Tyzen Hsiao: Piano Concerto in C minor, op.53

by Wei-han Li

Having earned an international reputation of ”Taiwan ‘s Rachmaninov” and “ Taiwan’s last poet of the piano,” Tyzen Hsiao completed three concertos, the best works of his life, during 1988 and 1990. The world premiere of his Cello Concerto in C, opus 52(1990) was by Carol Ou and the Taipei Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra in July 1992. Its American premiere was in 1995 by Felix Fan and the San Diego Symphony; the world premiere of his Piano Concerto in C minor, opus 53(1992) was by Jonathan Tang and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in 1994. his was a truly mature period of time in Hsiao’s compositional life.

Among his three concertos, the Piano in C minor took the longest time to complete and was the most challenging for the composer. He successfully integrated music theories of the East and the West in this composition, elevating Taiwan’s local music to the international standard. The first movement teems with dramatic and splendid. After the prelude, a sentimental and nostalgic theme is presented by the orchestra and then the addition of the piano highlights the graceful and purity. The development starts with a jumping and comical atmosphere where the piano and the orchestra overlay with each other, creating an expressive and unrestrained effect.

The second movement is of a narrative style, whose prelude is first ushered in by the clarinet and then repeated by the orchestra and the piano. After the repetition, the piano brings out the nostalgia of the first theme. The melody of a Taiwanese folksong “ Heartache” is borrowed and presented in a graceful and gentle way. Sfter a cadenza of a solo violin, a happy scene depicting children playing in the countryside is featured. After a temporary calm come some fragments of the second theme of the first movement and the piano leads the music back to the melody of the first theme, Before long, a cadenza of the piano is showcased where an ottava note gives a rippling effect of a water drop, The melody of the prelude strikes again and before the end of the movement, the sentimental musical thought reappears, leading the movement toward a gradual calm.

The third movement begins with a small cadenza that ushers in the orchestra, which plays the theme of “Heartache” in a magnificent and well-knit way. What comes next is a series of chords by the piano and the orchestra. The second theme is an elegant melody, an adaptation of a ballad by the composer. The melody is first drawn out by the flute and continued by the piano, instinct with a reverent mood. The theme of “Heartache” is instinctly played by the oboe, varied by the woodwind and then continued by the piano. A turbulent and uneasy sentiment is presented to suggest the early Taiwanese society. The recapitulation draws on the materials from the previous movements and the conclusion speeds up to lead the music to a bright and glorious world.

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