MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Guangchen Chen’s tribute to Fou Ts’ong (1934-2020), “The Sufferings and Greatness of a Vulnerable Artist: In Memory of Fou Ts’ong.” To read the whole essay, which includes images and video clips, click here. A teaser appears below. My thanks to Guangchen Chen for sharing with us his memories of Fou Ts’ong.
Kirk Denton, editor
The Sufferings and Greatness of a Vulnerable Artist:
In Memory of Fou Ts’ong
By Guangchen Chen
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March 2021)
As if 2020 were not bad enough: about a week before Christmas, I received an email from the pianist Patsy Toh; I assumed it was her usual kind holiday greetings. Instead, it was to inform me that both she and her husband and musical partner Fou Ts’ong 傅聰 tested positive of COVID-19. Patsy seemed to be doing OK and was out of hospital already. Ts’ong would stay on for a few more days, and was expected back home for Christmas. I was shocked, knowing how reclusive they were. And I was worried: Ts’ong was 86 and a lifelong lover of pipe smoking. But I was also hopeful, because he had, until recently, always been bursting with vitality and had weathered one challenge after another through his dramatic life. But 2020 proved, right up to the end, deadly: he passed away on December 28.
Fou Ts’ong was a pianist of rare musical sensitivity and formidable cultural sophistication. Born in Shanghai in 1934, he was raised in an atmosphere steeped in learning, both East and West. He was tutored at home by his father, the eminent translator of French literature and art critic Fu Lei 傅雷, who spent his formative years in Europe. Fou Ts’ong grew up in the company of old recordings made by Wilhelm Furtwängler, Edwin Fischer, and the Capet Quartet, among others. With relatively scant formal training, he debuted with the Shanghai Symphony at the age of 17. In 1953, he won the third prize at the George Enescu Competition in Romania, and then the third prize and best mazurka performance at the 1955 Chopin Competition in Poland. Subsequently, he had an international performing career that spanned almost six decades. But what distinguished him as a unique artist was his ability to combine the aesthetics of two distinctively different traditions—the Chinese and the European. Furthermore, he and his family were victims of Mao Zedong’s communism, and the pain he suffered his whole adult life can be heard in a palpable way in his music. [continue reading]