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Liu Tianhua is a Modern Era Great Musician in Civilization VI.

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Liáng Xiāo

Kong Shan Niao Yu

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When Chinese composer Liu Tianhua died in 1932 AD at the age of 37, he had only composed about a dozen pieces, ten of which were for the erhu, a two-string instrument. To this day, this small repertoire remains the most significant for the instrument so closely identified with Chinese culture.

Born in Jianqyin, Liu came from an accomplished family – his father a noted Qing dynasty scholar, one of his brothers a popular musician, and his other brother a poet. Liu began studying music – including Western classical compositions and mastering the violin and the trumpet – at an early age. As he grew, he developed a passion for traditional Chinese music and its role in modern China; his greatest contribution may be his improvements to the design of erhu, which had fallen into the abyss of public indifference.

His appointment to teach music at the University of Peking was a turning point in his career. It allowed Liu to further develop his practice and theory of Chinese music and pass these on to his students. He also began performing, and by 1930 was a famed performer as well as scholar. With his familiarity with Western educational traditions, he devised innovative methods of teaching traditional Chinese music. As an academic, he wrote progressive studies for the erhu and the pipa, the first time such studies had appeared in the scholarly literature.

The years 1923 to 1932 were the most productive of his short life as a composer. All his compositions date from those nine years, and he also arranged and transcribed a number of traditional tunes for the erhu. But just two years after his first concert of his own works – featuring pieces like “Toward the Brightness” and “Beautiful Night” – he fell ill and died.

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