About this Recording
8.225819 - CHEN, Gang / HE, Zhanhao: Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (The) (Takako Nishizaki, Gunma Symphony, Henry Shek)
English  Chinese 

The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto
Ho Zhanhao and Chen Gang


The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto was written in 1958 by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao while they were students at the Shanghai Conservatory and was first performed in May the following year. Musically the concerto is a synthesis of Eastern and Western traditions, although the melodies and overall style are adapted from traditional Chinese Opera. The solo violin is used with a technique that recalls the playing technique of erhu, the Chinese two-string fiddle. It is a one-movement programmatic concerto, with three sections that correspond to the three phases of the story—Falling in Love, Refusing to Marry and Metamorphosis.

The narrative, derived from Chinese folk-lore, tells the story of the lovers Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. The two had been studying together, with Zhu Yingtai disguised as a boy, her identity unknown to her friend Liang Shanbo. Their period of study together and friendship is a happy one, which comes to an end when Zhu Yingtai is compelled to return home, and the couple part at a pavilion, eighteen miles from the city. This forms the exposition of a tripartite sonata-form movement.

In the central section, the formal development, Zhu Yingtai now defies her father, who has arranged a marriage for her. Liang Shanbo decides to visit Zhu Yingtai and only now finds out that she is a girl and about to be married. There is a tender duet between the solo violin and cello, now that Liang Shanbo realises the nature of his affection for his former companion. Liang Shanbo dies, the victim of despair, and Zhu Yingtai, on the way to her wedding, stops at her lover’s tomb and leaps into it. The tomb bursts open and at the sound of the gong the music reaches a climax.

In the final section of the concerto, the recapitulation, the love theme reappears and Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai emerge from the tomb as a pair of butterflies, flying together, never again to be parted.

Chen Gang’s Revision of The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto

Chen Gang revised The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto for this recording in early 1982. In this revision he made no fundamental change to the main body of the work, and mainly altered the tempo of various sections to provide more excitement and energy, while other changes serve to clarify the orchestral texture and the solo line.

Small changes to the scene of the lovers’ meeting include a characteristic upward glide to the first note and the instruction to play a later figure on the G string of the violin. Further dynamic changes emphasise the sense of impending tragedy.

The second section, the period of study in which the friendship of the two lovers flourishes is now to be played faster, suggesting strongly the happiness of the pair. At the same time the faster tempo and the added accentuation make for a greater contrast with the subsequent scene of parting, while the famous violin and cello love duet seems more poignant with the glides that have now been added.

The scene at the tomb is now to be played faster, sacrificing orchestral clarity in favour of the general climax at the declaration of love, and the final section follows the revisions of the opening of the concerto, with a concluding quickening of speed to suggest the happiness of the lovers united in heaven.

Beloved Hung Chai Suiyuan Folk Song
(arranged Kazuaki Ogikubo)

Beloved Hung Chai is a love song from the province of Suiyuan. Hung Chai is a beautiful girl. The composer of the song thinks of her at the Mid-Autumn Festival and feels very sad. He hopes he can marry her when spring comes. The use of pentatonic scale gives this song a very strong Chinese flavour.

Three Wishes for a Rose Huang Zi
(arranged Akira Nishimura)

Huang Zi (1904–1938) is known to be the first teacher of theory and composition in China, and a pioneer in the use of Western harmonies. He wrote some 40 songs, as well as instrumental compositions. Three Wishes for a Rose was originally a song for soprano, piano and violin, the wishes being for no strong wind to blow on the rose, for the rose not to be plucked by passers-by and for the rose to always bloom.

Without Rain Flowers Will Not Blossom
Yunnan Folk Song (arranged Kazuaki Ogikubo)

Without Rain Flowers Will Not Blossom is a traditional Yunnan folk song about a girl thinking of her lover. She compares him with a dragon flying in the sky and with a Chinese scholar tree in the mountains. She hopes she can soon be his bride. To be happy she needs love, just like flowers need rain to blossom.

Green Mountain
Taiwan Folk Song (arranged Koshiro Nishida)

Green Mountain is a well-known Taiwanese folk song, often treated as a popular song. It praises the beauty of Taiwan and compares the beautiful Alishan girls with water and the strong Alishan young men with the mountains.

Love Song of the Grassland
Qinghai Folk Song (arranged Akio Yasuraoka)

The Qinghai region is in the west of China, the source of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. From a distant land there is a beautiful girl, whose charms attract all eyes. Her face is radiant as the sun, her eyes like the moon. I wish I could work as a shepherd, or became a sheep in her flock, so that I can be near her.

Purple Bamboo Melody
Shandong Folk Song (arranged Akira Nishimura)

Purple Bamboo Melody is a lullaby-like folk song from the Shandong province. The lyrics tell of a mother making a bamboo flute for her child who learnt to play a new melody on it.

Close the window