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ClassicsOnline Home » CHEN / HE: Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (The)
The Butterfly Lovers Concerto Chen Gang & He Zhanhao
The Butterfly Lovers was written by He Zhan-hao and Chen Gang in 1959 while they were students of the Shanghai Conservatory. Musically, the concerto is a synthesis of the Eastern and Western traditions although the melodies and overall style are derived from the opera of Shanghai. The original version of the concerto (presented here) has a marked traditionally oriental colour. In the spirit of the Shanghai opera, the concerto, as a whole, conveys on a musical level aspects of a traditional Chinese painting in its light and calm mood.
Chen later revised the original score in an attempt to intensify the dramatic power of the music by further contrasting both the tempi and the dynamics of the concerto. The result is that the later version sounds far more Western and further removed from the Shanghai opera which inspired its antecedent.
Although the concerto is written in sonata form it is also strongly programmatic. The narrative is based on Chinese folklore and tells the story of the lovers Liang Shan-po and Zhu Ying-tai. Liang Shan-po has been studying with Zhu Ying-tai, disguised as a boy, for many years during which Ying-tai has fallen in love with Shan-po who is ignorant of her true gender. One day, Ying-tai is summoned home, where her family has arranged for her to marry a wealthy neighbour. She is, therefore, forced to part from Shan-po, in a tender scene by a bridge. After a time, Shan-po, greatly missing his companion, attempts to visit Ying-tai's house where he finds out from a servant that Ying-tai is a girl and about to be married. Only then does he understand what Ying-tai had so often tried to tell him, and in his bitter despair he falls ill and dies. On learning of the death of Shan-po, Ying-tai visits his grave and in her grief begs his tomb to open. There is a clap of thunder, the tomb breaks open and Ying-tai leaps into the grave, from which the two lovers emerge as butterflies and fly away together, finally reunited.
Techniques of the Chinese string instrument, the er-hu, are used by the violin in this concerto and this serves to emphasise the Chinese character of the work.
In the North-West Plain
In the North-West Plain was composed by Jiao Jie and makes much use of a particularly moving melody. Composed in a simple ternary form, the piece opens in a joyful mood with a strongly rhythmic theme, the series of short bows in the violin part giving the impression of a dance scene. The piece then moves into a lyrical and expressive slow section in which there is interplay of an intimate and romantic nature between the violin and woodwind. This is followed by the recapitulation of the "dance" section. The piece as a whole gives the impression of a beautiful painting which depicts the lifestyle and scenery of the North-West Plain.
Composed in 1953 by Sha Han Kun this piece takes as its melody a folk song from the eastern part of Inner Mongolia, the original words of which are:
"In the blue blue sky there are clots of white cloud.
Beneath the cloud are herds of white sheep.
These herds look like little dots of white silver,
spreading over the meadow.
How lovely it is!"
Pastoral adheres closely to the mood suggested by these words in its use of the
extraordinarily beautiful yet simple melody.
Joy of Spring
This popular piece, composed by Mao Yuen in the 1950's, depicts scenes from a traditional Chinese celebration of the Lunar New Year. It begins with a lively and light-hearted subject and much use of spiccati is made in the violin part. In contrast, this is followed by a lyrical theme which leads to the recapitulation and development of the first subject. The final section returns to the home key and develops the lyrical theme before reaching the climax towards the conclusion.
Singing the Night among Fishing Boats
This is a transcription of a well-known solo piece for the Chinese instrument, the Cheng. The actual source of the original piece is unknown although it is believed to have been composed long ago by traditional masters of the instrument. The piece is programmatic, describing the return of the fishing boats with good catches and the scene of the lights from the boats glowing over the evening sea.
Romance was written by Qin Yong Cheng and is both expressive and romantic. The piece is composed in a simple ternary form and sets out with a song-like theme which shifts into a dance rhythm in triple metre. After a change of key, the violin and orchestra together evoke an exciting yet romantic texture. The recapitulation of the theme passes into a sweet and relaxing finale.
Spring in Sinkiang
This piece was originally composed in 1956 for violin and piano by Ma Yao Xian and Li Zhong Han. The music is strongly reminiscent of the musical style of the Chinese province Sinkiang. The piece begins with a lively and festive theme conveying the jovial mood of the Sinkiang people at the time of the New Year. The middle section comprises a dance scene, describing the scenes of people dancing and beating drums. In the third section, the main theme reappears and the piece ends in a bright and joyful mood.
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CHEN / HE: Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (The)