About this Recording
8.225826 - MA, Ke / ZHANG, Lu / QU, Wei / LI, Huan Zhi / XIANG, Yu / CHEN, Zi / LIU, Chi: White-Haired Girl Suite (The) (Tokyo Philharmonic, Kektjiang Lim)
English  Chinese 

Spring Festival Overture
Li Huanzhi

Li Huanzhi is one of the best known of the younger generation of China’s composers, and is one of the main composers of The White-Haired Girl. The Spring Festival Overture is a highly typical festival piece, making much use of percussion, simple rhythmic figures, and pentatonic folk-like melodies. It was composed in 1949 and draws on a type of drum and tabor folk-music for its inspiration. Lively dance rhythms in the outer sections contrast with a more soulful slower middle section.

The White-Haired Girl Ballet Suite
Ma Ke, Zhang Lu, Qu Wei, Li Huanzhi, Xiang Yu, Chen Zi, Liu Chi

The libretto of the White-Haired Girl was written by more than 20 people, all from Yen-An, and from the Liberal Arts Academy of Luxun. Seven composers were involved in the writing of the music. Since only two Chinese characters appear for each composer it can be assumed that some of these are the given names, and that the surnames are not used. Huanzhi is most likely Li Huanzhi, the writer of Spring Festival Overture.

The music makes much use of folk-song, and of melodies taken from local operas, and is scored for a full modern symphony orchestra.

The story takes place during the Sino-Japanese war. Yang Bailao and his daughter Xiér live on a farm which belongs to Huang Shiren. Huang has Yang done away with, and takes possession of Xiér. Later he plans to get rid of her too, but she suspects his intentions, and flees from him, eventually hiding in a cave.

Frightened of coming out of the cave during daylight, deprived of sunlight and proper food, her hair turns white. At night she visits the Nai Nai temple to eat the sacrificial offerings, and there she is taken for a ghost.

Finally, a friend of Xiér, who had also in the past fled from Huang, and had joined the Eight Route Army, comes to the village where Xiér is in hiding. This friend discovers the truth about the wickedness of Huang, and about what had happened to Xiér. Huang is denounced, and the story ends with the public trial of Huang.

This is typical of the “Model Opera” of the fifties and sixties.

There are four main themes in the Ballet Suite. The first is that which accompanies the dancing and singing of Xiér, the main character, and is a Shanxi planting song, Picking Wheat Stalks. This is announced at the beginning by the bassoon, and later taken up by the oboe, after it has been hinted at in the rather mysterious opening bars.

After a typical solo flute cadenza which imitates the music of the Chinese flute, the second main theme appears on the flute, over a light accompaniment. This is a folk song from Hebei, Ching Yang Chuan.

Also from Ching Yang Chuan, the third theme is a continuation of the second, and is used for interludes in the opera. It is first heard on the clarinet.

Appearing fortissimo in the upper strings and woodwinds, the fourth theme is that which depicts the character of Huang Shiren, the wicked landlord. This takes its point of departure from traditional “flower-drum” songs.

The music of this suite is continuous, although the various sections are easily detected in the performance, and the deprivations of Xiér and the triumph of justice are all dramatically treated. The flavour of Russian orchestration is present, as it is in most known Chinese orchestral music, and there are also many touches where the instrumentation points to the imitation of Chinese instruments, or at least to the kind of effect which is to be found in Chinese instrumental music.

The simplicity of the story is well matched in the music.

Heroes’ Monument
Qu Wei

Inspired by the monument erected in Tiananmen Square in Beijing which does not bear the name of a particular hero, the composer wrote this piece. It seems to stand as a mute tribute to all those who fell in the cause of the New China.

Like the Long March Symphony of Ding Shande although on a smaller canvas, the Heroes’ Monument appears to be attempting a musical recreation of the struggle of the Red Army to sweep away the old forms of government and to bring about a New State. Battles can be heard in the music, and various difficulties can be heard to be overcome before the final exultant pages bring their robustly singing brass section, and trumpet blaze of glory.

There are two main themes in the work, the first of which is delivered right at the outset, by the strings, Adagio divotamente. This quiet beginning appears to be calling to remembrance the dead heroes of the past.

The second theme is a complete contrast, and in its vigorous dotted rhythm brings the trials of war to the forefront. After this, and until the end, the thought of struggle is never far from the music, and even when a more consoling theme appears on the horn, it is accompanied by restless triplet quavers in the strings.

The two main themes can be clearly distinguished throughout, since neither is treated too much in the way of development. Like folk songs, they tend to be repeated, in whole or in part, with varying backgrounds, in order to depict aspects of the struggle for a New China.


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