REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » FROM SHANGHAI WITH LOVE
Shanghai is not only the most important commercial city of China, but in the
first half of the twentieth century it was also one of the most important centres
of Chinese culture. The most talented artists all lived in Shanghai, making
it the busiest place for publishing. The city was a place for the exchange of
Eastern and Western culture, and of the Chinese economy and commerce. Because
of its status as a treaty port, Shanghai had attracted a number of people active
in show business. For both film and popular music, Shanghai took the lead. In
fact in the past Shanghai was known as the "Night-time Paris of the East",
owing to the popularity of its bars and nightclubs.
During the Second World War Shanghai was besieged and occupied. The film industry
was ordered to form a single company, which started producing a large number
of films for Shanghai and other regions in Chinaunder occupation. The period
saw the emergence of many film-stars. It was a common practice to include songs
in films, and many of these became popular throughout the country.
People usually consider Shanghai the birth-place of Chinese popular music.
In the 1920s the famous Chinese composer Li Jinhui wrote the earliest Chinese
pop song "Drizzle". His daughter, Li Minghui, had become the
first pop singer in China, and Shanghai was then the largest record distribution
centre for Asia, the far East headquarters, in its heyday, for record companies
from more than a dozen countries. Together with some local artists, there were
more than sixty famous singers in Shanghai, and within the next two decades
these record companies had released more than two thousand songs.
In the 1930s and 1940s almost all the pop singers in China were in Shanghai.
Female singers were more popular than men, and the most famous of all was Li
Xianglan and the big five, Zhou Xuan, Bai Guang, Wu Yingyin, Zhang Lu and Yao
Li. Show business in Shanghai was not only for stars, but also a place formany
creative composers and musicians. Some, like He Lüding and Huang Yijun, were
from the Conservatory, but the most productive composers were Chen Gexin and
Li Jinguang, the twin stars of the early Chinese popular music.
1. Spring Returns (Yao Min)
Spring Returns was written by Yao Min (1917-1967), the composer of many
songs. One of his songs was adapted for the Hollywood film "The World
of Susie Wong" as the popular Ding Dong Song. The singer was
Wu Yingyin (b.1921). She was called "the Singing Queen of Nasal Tone".
The concise melody has an unstable long phrase as its principal motif. The second
half of the phrase is further developed by strong compelling downward progression.
The pleasing essence of spring is finely expressed. The newly orchestrated version
with solo violin is an ode to spring. The brass and woodwind in the accompaniment
suggest human praise of the new season.
2. Reunion (Yan Zhexi)
During the 1940s Reunion was immensely popular in China. The major-key
melody combines elegance and melancholy. The music and lyrics both came from
the famous composer Yan Zhexi (1909-1993). Yan had written more than three hundred
songs, in which he succeeded in combining elements of Chinese and Western music.
One can find a typical Chinese imagery in Reunion: "In another dream
you have forgotten of me. Tonight, however, we come together again". The
famous singers Yao Li and Bai Hong both recorded this song. The present version
recorded here has a more impassioned ending, adding new fire to the originally
3. Shangri-la (Li Jinguang)
Shangri-la was an interlude in the film A Flying Nightingale,
sung by the actress Ouyang Feiying (b.1920). She joined the resistance to the
Japanese and was smuggled into Shanghai. When the resistance won, she appeared
in A Flying Nightingale and the song made her famous throughout China.
The rumba-rhythm melody was composed by Li Jinguang (1907-1993) and the words
by Chen Dieyi (b.1908). Li was the most famous popular song writer in China
in the 1930s and 1940s. His wife, Bai Hong, was among the most popular singers.
Chen Dieyi was a very prolific lyricist. His son, Chen Xieyang, later became
the conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Shangri-la, the legendary
fairyland, assisted by the film and the song, won fame all over the world, and
in China became a classic. To bring to life this Shangri-la, the composer made
use of modulating semitones. In the development section shifts of key were also
used with the intention of creating a magical ambience.
The new version with solo violin is in keeping with the
spirit of the original song.
4. Autumn Night (Li Hourang)
Autumn Night was among the many interludes in the movie A Singing
Nightingale in the Willows, which was made in 1948, featuring the actresses
Bai Guang, Gong Qiuxia (b.1916) and Huang Feiran. The composer of the song was
Li Hourang (1916-1973), who had written many songs for the famous singer Zhou
Xuan. The song was sung by Bai Guang (1920-1999), an actress well-known for
her portrayal of bad girls, while her low and mellow singing voice was something
special among the singers of the era. The theme of this song is of sadness in
autumn, which is also the sadness of the actress in the film. She loves night-time
and the moon-lit autumn night, but the falling leaves of autumn bring a feeling
of loneliness into her heart. The melody contains a number of lengthened notes,
in order to express endless sorrow. The solo violin in the present version is
expresses that endless sorrow.
