The Yellow River Piano Concerto: a pioneer of western classical music in modern China and its socio-political context
The Yellow River Piano Concerto (1969) by Yin Chengzong (b. 1941), the most popular piano concerto in China, was composed at the time of the Chinese Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, or simply the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). It was intentionally written as a rearrangement of its predecessor – the 1939 Yellow River Cantata by Xian Xinghai (1905 – 1945). Created with strong political motivations and ideologies, the concerto was considered appropriately nationalistic and consistent with the principle of “soviet realism,” especially by the Chinese musical world before the 1980s. Specifically, motivated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the composition of the piano concerto carries many connections with the musical works by the renowned Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, including imitations of national instruments and applications of folk music. After the Cultural Revolution, Yin and his Yellow River Piano Concerto underwent severe repression due to Yin’s misunderstood relationship with the Gang of Four, a group later charged with causing chaos and tragedy during the political movement. As China becomes more open and wealthy, the Yellow River Piano Concerto has undergone a resurgence of popularity and is now recognized as one of the first large musical forms created by Chinese composers. Additionally, Yin and his work played a critical role in making the piano the most common instrument among a new generation of Chinese performers and composers.