About this Recording
8.225968 - FROM SHANGHAI WITH LOVE (Takako Nishizaki, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Breiner)

Shanghai is not only the most important commercial city of China, but in the first half of the twentieth century it was also one of the most important centres of Chinese culture. The most talented artists all lived in Shanghai, making it the busiest place for publishing. The city was a place for the exchange of Eastern and Western culture, and of the Chinese economy and commerce. Because of its status as a treaty port, Shanghai had attracted a number of people active in show business. For both film and popular music, Shanghai took the lead. In fact in the past Shanghai was known as the "Night-time Paris of the East", owing to the popularity of its bars and nightclubs.

During the Second World War Shanghai was besieged and occupied. The film industry was ordered to form a single company, which started producing a large number of films for Shanghai and other regions in Chinaunder occupation. The period saw the emergence of many film-stars. It was a common practice to include songs in films, and many of these became popular throughout the country.

People usually consider Shanghai the birth-place of Chinese popular music. In the 1920s the famous Chinese composer Li Jinhui wrote the earliest Chinese pop song "Drizzle". His daughter, Li Minghui, had become the first pop singer in China, and Shanghai was then the largest record distribution centre for Asia, the far East headquarters, in its heyday, for record companies from more than a dozen countries. Together with some local artists, there were more than sixty famous singers in Shanghai, and within the next two decades these record companies had released more than two thousand songs.

In the 1930s and 1940s almost all the pop singers in China were in Shanghai. Female singers were more popular than men, and the most famous of all was Li Xianglan and the big five, Zhou Xuan, Bai Guang, Wu Yingyin, Zhang Lu and Yao Li. Show business in Shanghai was not only for stars, but also a place formany creative composers and musicians. Some, like He Lüding and Huang Yijun, were from the Conservatory, but the most productive composers were Chen Gexin and Li Jinguang, the twin stars of the early Chinese popular music.

1. Spring Returns (Yao Min)

Spring Returns was written by Yao Min (1917-1967), the composer of many songs. One of his songs was adapted for the Hollywood film "The World of Susie Wong" as the popular Ding Dong Song. The singer was Wu Yingyin (b.1921). She was called "the Singing Queen of Nasal Tone". The concise melody has an unstable long phrase as its principal motif. The second half of the phrase is further developed by strong compelling downward progression. The pleasing essence of spring is finely expressed. The newly orchestrated version with solo violin is an ode to spring. The brass and woodwind in the accompaniment suggest human praise of the new season.

2. Reunion (Yan Zhexi)

During the 1940s Reunion was immensely popular in China. The major-key melody combines elegance and melancholy. The music and lyrics both came from the famous composer Yan Zhexi (1909-1993). Yan had written more than three hundred songs, in which he succeeded in combining elements of Chinese and Western music. One can find a typical Chinese imagery in Reunion: "In another dream you have forgotten of me. Tonight, however, we come together again". The famous singers Yao Li and Bai Hong both recorded this song. The present version recorded here has a more impassioned ending, adding new fire to the originally restrained emotion.

3. Shangri-la (Li Jinguang)

Shangri-la was an interlude in the film A Flying Nightingale, sung by the actress Ouyang Feiying (b.1920). She joined the resistance to the Japanese and was smuggled into Shanghai. When the resistance won, she appeared in A Flying Nightingale and the song made her famous throughout China. The rumba-rhythm melody was composed by Li Jinguang (1907-1993) and the words by Chen Dieyi (b.1908). Li was the most famous popular song writer in China in the 1930s and 1940s. His wife, Bai Hong, was among the most popular singers. Chen Dieyi was a very prolific lyricist. His son, Chen Xieyang, later became the conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Shangri-la, the legendary fairyland, assisted by the film and the song, won fame all over the world, and in China became a classic. To bring to life this Shangri-la, the composer made use of modulating semitones. In the development section shifts of key were also used with the intention of creating a magical ambience.

