The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto|
( Liang Zhu )
Butterfly Lovers sound clip
Butterfly Lovers is one of my favorite chinese legend & composition
of all time , it was written in 1959 by He Zhan Hao
(b. 1933) & Chen Kang (b. 1935), it's certainly the most
recorded chinese work of the last fifty years.
For this reason, my preferred version features Vanessa-Mae
& The London Philharmonic Orchestra under
Victor Fedetov from The Classical Album 2 ( China Girl )
on EMI 7243 5 56483 2 7 (with Violin Fantasy on Puccini's
' Turandot ' & Happy Valley the 1997 Re-Unification Overture ).
She dedicated this album to the memory of Tan Lip Kee ( Vanessa's
The melodies for the Butterfly Lovers concerto
are derived from a Shaoshing - Shanghai opera ( Zhejiang province of China )
on the same subject (a popular Chinese variation of the "star-crossed
lovers" mythology): the story of Zhu Yingtai & Liang Shanbo
a 1958 film version of the same story was also an inspiration).
Like many Chinese programmatic concerti, this single-movement
score owes more than a passing debt to another, rather better
known, musical tale of Romantically doomed love: Pjotr Ilyich
Tchaikovski's fantasy overture Romeo & Juliet
... but their love plunged them into fatal tragedy. Unlike Romeo
and Juliet whose family feud prevented them from coming
together, the social prejudice of the day set Liang Shanbo and Shu
Yingtai apart. Put more bluntly: He & Chen seem to have lifted
Tchaikovski's modified sonata format for their own piece, lock,
stock & swoon; no doubt quoting Stravinksi - "A good composer
doesn't borrow - he steals" - every step of the way....
The concerto is built around three acts : Falling in Love,
Opposition to an Arranged Marriage & Transformation into
Butterflies. The three episodes flow continuously; & are linked
by a recurring (& gorgeous) love theme... first heard as a string
solo; this theme slowly flitters around the orchestra. After the
final, magical transformation, the concerto shimmers into silence,
like a beautiful mirage lost in a desert of cruel fate....
The story behind the concerto dates from the Jin Dynasty
I have filled the timer/counter of "Vanessa-Mae's Butterfly Lovers
Violin Concerto CD" into this story , so you can follow it when you read
this story !
The first act : "Falling in Love"
( 00:00 - 01:17 ) The scenes is set at the start in the middle
of the 4th century in a little village in South China.
( 01:18 - 02:04 ) The opening violin theme of lyrical love evokes a
springtime in the countryside south of the Yang Tse River.
The heroine, Zhu Yingtai who loves butterfly , was daughter
of a rich families, wants to study; but is prevented by a tradition which
barred girls from formal education... like Yentl, she can only
succeed in her wish by disguising herself as a youngman. Zhu leaves home
and goes to study in Hangzhou.
While at school, she makes the acquaintance of Liang Shanbo,
a fine young man from a improverished family.
The music suggests their first meeting with a tender cantabile duet
by cello & violin ( 02:05 - 04:51 ).
They spend three happy years together at work and at play , illustrated
musically by a light-hearted Rondo ( 04:52 - 07:35 ) .
Shanbo composed & played a song ( the main theme ) with a Chinese
traditional instrument for Zhu.
Zhu falls in love with Shanbo; & without revealing her true identity, she
invites him to visit his home & meet
his younger sister (Zhu herself).
Throughout all this time , Shanbo is completely oblivious to the fact
that Zhu is in fact a young woman falling hopelessly in love with
When the times comes for them to return to their respective village ,
Zhu tries in vain , to let Liang know the truth . Shanbo falls in love
with his classmate's female form; & promises to return to marry her...
The ending section of this part of the concerto is at a slower tempo
( 07:36 - 09:03 ) and conveys poignantly the sorrowful mood in which they
leave each other.
The tragedy begins to unfold in the second act "Opposition
to an Arranged Marriage" . When Zhu returns home , her father had already arranged a
different suitor for her and prepares to marry her off to a powerful
noble's son .
She protests vehemently and enrages her father. The row between father
and daughter is represented by the conflict between the angry tutti theme
and the anguished solo violin theme.
