Violin Concerto Butterfly Lovers, and Erhu Concerto Butterfly Lovers

My last few posts on the Yellow River and the art and music related to the Mother River of the Chinese people, have stimulated me to search for more…more contributions from Chinese composers to music in the Western world.

 Violin Concerto Butterfly Lovers

I am happy to introduce to you a very famous Violin Concerto Butterfly Lovers, composed by two music students in 1959.  Please enjoy the music performed by Lu Si-qing, a well known violinist in China.

I hope you all like the music and the performance.  Wikipedia actually has a very detailed description how this violin concerto was composed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_Lovers’_Violin_Concerto

The Music

“The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto (Traditional Chinese: 梁祝小提琴協奏曲; Simplified Chinese: 梁祝小提琴协奏曲) is one of the most famous modern works of Chinese music. 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.

The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto is written in traditional 5-note technique (pentatonic scale).  It uses many Chinese melodies, chord structures and patterns. This gives the piece a distinctive “Chinese” sound, though it uses tonal harmonies.

The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto was written in 1959 by two Chinese composers, Chen Gang (陳鋼 (or 陈钢), born 1935) and He Zhanhao (何占豪, born 1933), while they were students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. The music did not attain 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. The work is a common feature in figure skating and in concert halls worldwide. This concerto is now often performed with Chinese instruments playing the violin part, the most common being ErhuPipa and Liuqin. In such cases the soloist is often accompanied by an orchestra consisting of Chinese instruments.”

Wow!  I just found a beautiful performance of this music piece with the traditional Chinese musical instrument Erhu. The title of this performance is:

Guo Gan – Butterfly Lovers 梁祝 (Erhu Concerto).  Please don’t miss this one.  I do not know Erhu at all, but it is so beautiful!

Erhu Concerto Butterfly Lovers

After I have seen this performance, I can’t help searching to find out who is Guo Gan. I found an interview by a French journalist.  Guo Gan doesn’t like to be called “musician”.  He prefers to be called “artist”.  However, the title is still….”Dialogue with erhu-musician Guo Gan”!  I will write about this artist in my next post.

For easy listening, you may also like to listen to a Western style interpretation of the Butterfly Lovers played by a French pianist Richard Clayderman.

Do you want to know more about the background of this piece of beautiful music and why is it so popular? Most of the information I got is from this wiki website:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_Lovers

“The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend of a tragic love story of a pair of lovers, Liang Shanbo (梁山伯) and Zhu Yingtai (祝英台), whose names form the title of the story. The title is often abbreviated to Liang Zhu (梁祝) and often regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet.[1][2]

Six cities in China have collaborated in 2004 on a formal application for the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity[3] on the legend at UNESCO,[4] submitted in 2006 through the Chinese Ministry of Culture.”

The Story

“The legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is set in the Eastern Jin Dynasty.

Zhu Yingtai is a beautiful and intelligent young woman, the ninth child and only daughter of the wealthy Zhu family of ShangyuZhejiang. Although traditions of that era discourage females from going to school, Zhu manages to convince her father to allow her to attend classes in disguise as a young man. During her journey to Hangzhou, she meets Liang Shanbo, a scholar from Kuaiji (present-day Shaoxing). They chat and feel a strong affinity for each other at their first meeting. Hence, they gather some soil as incense and take an oath of fraternity in the pavilion of a thatched bridge.

They study together for the next three years in school and Zhu gradually falls in love with Liang. Although Liang equals Zhu in their studies, he is still a bookworm and fails to notice the feminine characteristics exhibited by his classmate.

One day, Zhu receives a letter from her father, asking her to return home as soon as possible. Zhu has no choice but to pack her belongings immediately and bid Liang farewell. However, in her heart, she has already confessed her love for Liang and is determined to be with him for all eternity. Before her departure, she reveals her true identity to the headmaster’s wife and requests her to hand over a jade pendant to Liang as a betrothal gift.

Liang accompanies his “sworn brother” for 18 miles to see her off. During the journey, Zhu hints to Liang that she is actually a woman. For example, she compares them to a pair of mandarin ducks (a symbol of lovers in Chinese culture), but Liang does not catch her hints and does not even have the slightest suspicion that his companion is a woman in disguise. Zhu finally comes up with an idea and tells Liang that she will act as a matchmaker for him and his “sister”. Before they part, Zhu reminds Liang to visit her residence later so he can propose to marry her “sister.” Liang and Zhu reluctantly part ways at the Changting pavilion.

Months later, when Liang visits Zhu, he discovers that she is actually a woman. They are devoted to and passionate about each other and they make a vow of “till death do us part”. The joy of their reunion is short-lived as Zhu’s parents have already arranged for her to marry a man from a rich family called Ma Wencai. Liang is heartbroken when he hears the news and his health gradually deteriorates until he becomes critically ill. He dies in office later as a county magistrate.

On the day of Ma and Zhu’s marriage, mysterious whirlwinds prevent the wedding procession from escorting the bride beyond Liang’s grave, which lies along the journey. Zhu leaves the procession to pay her respects to Liang. She descends in bitter despair and begs for the grave to open up. Suddenly, the grave opens with a clap of thunder. Without further hesitation, Zhu throws herself into the grave to join Liang. Their spirits turn into a pair of beautiful butterflies and emerge from the grave. They fly away together as a pair of butterflies and are never to be separated again.”

If you continue to read this wiki page, you will find lots of information about this legend made into movies, stage operas, plays, the establishment of temples, parks in various locations etc.  There is one piece of information which is new to me :

Sino-Italian love culture festival held in Verona

http://www.china.org.cn/international/cultural_sidelines/2008-09/25/content_16533163.htm

“The Sino-Italian love culture festival was held Wednesday in the northern Italian city of Verona, co-sponsored by the municipal governments Verona and east China’s Ningbo city.

As the fictitious hometown of Romeo and Juliet, leading characters in Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet, Verona is one of the most ancient and beautiful cities in Italy.

Ningbo is also a city in east China’s Zhejiang province, where the Chinese classical romantic tragedy Butterfly Lovers, or Liang Zhu, took place. The Butterfly Lovers is also known as China’s play of Romeo and Juliet.

A white marble statue portraying Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, the two lovers who eventually turned into butterflies, was placed in the square in front of the Juliet Museum in central Verona during the festival.

Fifteen couples from Ningbo in Chinese-style costumes held a romantic wedding in Verona, with blessing from the locals.

Ningbo and Verona became sister cities in October 2005. A delegation of Verona visited Ningbo in 2007 and presented the city a bronze statue of Juliet.”

(Xinhua News Agency September 25, 2008)

Indeed this is a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet.   However, there is no Shakespeare in China.  We don’t even know who wrote this Butterfly Lovers story!  The story continues as a legend. Beautiful music and great performances played by great artists have kept this love story alive…forever!

I am particularly amazed today after having found out the Erhu performance of the Butterfly Lovers.  I hope I have the chance to see it live!

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13 comments

    • Thanks so much, Rebecca. I am glad that I have such good feedback. It is important to know that the blogging community likes it. The problem is that I don’t do much outreaching or other social media. There are very few people interested in this kind of non- western performance arts. I just sent to my old boss who is now in hospital. He is an American but he loves Erhu and knows lots of Chinese musical instruments. His wife said he would love to see it. I feel good about posting this. So glad to get support from you!

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  1. I actually had the opportunity to see Lu Si-Qing perform this work in Beijing last year. It was a wonderful performance – highly evocative style and honest playing.

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