TAIPEI, Taiwan — President Ma Ying-jeou said Friday that versatile musician Lee Tai-hsiang (李泰祥), who died a day earlier after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, leaves behind a lasting legacy thanks to his musical talent and philanthropic spirit.
“Maestro Lee has composed many beautiful melodies, helped nurture young talent and sponsored orphaned children throughout his life. We appreciate what he brought to all of us,” Ma wrote on his Facebook page.
The 72-year-old musician passed away in his sleep at 8:20 p.m. Thursday in a hospice ward at the Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital in Xindian, New Taipei, with his family at his bedside.
Although afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and other ailments for more than two decades, Lee remained devoted to music until the end.
Ma said he remembers vividly a visit he paid to Lee some two years ago.
“At the time, Lee sang one his own most famous songs, ‘The Sunshine Avenue’ without instrumental accompaniment. I was moved and awed by his strong, clear voice,” Ma recalled.
A prolific composer, Lee left behind a rich legacy of over 1,000 musical works, including chamber music, orchestral works, cantatas, film scores and soundtracks, folk songs and pop songs.
Despite his passing, Ma said, Lee’s spirit and music will live on. “Your musical works will be played or sung from generation to generation in this land. Thank you, Maestro Lee! Thank You for all the beautiful things you have brought to Taiwan!”
A Christian memorial service will be held later for Lee, his younger brother Lee Tai-ming said Friday.
Born into a family of the Amis tribe, Lee studied violin during his college years. He became the first chair violinist of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra following his graduation in 1964.
At the invitation of Germany’s Goethe Institute, in the autumn of 1972, Lee and other musicians, including German Professor Wolfram Keig, formed a quartet that toured major cities in Taiwan and Southeast Asia, winning rave reviews.
Lee was awarded full Rockefeller scholarship in the spring of 1973 and went to study avant-garde music at the Music Experimental Center at the San Diego State University in California. His main concern, however, was to keep Chinese folk music alive.
On his return in 1974, he became conductor of the Taiwan Provincial Orchestra, but left two years later to devote his time to composing.
In an attempt to improve what he called public taste, Lee once tried writing commercial jingles, even appearing personally in a couple of commercials.
He later went on to build a name for writing crossover tunes, honing his unique style of using classical techniques and instruments to make new arrangements of popular music and folk songs.
From the late 1970s through the 1980s, he composed for a number of singers, including songs such as “The Olive Tree,” “Farewell,” “A Spring Sculpture,” “The Answer,” “The Mistake,” “Chrysanthemum Sigh,” “Journey,” “You Are All My Memories,” “The Sunshine Avenue,” “Bottle of Sighs” and “Since You Ask.”
Many of those songs, including “The Olive Tree” and “The Sunshine Avenue,” were created in response to a campaign initiated by famous poet Yu Kuang-chung in the 1970s to set modern Chinese-language poems to music. A number of them have become classic favorites for music lovers.