5. Picking Betel Nuts (Hunan Folk-Song)
Picking Betel Nuts is the favourite song of "Golden Voice"
Zhou Xuan (1918-1957). She was one of the most famous stars in Shanghai, appearing
in over two hundred songs and 43 films. The melody is taken from a Hunan folk-tune.
The story of the song is the admiration of boys towards the girls, as they pickpalms,
and it is full of unrestrained love. The joyful tune and its use only of the
pentatonic scale reflects its Chinese provenance. Here the song has a new introduction
of even greater joyfulness. With a cadenza added for the solo violin, the arranger
has transformed this well-known song into a fine orchestral composition.
6. Without You (Yan Zhexi)
Like Autumn Night, Without You
is another song from the film A Flying Nightingale. The composer Yan
Zhexi wrote both the music and words, but adopted two different pseudonyms,
Zhuang Hong as the composer, and Lu Li for the lyricist. Most composers in the
1940s used several pseudonyms.
The original version sung by Bai Guang was more lyrical. Now the violin plays
faster, and the orchestration has a stronger impact, as together they express
the happiness and joy of the music.
7. Blossoms under the Full Moon (Yan Hua)
Blossoms under the Full Moon was written for the 1940 film The Western
Chamber. It was sung by the actress Zhou Xuan, who played the rôle
of a matchmaker in the movie. This later became the most popular of her songs,
and can be heard wherever Chinese people are gathered, especially during lunar
festivals such as the Mid-Autumn Festival. The song was composed by Yan Hua
(1913-1992), the mentor of Zhou Xuan for her career and later her first husband.
The style of the melody is typical of Jiangnan province. The musical motifs
sound gentle, light and graceful, always using the pentatonic scale. The violin
sings of peace and serenity. Hearing it, one might imagine oneself sitting beside
willows stirring in the breeze, watching small boats floating on the moon-lit
8. Pretending to be a Good Girl (Li Jinguang)
The spy film Espionage 626 was made in 1948, featuring Bai Guang and
Ouyang Shafei.Pretending to be a
Good Girl was a song written by Li Jinguang for the movie. Bai Guang played
the rôle of a female spy in the film. The song wasfor the spy, showing
her provocative contempt for men. This made the song at one time very popular
in Shanghai nightclubs. Without words the present version may not be able to
express the contempt and provocativeness in so much detail, but offers, instead,
an exceptionally lyrical mood.
9. Wishing You Happiness and Prosperity (Chen Gexin)
The music and words of Wishing You Happiness and Prosperity were both
the work of Chen Gexin, sung by the brother and sister Yao Ming and Yao Li.
Chen Gexin (1914-1961) was a very prolific composer and artist. His son is one
of the joint composers of the famous Butterfly Lovers Violin
Concerto, Chen Gang. The song wasoriginally a celebration of the Chinese
victory over the Japanese after eight long years, but because the words also
suggest the coming of spring, and can be taken as a celebration of the Chinese
New Year. As a result, since the 1950s, it has been treated solely in the latter
context. The last two lines of this single-stanza song are actually an imitation
of the beat of the Chinese drum, giving an air of excitement to those who sing
10. Autumn Leaves Dancing in the Wind (Li Jinguang)
Autumn Leaves Dancing in the Wind is another hit from the famous singer
Zhou Xuan. The music was written by Li Jinguang and the words by Fan Yanqiao,
for the film Endless Love made in 1947. The song has a brisk tempo and
was well-received that time. Below the surface,however,the song predicted that
vanity would one day fade completely: "Autumn leaves dancing in the
wind, accompanied by cicadas. Face as pale as the flowers, lips as red as the
maple leaves. Nature's rhythm and beautiful melody are but the same thing. The
fleeting sunrise in the winter sky, tollingof the bells in the snow, all will
vanish into thin air!"
11. You Are Truly Beautiful (Li Hourang)
The composer Li Hourang wrote both the music and lyrics of You Are Truly
Beautiful. This was also the climax of the career of the singer Zhang Lu,
during the 1940s in Shanghai. Another of her famous songs was Give Me a Kiss,
which took its melody from the Western song Seven Lonely Days. The melody
of You Are Truly Beautiful has a certain mischievousness about it, further
suggested in the words. A long line of "you" and "me" right
at the beginning: "You, You, You, You, You, You, You,You are so beautiful;
I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I am so fond of you... 'offers a very realistic imitation
of stuttering through over-excitement. This excited happiness can also be felt
perfectly in the newly orchestrated version with solo violin.
