Sun, Feb 26, 2006 - Page 17 News List

Gone and almost forgotten


Although the talented Taiwanese musician Chiang Wen-yeh (江文也) was the first Asian to win a special Olympic medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, his name has now all but been forgotten at home.

Chiang's Formosan Dance (台灣舞曲), which he composed in 1933, brought him fame. However, success did not guarantee him a better life. The musician's fate was inter-twined with Taiwan's sometimes bitter and harsh history.

Like many Taiwanese during Japan's colonial rule over the country from 1895 to 1945, Chiang frequently faced awkward choices.

The Japanese rulers treated members of the public like Chiang as colonial subjects and second-class citizens. But in China he was viewed as Japanese and a traitor.

After the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took control of Taiwan, Chiang's music was banned by Chiang Kai-shek's regime.

A couple of years before the artist's death in 1983, several Taiwanese musicians used Chiang's Japanese name Bunya Koh to evade government censorship and perform his music in Taiwan.

His compositions include at least five orchestral master-pieces, a number of piano sonatas, ballads, symphonic poems, sinfoniettas and hymns.

Chiang was born on June 11, 1910 at Dadaocheng (大稻埕), once the business district of Taipei City.

It quickly became apparent that he was a musical prodigy.

It was said that Chiang, at the age of three, could perfectly mimic children's songs which his mother sang to him. Aged five, he was accomplished at singing hymns which he learned from listening at the window of a local church.

His father, Chiang Chang-sheng (江長生), a successful merchant, moved his family to Amoy (廈門), Fujian Province, China, to study at a Japanese-run elementary school.

Chiang's mother Zheng Gui (鄭閨) originated from Hualien, and was a lover of Nankuan (Southern Winds, 南管) music.

In 1923, after the death of his mother, Chiang was sent, along with his brothers, to Japan to continue his education.

In March 1928, Chiang registered at a Japanese technical school to study electrical engineering in accordance with his father's instructions.

Meanwhile, he attended night school to learn music.

Chiang completed his first major work, Formosan Dance, in Tokyo in 1933.

Based on the pentatonic scale, Chiang later rewrote the Formosan Dance from a piano version to a full orchestral work. The new version was chosen along with four other Japanese musicians' works to represent Japan at the Olympic arts competition in 1936.

In addition to his natural musical talents, Chiang benefited greatly from the teachings of Alexander Tcherepnin, a Russian musician who was teaching at the Shanghai Music Conservatory and visited Japan to perform in 1934.

Chiang and Tcherepnin met at an event organized by Japan's Composers Alliance Club.

Through Tcherepnin's guidance, Chiang was exposed to the work of great European composers and learned techniques employed by Claude Debussy, Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky.

Among his other compositions, Bagatelles (斷章小品) and Little Sketch (小素描) won him critical acclaim and an award at a music festival in Venice. Chiang's Four High Mountain Suite (四首高山組曲) was performed in Italy, France, Germany and at the Paris World Expo.

With success came recognition as an internationally renowned composer.

However, Japan's invasion of China in July 1937 changed the course of Chiang's life.

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