2008-03-01

Hsiao's Formosan Requiem

The Ilha Formosa Requiem (full title Ilha Formosa: Requiem for the Formosan Martyrs) is a 2001 composition for solo soprano, solo baritone, chorus and orchestra composed by Taiwanese composer Tyzen Hsiao (b.1938). The composition is based on a Taiwanese language poem by Min-Yung Lee. Ilha Formosa ('Beautiful Island') is the name given to the island on the maps made by Portuguese mariners in the Age of Discovery. The heart of the piece is the second movement in which the male and female soloists, in lyrical phrases, remember those who suffered in the White Terror and throughout Taiwan's history.

In the andante first movement, the island's most ancient voices offer their wisdom and admonish newcomers to give themselves completely to their new home. The third movement, in march tempo, encourages survivors of suffering to rise above their pain. The finale envisions an island that fulfils everything contained in the name Formosa.

1. If You Ask

If you ask about the island's father,
I will tell you of the sky.
If you ask about the island's mother,
I will tell you of the sea.
If you ask about the island's past,
I will tell you of the tears and blood that dripped to our feet.
If you ask about the island's future,
I will tell you to step out. Our path is open.

2. Memory and Perception

For every victim we readily chisel a name into marble.
For every victim we readily weave a flower into a wreath.
For every victim we share an ode.
For every victim we sing a hymn.

3. Onward

Do not surrender to convulsions of self-pity.
Do not poison yourself with recriminations.
Lift your hand to the azure skies.
Set yourself upon a shining road.

4. This Beautiful Country

This beautiful country is our everlasting love.
This beautiful country is our heart's treasure.
And this modest tapestry of dreams only sketches our hopes
for this beautiful country, a green peace.

(Translation mine)

The world premier of Ilha Formosa took place in Taipei in 2001. The American premier took place later the same year in Lincoln Center, New York.

In September 2007 the piece was featured in an American West Coast tour program by the NTNU Symphony Orchestra and Formosa Festival Choir conducted by Apo Hsu. The soloists in the second movement were Meng-Chieh Hsieh (soprano) and Yu-Hsin Chang (baritone). The choir--actually the combined choirs of NTNU, Mangka Presbyterian Church Choir, New Taoyuan Philharmonic Choir, and Buddhist Candles Choir--was prepared by Tsui-Yu Huang.

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This entry incorporates text I have also submitted to Wikipedia and Answers.com for publication. The published material is subject to editing by other contributors but offers more substantial illustrations and links. This blog post preserves the text as I submitted it for any future editing by me. Your comments are appreciated.

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