The violin concerto -- Butterfly Lovers was played in Shanghai for the first time in 1959. It was put to music by Zhanhao He and Gang Chen. The composers wanted to find a way to express Chinese thought and feeling with the violin. They adopted a famous folk tale as the subject -- a miserable and beautiful love story in ancient China. They tried to combine the ways of one of the Chinese operas -- the Haoxing opera with violin to perform the story. It is one of the magnum opus of symphonies of Chinese style. The story of Butterfly Lovers was one of a list of plays in many kinds of Chinese traditional operas. The earliest list of plays appeared in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
A Hangzhou girl who was named Yingtai Zhu disguised herself as a boy, to go to school (in ancient China, girls could not go to school). On the road she met Shanbo Liang, and both of them felt like old friends at the first meeting. So they became sworn brothers.
Shanbo Liang was so honest a person that he didn't know his "brother" was a girl for three years. After three years, the father of the girl asked her to come back home. Shanbo Liang saw Yingtai Zhu off 18 miles. On the road Yingtai Zhu hinted to Shanbo Liang that she was a girl, but Shanbo Liange didn't understand. So, Yiangtai Zhu had to introduce her sister (in fact, she was the only girl of the family) to Shangbo Liang and hoped he could marry her sister. At the time Shanbo Liang returned home, he knew Yingtai Zhu was a girl. He ran to her home. But, at the same time, the parents of Yingtai Zhu had decided to marry her to another person.
Finally, they met the last time and expressed their love for each other. However, they could not change anything. Shanbo Liang was so sad that he died on the day Yingtan Zhu had to get married. As soon as Yingtai Zhu heard of this, she ran to the grave and cried. The grave was touched by her truce love to Lian and opened. Yingtai Zhu entered the grave to meet Shanbo Linang. Both of them transformed into two butterflies, never to be separated again.
The music is made of three movements: Meeting and love; Opposition to an arranged marriage; Transformation into butterflies.
LISTEN>> The First Movement: Meeting and love: In the background of the cantabile string music, the flute and oboe play out the information of spring in the south of the Yangtse River. It is a scene of prosperity, spring scenery charmed. In the harmony of a clear harp, the violin gently plays out the theme of love with high, low and gyral music. You can feel the gentle feeling just like the stream flows. Their feelings were so deep, it was just dripping water wears a hole in stone.
The violin solo and the answer of cello were just like the two people meeting and talking, reading books together, accompanied whole of three years. The music was happy and delightful. Then, the music changes to be slow and the love theme makes the feeling of leaving so lifelike that it moved people¨s hearts. The slow music also implied the pain was going to come.
LISTEN>> The Second Movement: Opposition to An Arranged Marriage. The music of gong and bass brings the unfairness of fate. It is confused and uneasy, distracted at the loss from Yingtai Zhu's heart. The brass instruments express the forced marriage. The solo violin is like a heart stricken cry. The entire orchestra, along with the violin, had a dramatic "dialogue", just as the weak young woman is fighting against the strength of her family and society. Even though the love was true, the world would not allow it to exist.
In the following section, the violin and the cello express the last meeting between the two lovers. It is touching, mournful, deplorable, sad and weepy. Then the music takes a sudden turn and becomes worse rapidly, to express the development of the story. Shanbo Liang died from sadness, Yingtai Zhu cried at the grave and dived into it. All of the music reaches the peak with the playing of all of the instruments.
LISTEN>> The Third Movement: Transformation Into Butterflies. The last part of the music deals with the sad story to the romantic end--- Shanbo Liang and Yintai Zhu transformed into a pair of butterflies, lightly dance in the sky, were always together to make their dreams to be true. Since they could not be wife and husband when they were alive, then, to be wife and husband when they died.
I have prepared a short poem that I believe captures the spirit of the Butterfly Lovers:
The spring scenery is romantic,
The flowers are just like the sea.
The colorized butterflies are lightly dancing,
Pacing up and down over pretty hills.
Their truce love still exist,
Though they have suffered tribulations.
Never separated for a moment,
As long as the world shall be.
Thank you for read my article and listen to the music. If you have any questions, comments and suggestions, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org , or email@example.com, You are welcomed to publish your opinions in the forum,too. :-)
Written and Edited in Jun, 2000
Re-edited On Sun, June 25, 2006