Although his celebrity status has faded in the West, he remains adored in the Asian nation, where he has played for 25 years.
“No one is a prophet in his own country,” Clayderman told AFP ahead of his Christmas Day performance at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, the ruling Communist Party’s state building on the edge of Tiananmen Square.
The 63-year-old pianist is known worldwide for his 1976 “Ballad for Adeline.”
In his more than 40-year career, Clayderman says he has sold 60 million records internationally, making him one of the best-selling French musicians in history, alongside Mireille Mathieu, Jean-Michel Jarre and late Johnny Hallyday.
According to Clayderman’s website, he has 70 Platinum discs to his credit.
At the height of his celebrity, he was a television regular. In 1985, former US First Lady Nancy Reagan crowned him the “Prince of Romance.”
He had more modest success in his motherland.
“At the end of the 1980s, I neglected France a little to meet the many requests I received from Japan, Southeast Asia and Latin America,” Clayderman said.
“Now, French people between 20 and 40 years old don’t know me, even if I haven’t been forgotten by older generations.”
– ‘Thirsty for lightness’ –
China is now the country where Clayderman performs the most. His first Chinese concert dates back to 1992, but his melodies have been broadcast on the radio since the mid-1980s, when economic reforms opened China up to cultural products from the West.
“His music arrived at the perfect moment,” music critic Hao Fang told AFP. “People in China were coming out of a period where they heard only Communist revolutionary songs — they were thirsty for lighter melodies.”
For the Chinese at the time, the piano was synonymous with European classical music, viewed as a more sophisticated genre than the love songs and simpler tunes from Hong Kong, Taiwan or the United States.
“The melodies of Richard Clayderman seemed easily understandable, beautiful and emotionally rich from the first listen,” said Du Jian, Clayderman’s Chinese promoter.
“His tapes could be found in practically every home.”
Xiao Kang, a 30-year-old Beijinger, said her father used to tape the pianist’s music by sticking a recorder beside the radio.
“Many Chinese people grew up with his music,” she said.
– ‘Gentlemanly image’ –
Today, Clayderman’s music can still be widely heard in China: online, in shopping malls and hotel lobbies, elevators and in ringtones. Many young pianists also continue to study his songs.
His current tour in China, “The Splendor of Romanticism,” a label often associated with France, includes 31 dates, with tickets priced between 380 and 2,018 yuan ($58 to $307).
“In 25 years of concerts here, I have seen China grow at an incredible speed,” Clayderman said.
“Uncomfortable, dirty gyms with poor acoustics have been replaced by elegant and beautiful concert halls.”
Clayderman’s enduring popularity is partly due to his “gentlemanly image”, consistent with the Chinese perception of a Western Prince Charming, promoter Du said.
“His blond hair and blue eyes are seen as complementary to his music, and in East Asia he has immediately attracted the public with this dual advantage.”