By the time Shanbo rushes to her home to seek her hand in marriage , it is
too late. Her father's will has prevailed and she is betrothed .
The marking "lacrimoso" begins in the next section of music ( 09:04 - 10:19 ).
The plantive cello and the tremulous violin engage in one of the
most touching duets ever written.
Shanbo starting to write a letter ( unfinished ) and send it to Zhu.
At home , Zhu also trying to write a lyric for Shanbo's song.
( 10:20 ) What was worse, they lied to her poor lover (Shanbo) that Zhu had died
of a serious illness, upon which he killed himself in his own home .
It is not long before Shanbo succumbs and dies of a broken heart.
The variations build towards a frenzy as they project
the picture of a young man driven distraught by lovesickness and when
the dies , the violin almost screams in despair , representing Zhu's
trauma upon hearing of his death.
To protest the unjustice she decided to join her lover in another world.
She pretended to agree to the arranged marriage
but on condition that the wedding procession must bypass her lover's
graveyard. They were coming along when she all of
a sudden jumped out of the sedan chair and rushes to Shanbo's tomb ,
( with a dramatic crash at the climax of the tragedy ) where she
bitterly condemns the feudal mortality that has thwarted their
love ( 19:45 ).
Here is the words that Zhu said to Shanbo's tomb :
"Shanbo , you played the song for me ..............I've written the
lyrics on the unfinished letter you wrote to me " :
( 24:43 ) Show up in silence
( 24:48 ) Share cup of water with you
( 24:53 ) Gentle with deep affection....emits my hidden love
( 25:02 ) The fatal love couldn't last
( 25:07 ) As well as the dream of butterflies
( 25:11 ) To pay you
( 25:14 ) Life after life
( 25:17 ) Some butterflies flying over thousand of mountains
Show up in silence
Share cup of water with you
Gentle with deep affection
Emits my hidden love
No matter it is a fate of dream of butterfly
Give you my life , this life , and past life
Liang oh, Liang Shanbo .....
Spend our present and past lives together
Passing through thousand of years together
( 25:25 ) "Shanbo , I've finished what I wanted to say "
The heavens take pity , and , the tomb opens up itself as if to receive her.
She throws herself in to join her loved one in death.
The last act "Transformation into Butterflies"
opens with an orchestral reprises of the love theme creating a nostalgic
and mystical atmosphere. The suggestion of this being th end of the
storiy is interrupted by a quiveringly delicate and beautiful
return of the solo violin .
What people saw next was a pair of beautiful butterflies
flying out of the opening, dancing happily here and
there in the free air.
The solo violin almost flutters then takes off in flight with the
orchestra : it is clear that our young lovers have returned as butterflies
united in an eternally happy dance among the flowers.
Unto this day people still believe
that the two butterflies were the undaunted spirits of the young
lovers. Hence the legend of "The Story of Butterfly Lovers".
is the violin concerto by He & Chen; while the version included in
East-West Philharmonic Orchestra concert in
Sydney is for er hu (a two-stringed Chinese folk instrument
which looks oddly like a sledgehammer) & western orchestra, is a later
arrangement by Chen Gang. There are also two versions - one for
gao hu (a higher pitched sibling of the er hu) & Chinese
orchestra; the other for zheng & (Chinese?) strings - by He
Zhanhao; & a choral cantata version (arranger unknown). There's even a version for string
quartet... though whether this last version .
At the time the original concerto was written, both composers
were students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
He Zhanhao was born in Zhuji in Zhejiang province; & joined the
Zhejiang Provincial Cultural Troupe in 1950, working in the
troupe's orchestra as a violinist, yangquin & percussion player.
He entered the Shanghai Conservatorium in 1957; where he
experimented with a distinctly Chinese style of violin
playing, transcribing a number of er hu works for the violin in
Chen Gang was born in Shanghai. After studying with his father
(a popular Shanghai composer), he entered the Shanghai
Conservatorium in 1955. Both composers studied with the
distinguished PR-Chinese composer, Ding Shande
b. 1911; & probably best known for his programmatic epic,
The Long March symphony)