Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (Story and Musical Background)

The Story of The Butterfly Lovers

The Butterfly Lovers or Liang Zhu is a Chinese legend about the tragic romance between two lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, from whom the name of the legend is known in Chinese (梁山伯與祝英台, often abbreviated as "梁祝"). The legend is sometimes regarded as the Chinese equivalent to Romeo and Juliet.

The story is set in the Eastern Jin Dynasty.
A young woman named Zhu Yingtai from
Shangyu, Zhejiang, disguised herself as a man travelling to Hangzhou to study. During her journey, she met and joined Liang Shanbo, a companion schoolmate from Kuaiji (會稽, Kuàijī, now known as Shaoxing) in the same province. They studied together for three years, during which their relationship strengthened. When the two parted, Zhu offered to arrange for Liang to marry her 16 year-old fictitious sister. When Liang travelled to Zhu's home, he discovered her true gender. Although they were devoted and passionate about each other at that point, Zhu was already engaged with Ma Wencai (馬文才, Mǎ Wéncái), a man her parents had arranged for her to be married to. Depressed, Liang died in office as a county magistrate. On the day Zhu was to be married to Ma, whirlwinds prevented the wedding procession from escorting Zhu beyond Liang's tomb. Zhu left the procession to pay her respects for Liang. Liang's tomb split apart, and Zhu dived into it to join him. A pair of butterflies emerged from the tomb and flew away.

BACKGROUND of The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto

The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto is one of the most famous works of Chinese music and certainly one of the most famous outside of China. It is an orchestral adaptation of an ancient legend, the Butterfly Lovers. Written for the western style orchestra, it features a solo violin played using some Chinese techniques.
Traditional Chinese composers often write in a different tonal system than western
classical music. As a result, this can make the music sound constantly out of tune to some Western ears. The Butterfly Lover's Violin Concerto is written in the familiar western tonal system, but it utilizes many Chinese melodies, chord structures and patterns. This makes the Butterfly Lovers' more accessible than other Chinese works, such as the also famous Yellow River Piano Concerto.
The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto was written by two Chinese composers, He Zhanhao and Chen Gang in 1959 while they were students at the
Shanghai Conservatory of Music. The music did not acquire popularity before the late 1970s, when China loosened its restrictions after the Cultural Revolution. Once released from censorship, it became an embodiment of China in transition. Today it is popular and is slated as part of the Olympics celebrations in 2008. The work is also a common feature in figure skating and in concert halls worldwide. This concerto is now often performed with Chinese instruments playing the violin part. This requires some changes to the orchestration, since the guzheng can play arpeggios that were in the harp part in the original concerto.

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