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8.225818 - POPULAR CHINESE VIOLIN PIECES (Takako Nishizaki, Siu-Fan Chan, Kwok-Kuen Koo)
Popular Chinese Violin Pieces
Modern Chinese music continues the national tradition of following a programme, or at least evoking a mood. Cheerful or melancholy impressions of the countryside are frequent. At the same time the musical material used is often borrowed from folk song, or in direct imitation of it.
In writing for the violin, many composers have in mind the sound and technique of the two-string Chinese instrument, the erhu. This involves many more glissandi than are now customary in Western music, the finger sliding from note to note on a string that has no finger-board to support it. The erhu is, of course, capable of considerable agility, but is relatively limited in range.
Spring Festival Overture Li Huanzhi
The beginning of spring is a matter of great importance to an agricultural community. In the Chinese calendar the New Year, based on the lunar cycle, occurs at the first new moon after the sun has entered Aquarius. Spring, however, is found in the farming calendar, which is based on the solar year. It occurs about 5th February, so that, when New Year is late, there may be a year with no Beginning of Spring, a coincidence that cannot be lucky. The Spring Festival used to involve the sacrifice of an ox and was an occasion of great importance.
The Spring Festival Overture opens with a short introduction. A rapid dance movement follows, which falls into two clear sections. There is the usual contrast of a slower and more lyrical mood, that takes over, and to be replaced by the original dance. The general form is a common one in folk dances.
Xinjiang is the province of China that lies north of Tibet. Its inhabitants have all the characteristics of the Central Asian, and speak a Turkic language.
The Xinjiang Capriccioso starts with a rousing introduction on the piano, and the violin melody has none of that pentatonic outline that typifies much of the folk song of the Eastern provinces. The first section ends with the melody played on the lowest string of the violin. There is then a typical change of mood and tempo as the violin plays a more lyrical theme, which, after a change of key, leads back to the lively dance and a brilliant ending.
Composed in 1953 by Sha Hankun this piece takes as its melody a folk song from the eastern part of Inner Mongolia, the original words of which are:
Pastoral adheres closely to the mood suggested by these words in its use of the extraordinarily beautiful yet simple melody.
Celebration for Rich Harvest
The harvest is a time for great celebration in an agricultural community. Celebration for Rich Harvest has a short, improvisatory introduction before the start of a vigorous dance, played first by the violin and then the piano, with plucked violin chords marking the rhythm. The piece continues with great energy and much use of syncopation as the violin plays in an almost gypsy style of double-stopping.
Spring in Northern Jiangsu
Jiangsu is the province of China pierced by the Grand Canal that goes from Beijing to the sea at Hangzhou. It is the area that includes Shanghai and Nanjing, and has played an important part in Chinese history. Spring in Northern Jiangsu opens with a gently rippling piano accompaniment. The violin starts a characteristic folk-theme, which is answered by the piano in the bass. The middle section of the piece is livelier and in another key, but still pentatonic in outline. A brief piano interlude brings us back to the opening theme, now at a lower pitch which gradually diminishes in volume until the final soft, plucked note.
Rhapsody has an introduction in which the violin seems to improvise, with double-stopping and the flute-like sound of harmonics. A dance-like movement follows with the theme being repeated in a heavily accented form on the piano which then introduces, in the bass, another theme, taken up in turn by the violin. A passage of alternating double-stopping and harmonics leads to a gentler section in a pastoral rhythm that is unusual in Chinese music. A brilliant violin solo leads back to the first main theme, followed by another version of the second melody and a longer passage of violin pyrotechnics. The piece ends with an energetic repetition of the tonic chord.
The expressive Folk Song opens with a brief piano introduction in which the opening phrase of the violin is suggested. The piece is not strictly based on the five-note scale, so common in Chinese folk song, but in outline this scale is clearly implied, although other notes intrude. The five-note or pentatonic scale is easily represented by the black notes of the piano. The meditative mood of the song is briefly interrupted by a passage of violin double-stopping of a more dramatic kind before the original melody returns.
The Fantasy by Fu Gengchen opens rhapsodically as the piano introduces the piece in free rhythm, followed by the violin with a heavily marked series of notes on the lowest string of the instrument. A slow theme is then played by the violin, to the accompaniment of harp-like chords on the piano, producing much the effect of an accompanied folk-song. The violin concludes this section with a series of artificial harmonics, high, whistling notes produced by lightly touching the string. A more passionate section follows, with the violin playing double notes, and again with that rhapsodic element present in the first part of the Fantasy. This leads to a brief passage for solo violin, echoed by the piano, before the return of the slow traditional theme that brings the piece to a gentle conclusion.
Range of Green Hills
Once again there is a short introduction, a prelude in which the violin sets the mood of the piece. The piano then introduces a simple folk song, taken up and completed by the violin, with piano accompaniment. There is a second, livelier section and sudden change of key, and four violin harmonics, resonant high-pitched notes caused by merely touching the string, lead to a further passage played in the same way. The original folk song is reintroduced in the new key in which the piece ends.
In the North-West Plain
In the North-West Plain was composed by Jiao Jie and makes much use of a particularly moving melody. Composed in a simple ternary form, the piece opens in a joyful mood with a strong rhythmic theme. The series of short bows in the violin part give the impression of a dance scene. The piece then moves into a lyrical and expressive slow section in which there is interplay of an intimate and romantic nature between the violin and woodwind. This is followed by the recapitulation of the “dance” section. The piece as a whole gives the impression of a beautiful painting which depicts the lifestyle and scenery of the North-West Plain.
Chinese music, like Chinese painting, tends to be representational. Music often paints a picture, and in Summer Night we have an evocation of a country scene on a summer evening. The piece opens with a short piano prelude. The violin follows with a folk song. The faster middle section is also introduced by the piano which plays a short postlude, ushering in the first, slower melody on the violin. This brings the piece to a conclusion.
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