Olive Tree composer dies: His works worth $4 million

Olive Tree composer dies: His works worth $4 million

TAIPEI - Li Tai-hsiang, the Taiwanese composer of the plaintive Olive Tree and other songs at the peak of the 1970s folk era in Mandarin pop, died on Thursday after a 25-year battle with Parkinson's disease, said China Times. He was 72.

He died in Taipei Tzu Chi General Hospital in Xindian, northern Taiwan. The cause of death was multiple organ failure, said the report.

Li, who was born to the Amis aboriginal tribe in Taichung on Feb 20, 1941, spoke of his compositions as his children and said Olive Tree was the best of them, reported United Daily News.

The ethereal wanderer's song, which became famous when it was performed by his protege, Chyi Yu, was notoriously hard to sing, said the report. Chyi once confessed to a critic: "Every time I sing this song, I'm nervous."

The song was based on Sanmao's English poem and Li, with the author's consent, had the words translated into Chinese by folk singer T.C. Yang.

The poem was originally centred on a small donkey Sanmao saw on a Spanish plain, but Li felt it would be strange to sing of wandering "for the little donkey". After some deliberation, it was decided that the wanderer in the song would pine "for the olive tree in my dream", a change that elevated the imagery and mood of the work.

With Chyi, who was formerly married to his brother Tai-ming, Li created other hits, including Daylight Avenue, Walking In The Rain and Your Smiling Face, the song from the 1979 film of the same title.

Li's compositions were reported to number from 500-plus to 1,000-plus. China Times said his works were worth more than NT$100 million ($4.2 million) but he signed away most of the copyrights.

He had no sense of copyright protection and would sell 10 songs, for NT$3,000 a title, to buy a NT$30,000 airfare "because he was going abroad the next day", said another of his brothers, Chang-yi.

But the composer came to be philosophical about losing his copyrights and was happy as long as his songs were played, said his brother Tai-ming.

Taiwan Apple Daily said Li never owned a home and rented houses all of his life. But in an interview with the newspaper in 2004, he said: "I'm a musician. My notes are my landscapes. My heart is full of beauty. I don't need a sofa or refined decor to complement it."

Even as his heath deteriorated, he insisted on composing songs and spent two hours a day transcribing the melodies that played in his head, said China Times. When he was on his deathbed, his daughter recorded them for him.

His wife, a music teacher, died about five years ago. He is survived by their son and daughter.

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