hsimen district of Taipei.
In 1977 personal and political circumstances led Hsiao to relocate to the United States. It was to be an eighteen-year stay.
  • 1977 Moves from Taiwan to Atlanta.
  • 1978 Composes The Vagabond, setting his own Taiwanese text. Moves to Los Angeles. Begins fruitful musical collaborations with Taiwanese community.
  • 1980 Composes 'March of Democracy', an art song that leads to his being forbidden to re-enter Taiwan by the Kuomintang government.
  • 1984 Composes art song 'What a Beautiful Taiwan'
  • 1985 Composes The Highlander's Suite for Piano Quintet
  • 1985-1987 Earns master's in composition at California State University, Los Angeles. Teachers include Byong Kon Kim (composition) and Milton Stern (piano).
  • 1987 Composes Symphony Opus 49 Formosa. Composes 'Never Disregard Taiwan' (text by Yang-Min Lin). North American Taiwanese Professors Association releases recording Psalms of the Taiwanese: Tyzen Hsiao’s Compositions.
  • 1988 Composes Violin Concerto in D, opus 50. Composes hymn 'Taiwan the Formosa' (text by Rev. Er-Yu Cheng)
  • 1989 Named Humanity Award Laureate by the Taiwanese-American Foundation
  • 1990 Composes Cello Concerto in C, opus 52, The Prelude for Pipe Organ, and song 'Mother's Hair.'
  • 1991 Prelude for Pipe Organ wins first prize, California Music Teachers Association Composition Competition
  • 1992 Ban lifted on Hsiao's return to Taiwan. Completes Piano Concerto in C minor, opus 53. Composes songs 'The Fairest Flower' and 'Eternal Homeland.' Premier of Violin Concerto by Lin Cho-Liang and San Diego Symphony Orchestra (US). Premier of Cello Concerto by Carol Ou and the Taipei County Cultural Center Orchestra (Taiwan).
  • 1993 Struck by heart attack while composing 1947 Overture; recovers and completes the work.
  • 1994 Premier of piano concerto by Jonathan Tang with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (Canada).

Hsiao returned to Taiwan in 1995. He was one of thousands of natives who returned to the island from abroad after democracy was established during the 1990s.

  • 1995 Composes Nocturne for Violin and Piano, Fantasia for Flute and Piano, and Toccata for solo piano. American premier of Cello Concerto by Felix Fan and the San Diego Symphony. Premier of 1947 Overture by the Oakland Youth Orchestra with soprano Huang Mei-Hsing and Taiwanese-American choir.
  • 1996 Composes Formosa Trio for piano trio and Dragon Boat Festival for solo piano.
  • 1997 Tyzen Hsiao Music Association forms in Taiwan.
  • 1999 Composes The Angel of Formosa and Ode to Yü-Shan (choir with piano or orchestra). Premier of Formosa Symphony by Russian Federal Symphony and The Angel of Formosa by Moscow Symphony in Moscow. Russian premier of violin concerto.
  • 2000 Composes cantata The Prodigal Son. Performance of Ode to Yü-Shan presented as part of Taiwan's presidential inauguration ceremonies in Taipei. Russian premier of Cello Concerto and 1947 Overture; program includes the Violin Concerto.
  • 2001 Premier of Ilha Formosa: Requiem for the Formosan Martyrs (poetry by Min-Yung Lee) in Taipei. American premier takes place soon after in New York's Lincoln Center.
  • 2002 Suffers stroke while composing the Love River Symphony.

Hsiao's stroke in 2002 led him to suspend composition and relocate to Los Angeles for recovery. The Love River Symphony remains unfinished.

  • 2004 Awarded Taiwan's National Art Prize. Japanese premier of Ilha Formosa Requiem
  • 2005 Receives Wu Sam-lien Musical Contribution Award
  • 2006 Awarded Kaohsiung City Prize for the Arts
  • 2007 Formosa Dreaming, a concert of major works for orchestra and voices by Hsiao and Fan-Long Ko, tours the United States. The concert features the NTNU Symphony orchestra, soloists Meng-Chieh Hsieh and Yu-Hsin Chang, and the Formosa Festival Choir. The performances are conducted by Apo Hsu.

Recordings

  • Tyzen Hsiao Orchestral Music (2003), a two-disk set by Vakhtang Jordania and Russian Federal Orchestra with Moscow State Chorus. Includes the Formosa Symphony, the Violin Concerto (Alexander Trostiansky, soloist), the Cello Concerto (Kiril Rodin, soloist), the Piano Concerto (Anatoly Sheludyakov, soloist), the tone poem Angel of Formosa, and the 1947 Overture. Angelok 9912/13
  • Tyzen Hsiao Chamber Music. 1 CD issued by Tyzen Hsiao Music Association (2004). Includes piano trio 'The Formosa' and string quartet 'Homeland at Dusk' with art songs and works for solo violin. Soprano: Chiong-Jong Lu. 1 Violin and Soloist: Shien-Ta Su. 2 Violin: Yu-Yuan Chen. Viola: Chan-Hang Ho. Cello: Su-Chu Tseng. Piano: Lina Yeh, Tyzen Hsiao.
  • Taiwan Affection, Tyzen Heart: Tyzen Hsiao Works for Solo Violin and Piano. 1 CD. Issued by Tyzen Hsiao Music Association (1999). Violin: Shien-Ta Su. Piano: Lina Yeh. Winner of Best Composer and Album of the Year prizes at the Taiwanese Golden Song Awards.
  • Tyzen Hsiao Works for Solo Voice and Piano. 2 CDs issued by Tyzen Hsiao Music Association (1998). Soprano: Li-Chan Chen. Piano: Tyzen Hsiao.
  • Tyzen Hsiao Choral Music 2 CDs issued by Tyzen Hsiao Music Association (1995).
  • Psalms of the Taiwanese: Tyzen Hsiao’s Compositions (1987). North American Taiwanese Professors Association.

References


Photo by Alton Thompson, 2007.09.04
Jhongshan Hall, Taipei.

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