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ClassicsOnline Home » ZHU, J.: Heroic Poems (The) (Shanghai Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Peng Cao)
Composed by Zu Jian'er, the prominent Chinese composer, symphonic
cantata The Heroic Poems is a grand vocal-instrumental setting of Mao Zedong's
poems. After years' of original conception, the composer wrote the first note
on the score in 1959. In the following year he finished the cantata and submitted
it as his graduation creation to Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music, where
he spent five years studying musical composition. In 1962 its complete version
was premiered at the Third Shanghai Spring Music Festival. In 1964, it was staged
at the Fifth Shanghai Spring Music Festival for the second time and called forth
warm response among the audience as well as the musical experts. After 30 years
the composer made a revision of it, especially added to it Loushan Pass, a movement
of baritone solo, thus further deepening its connotation and enriching its colour
and contrast. Though The Heroic Poems has been customarily called as “symphonic
cantata”, just as the composer states, it is actually a sonata cycle, in which
equal stress is laid on both vocal and instrumental (orchestral) parts. Precisely
speaking, it should be classified as symphony-cantata. The revised version of
The Heroic Poems consists of six movements, each serving as a close-up of the
Long March of Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army In the history of Chinese
The six movements are as follows:
Movement 1 Mount Liupan in sonata form
Movement 2 Jinggang Mountains in compound ternary form
Movement 3 Dabodi in simple ternary form
Movement 4 Mountains -- Three Short Poems in rondo form
Movement 5 Loushan Pass in simple ternary form
The first movement starts with an orchestral Introduction which
is formed of the musical material of the last movement. After the Introduction
is the affectionate solo and chorus.
The sky is high, the clouds are pale. We watch the wild geese
vanish southward, which expresses the memory of the Red Army men going far away.
When the male sing:
If we fall to reach the Great Wall we are no men, the music
turns into a forceful march, in which the melodic material of The River All
Red, which has been considered as an ancient tune, is assimilated. After the
first half of the poem, the music continues to be developed on the orchestra.
The chorus of the second half of the poem is even more forceful, vigorous and
spirited. It heartily expresses the deep connotation of the poem: Today we hold
the long cord in our hands, When shall we bind fast the Grey Dragon?
The second movement is the depiction of a battle sight. The
trill on the string and the following frequent insertion of the brass create
a tense atmosphere before the battle. Then there is a gradually upsurging roll
on the timpani. The chorus begins on the female parts, with the male parts responding,
Having sung the phrase Above the hilltops sound our bugles and drums, the rhythm
becomes quicker and quicker With polyphonic texture and melody derived from
The River All Red, the music expresses the Red Army men's heroism of The foe
encircles us thousands strong, Steadfastly we stand our ground. After the singing
of the phrase From Huangyangjie roars the thunder of guns in a slacked rhythm
is the optimistic proud phrase Word comes the enemy has fled into the night.
After an orchestral Interlude heightening the atmosphere, the chorus softly
repeats the last phrase. It forms an end which afford much food for thought.
The third movement is a sketch of the battlefleld. The simple
mild melody on the female parts expresses the magnificence of the war which
the revolutionary soldiers felt after a fierce battle against the enemy troops.
After the lyrical third movement is the scherzando fourth movement.
Following the magnificent introduction mainly played on the brass, the male
parts echo the melody of Mountains! I whip my swift horse, glued to my saddle.
I turn my head startled, the sky is three foot three above me! With the vocal
parts interwoven and the orchestra simulating the hoofbeats, before your eyes
a vivid picture is impressively unfolded of the revolutionary soldiers rushing
on horseback through the huge mountains. The first episode on the orchestra
sounds like a battle song of the Red Army. In the second episode, the composer
shows even greater ingenuity by forming the female chorus into a background
which sounds like being played on the horn. In a slackened rhythm, the orchestra
played the secondary theme of the first movement. If we fail to reach the Great
Wall we are no men, by which to reveal the inner world of the Red Army men.
The last choral section is introduced by the thick brass. Moreover, the earth
shaking drum beats make the audience feel the mountains' enormous power to sustain
Quite obviously, it is for the purpose of expanding the scope
and the depth in the content and the musical expression that the composer adds
the fifth movement to the cantata. Besides, a solo movement is indispensable
for a grand vocal-instrumental cycle. In the beginning of the movement the sob
on the wood and the low chant on the string create a tragic atmosphere. Accompanying
the solemn stirring baritone solo, the trumpet and the string heightens the
atmosphere of Horses'hooves clattering. Bugles sobbing low. In the middle section,
for the second time, the melody of Idle boast the strong pass is a wall of iron,
With firm strides we are crossing Its summit recalls the march theme of If we
fall to reach the Great Wall we are no men, In the end, the colour of the music
turns from dark to bright which implies the revolutionists' faith that light
is certain to come.
The sixth movement serves as the summary and conclusion of
the cantata. This is on the orchestra echoes that of the first movement. The
vigorous powerful chorus heartily expresses the heroism of The Red Army fears
not the trials of the Long March, Holding light ten thousand crags and torrents.
After the successive entry of the mixed chorus, the male chorus and the female
chorus Is the lyrical mild sound on the wood and string. Then the melody of
The sky is high, the clouds are pale in the first movement is recapitulated.
The following instrumental episode in dance rhythm is a celebratory description
of the triumphant meeting of the various Red Army troops. In the coda, the song
of The Red Army fears not the trials of the Long March is repeated. After full
expression of the Red Army men's heroism, the whole piece comes to a vigorous
Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra
The Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the most famous
performing ensembles in China. It was established in 1952 as the East China
Music Troupe. The first Director was He Luting, a well-known composer, followed
by Huang Yijun and Situ Han. The orchestra is now conducted by Cao Peng. In
the past forty years, the orchestra has given over three thousand concerts,
including special concerts for individual composers and musicians, and collaborated
with singers and soloists from allover the world. Apart from giving concerts,
the orchestra often makes recordings for radio stations, television stations
and film studios, as well as for recordings for world-wide release.
Cao Peng is one of the most distinguished conductors in China.
He was born in Jiangyin,
Jiangsu in 1925. In 1946, he entered the
Arts Department of Shandong University. In 1950 he was principal conductor of
both the Shanghai Film Studio Orchestra and the Beijing Film Studio Orchestra.
In 1955, he went to Russia to study at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory
under the celebrated conductor Leo Ginsberg. Cao Peng was appointed resident
conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra after his return in 1961. He is
now artistic director and principal conductor of the Shanghai Philharmonic
Orchestra, artistic director of the Marco Polo Symphony Orchestra, music
advisor and resident conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and music
director and principal conductor of the Shanghai Chamber Orchestra.
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