Fou Ts’ong, the first Chinese pianist to win global acclaim and success, has died aged 86 after contracting Covid-19. Fou died on Monday in London, where he had been living since the 1950s.
His death was confirmed to the BBC by Jianing Kong, a professor at the Royal College of Music and student of Fou’s. Responding to the news on Tuesday, the renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang described Fou as “a truly great pianist, and our spiritual beacon”. Fou was born in China in 1934 to a family of China’s intellectual elite, he first heard western classical music at a young age when his father, the renowned translator Fu Lei, returned to China after several years living in France. As a budding pianist, he studied with the founder and head of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Italian conductor Mario Paci, who had been crucial in bringing western classical music to China. Aged 19, Fou left China to continue his musical education in Europe, moving to then-Communist Poland to study in Warsaw. Two years later, he won awards and international recognition at the prestigious Chopin competition in the city.
In 1959, Fou moved to London and grew into an internationally acclaimed soloist, playing both in Europe and the United States, and performing in 1967 at the BBC’s First Night of the Proms. In 1960 he had married Zamira Menuhin, the daughter of the renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin. The couple had a son and divorced in 1969, Fou later married the Chinese pianist Patsy Toh and had another son. While he was living in London, Fou’s parents were persecuted in Maoist China during the anti-intellectual Cultural Revolution, they took their own lives in 1966. Staying true to his earlier training in Poland, Fou became especially known for his interpretations of Chopin. He continued to be associated with the Polish composer, and the Chopin Institute said in a statement on Wednesday that his death marked “the closure of an extremely important page in the Chopin tradition”.
“We say goodbye to the master, musician, philosopher who, like no other, was able to tell the world the greatness of Chopin through words, but above all through his play,” the institute said. French pianist Francois Guy wrote on Twitter that Fou had been his “mentor and a musical father”. “His Debussy, Chopin and Mozart remain legendary,” Mr Guy wrote. Lang Lang wrote on the China’s Weibo social media platform on Tuesday that Fou had been a great inspiration for him, recollecting the support he received from the veteran pianist early on in his career.
“I still remember the time when I played Rachmaninov’s Piano Concert No. 3 for the first time in London in 2001. After the concert, he gave me a hug with tears in his eyes, and said that he had high hopes for me,” Lang Lang wrote. “Master Fou was a great artist that I respected very much. I will never forget what he said about always staying kind and pure-hearted, his understanding of music was unique.”