Tuesday, 31/01/2023 18:59

Thái Thị Liên, Việt Nam's matriarch pianist and pedagogue, passes away

Thái Thị Liên performs a piece of music by Chopin at her centennial concert in 2017. Photos courtesy of Thái Thị Liên's family

HÀ NỘI - Thái Thị Liên, one of the founders of Việt Nam's National Academy of Music, passed away on Tuesday peacefully at her home at the age of 106, her son Trần Thanh Bình said.

She was one of the seven founding members of the country's Conservatory of Music in 1956 and Dean of the Piano Department for 20 years. She trained many talented pianists, with the most internationally successful concert pianist being her youngest son, Đặng Thái Sơn.

Her last public performance came in 2017, commemorating her 100 years of age and after she had suffered a minor stroke. She performed Chopin's Mazurka and a YouTube video of the piece was posted by a fan, receiving nearly seven million views. 

After the milestone concert celebrating her centenary, she withdrew from public performances but still played at home for her former students, the most recent visit coming during the Lunar New Year festival last week.

At 106 years of age, she left behind an immense void in music and of struggling to overcome life adversities. She always exuded a positive, resilient and loving ambience to everyone who got to meet or know her. 

Last year, she fought COVID-19 and won, though she was hospitalised in an intensive care unit. 

Born in 1918 in what was then Sài Gòn of French Indochina to a wealthy Catholic family, her father was one of the few Vietnamese French-trained engineers. She studied music from four years of age with French Catholic sisters in Sài Gòn for 11 years and put on her first performance at the City Hall. 

While in Sài Gòn, she studied with French pianist Armande Caron, who was quoted in the Malaya Tribune on September 30, 1931, as an "eloquent interpreter of Chopin, Schubert and Schumann".

She trained in Sài Gòn, first under the tutelage of the French pianistic tradition of Catholic nuns, then Caron, who was Isidore Philipp's student. Phillip won the first piano prize at Paris Conservatoire in 1883. Phillip’s teacher was Georges Mathias — a student of Chopin.

While pursuing a professional career as a pianist, the political turmoil of the then-French Indochina drove the Thái sisters to different paths. While the elder sister Louise Nguyễn Văn Tỵ (born Thái Thị Lang), found her career in French music halls with her compositions played, recorded and printed, the younger sister Thái Thị Liên followed the call of the underground revolutionary movement in Sài Gòn, following her brother, who fought against the French rule and occupation of the country.

She was a messenger for the revolutionary forces and her Sài Gòn music salon was a rendezvous for patriotic elite congressmen and medical doctors, lawyers and artists. 

MOTHERHOOD: She gave birth to her daughter in Prague, after graduating from the city's conservatory. Photo courtesy of the family

She followed her husband to represent the Việt Minh (Việt Nam League for Independence) at the Fontainebleau Agreements in 1946 and later moved to Prague, the then capital of Czechoslovakia, where she graduated from the Prague Music Conservatory in 1951. 

She then joined the Central Music and Arts troupes in the Việt Bắc revolutionary base. When Hà Nội was liberated in 1954, she moved to the city and later joined six other prominent composers and musicians to establish the then Việt Nam Music School.

During the war against American involvement in Việt Nam, she evacuated the music school to the countryside, where the teachers taught and students studied in air-raid shelters, often under American air bombardment. 

With the cooperation with the then Socialist Eastern European countries, Vietnamese music students got to study with Russian piano teachers, having masterclasses with Polish pianists, who detected the early talent of Đặng Thái Sơn. She retired in 1977 after 20 years of leading the piano department and producing leading pianists of the time. 

At 100 years old, Madame Liên still frequented music concerts when her son Đặng Thái Sơn performed in Hà Nội.

In 1980, she once again became known across the country when her son Sơn won the 10th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, which shocked the piano world. Newspapers lauded the up-and-coming young pianist from war-torn Việt Nam becoming the winner of the world's oldest and most prestigious piano competition. The young man didn't come from anywhere - in fact, his professional lineage can be traced all the way back to Chopin. 

In 2021, Sơn made history again when he became the first Chopin competition winner who trained his student Bruce Liu to become the 18th Competition winner, which Madame Liên closely followed via the YouTube posts of the Chopin Institute in Warsaw.

For her contribution to the country's struggle to win independence, she was bestowed with the Labour Order, First Class. She was also awarded a series of accolades including People's Teacher for laying the foundations of piano training in the country. 

Madame Liên is survived by three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her memorial service will take place at the National Funeral Hall on Saturday. VNS 

Comments (0)

Related content