12. Your Everlasting Smile (Chen Gexin)
One will find a very realistic but also romantic tale behind the famous song
Your Everlasting Smile. The composer Chen Gexin wrote this piece especially
for a girl he admired, Jin Jiaoli. "I will not let anyone take away
the remaining springtime from me, I will not let anyone extinguish the sun in
my bosom. My dear, do not be sad, my sincerest wish is that this smile may linger
on your face for ever." No words can be more touching. Your Everlasting
Smile was also turned into a famous piece for the singer Zhou Xuan. The
beautiful major-key melody, which is short but sad, has been on the lips of
many people in the past few decades. The song has become a token of romance
in the past. The violin in the present version takes up this theme of never-ending
love, as if offering a hymn of praise.
13. A Pitiful Singing Girl (He Lüding)
A Pitiful Singing Girl is the third song included here that uses the
pentatonic scale. The singer for all three was Zhou Xuan, and this was the most
popular of all of her songs. It was written for the film Angel of the Road,
which was made in 1937. The tune was composed by He Lüding (1903-1999), an
important Chinese composer, music theorist and teacher, who became director of
the Shanghai Conservatory in 1949. The lyrics of A Pitiful Singing Girl
were written by Tian Han (1898-1968), who exercised significant influence on
the reform of Chinese opera and drama. The themes of the song came from two
Suzhou folk-tunes, melodies particular well suited to Zhou Xuan. It is not easy
for the western violin to express the heavy Jiangnan sound to the full. Here,
however, the violin part does what it can do very well, conveying the
tenderness of the pentatonic tune.
14. Your Enchanting Looks (He Lüding)
In 1937 there was a detective movie called Mysteries of
the Pagoda, bringing with it the song Your Enchanting Looks. In the
film the actress Gong Qiuxia played two rôles, and also sang this song, which
had made her a star. What is also remarkable is that the music and words of the
song both came from He Lüding, creating the best of his movie songs.
The Chinese title of this song carries the meaning of waiting for one's beloved,
who never comes. The situation is one of sadness and despair. The melody was
written in a very typical Chinese style. The long line of the tune is full of
twists and turns, a form very different from the motifs in Western composition.
15. By the Suzhou River (Chen Gexin)
The composer of By the Suzhou River was Chen Gexin and the singers were
the brother and sister Yao Min and Yao Li. For years many people have been particularly
fond of this song, with its graceful music and words. People in Shanghai even
called it "Chunshen Serenade", after a town in the Shanghai
region. The violin here reflects perfectly the dream-like atmosphere of the
song. Hearing it, one might whisper the original words: "Night has cast
a shadow of loneliness. There is no one by the river. Hand in hand, we walk
along the dark alley...Stars sparkle smiles, winds harbour jealousy and blow
gently at my clothes...I cannot tell whether it is the world deserting me, or
me forgetting the world..."
16. Waiting For Your Return (Chen Ruizheng)
Waiting For Your Return made the composer Chen Ruizheng famous. He had
daringly used the uncommon E flat diminished semi-tone to enliven the melody.
It also brought the singer Bai Guang considerable fame. The music is based on
the essence of Chinese poetry: "Postponement shows deep emotion!’ The lyricist,
Yan Zhexi, used the same technique. The theme recurs: "Waiting for your
return", "Expecting your return" and "Why
you do not come back?" The plaintive tone of Bai Guang makes the complaint
from a deserted woman even more poignant, anguish ideally expressed in the newly
orchestrated version for solo violin.
17. A Heartbroken Girl (Yan Zhexi)
A song classic of the singer Wu Yingyin, A Heartbroken Girl could well
be her best song too. New versions of this song by other singers never stop
appearing. Yan Zhexi wrote the music and Zhang Huai the words. The song is the
moving lament of a woman over her long-vanished youth.
The melody is in the tradition of Chinese folk-tunes, and complex emotion is
represented by the tones of Shang (equivalent to Re) and Zheng
(equivalent to So) alternating as the dominant note.
18. Rose, Rose, I Love You (Chen Gexin)
Rose, Rose, I Love You comes from the 1940 film A Pitiful Singing Girl.
The music and words were written by Chen Gexin and Wu Cun respectively. The
singer of the song, Yao Li, played a minor part as a singer in the film. It
proved to be an instant hit. This very same song was also the first Chinese
song to be adapted with English words, to win international fame. It was the
famous American singer Frankie Laine who sang the English version, which made
its way to the top of the American popular song chart in the early 1950s. As
time passed, many Chinese people came to mistake the Chinese version for an
adaptation from the English version. The liveliness and high spirits of the
music, the clever blending of Chinese tunes into a cosmopolitan style, were
probably the reasons for its popularity all over the world.
Last Albums Viewed
FROM SHANGHAI WITH LOVE