The new version with solo violin is in keeping with the spirit of the original song.

4. Autumn Night (Li Hourang)

Autumn Night was among the many interludes in the movie A Singing Nightingale in the Willows, which was made in 1948, featuring the actresses Bai Guang, Gong Qiuxia (b.1916) and Huang Feiran. The composer of the song was Li Hourang (1916-1973), who had written many songs for the famous singer Zhou Xuan. The song was sung by Bai Guang (1920-1999), an actress well-known for her portrayal of bad girls, while her low and mellow singing voice was something special among the singers of the era. The theme of this song is of sadness in autumn, which is also the sadness of the actress in the film. She loves night-time and the moon-lit autumn night, but the falling leaves of autumn bring a feeling of loneliness into her heart. The melody contains a number of lengthened notes, in order to express endless sorrow. The solo violin in the present version is expresses that endless sorrow.

5. Picking Betel Nuts (Hunan Folk-Song)

Picking Betel Nuts is the favourite song of "Golden Voice" Zhou Xuan (1918-1957). She was one of the most famous stars in Shanghai, appearing in over two hundred songs and 43 films. The melody is taken from a Hunan folk-tune. The story of the song is the admiration of boys towards the girls, as they pickpalms, and it is full of unrestrained love. The joyful tune and its use only of the pentatonic scale reflects its Chinese provenance. Here the song has a new introduction of even greater joyfulness. With a cadenza added for the solo violin, the arranger has transformed this well-known song into a fine orchestral composition.

6. Without You (Yan Zhexi)

Like Autumn Night, Without You is another song from the film A Flying Nightingale. The composer Yan Zhexi wrote both the music and words, but adopted two different pseudonyms, Zhuang Hong as the composer, and Lu Li for the lyricist. Most composers in the 1940s used several pseudonyms.

The original version sung by Bai Guang was more lyrical. Now the violin plays faster, and the orchestration has a stronger impact, as together they express the happiness and joy of the music.

7. Blossoms under the Full Moon (Yan Hua)

Blossoms under the Full Moon was written for the 1940 film The Western Chamber. It was sung by the actress Zhou Xuan, who played the rôle of a matchmaker in the movie. This later became the most popular of her songs, and can be heard wherever Chinese people are gathered, especially during lunar festivals such as the Mid-Autumn Festival. The song was composed by Yan Hua (1913-1992), the mentor of Zhou Xuan for her career and later her first husband. The style of the melody is typical of Jiangnan province. The musical motifs sound gentle, light and graceful, always using the pentatonic scale. The violin sings of peace and serenity. Hearing it, one might imagine oneself sitting beside willows stirring in the breeze, watching small boats floating on the moon-lit water.

8. Pretending to be a Good Girl (Li Jinguang)

The spy film Espionage 626 was made in 1948, featuring Bai Guang and Ouyang Shafei.Pretending to be a Good Girl was a song written by Li Jinguang for the movie. Bai Guang played the rôle of a female spy in the film. The song wasfor the spy, showing her provocative contempt for men. This made the song at one time very popular in Shanghai nightclubs. Without words the present version may not be able to express the contempt and provocativeness in so much detail, but offers, instead, an exceptionally lyrical mood.

9. Wishing You Happiness and Prosperity (Chen Gexin)

The music and words of Wishing You Happiness and Prosperity were both the work of Chen Gexin, sung by the brother and sister Yao Ming and Yao Li. Chen Gexin (1914-1961) was a very prolific composer and artist. His son is one of the joint composers of the famous Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, Chen Gang. The song wasoriginally a celebration of the Chinese victory over the Japanese after eight long years, but because the words also suggest the coming of spring, and can be taken as a celebration of the Chinese New Year. As a result, since the 1950s, it has been treated solely in the latter context. The last two lines of this single-stanza song are actually an imitation of the beat of the Chinese drum, giving an air of excitement to those who sing it.

10. Autumn Leaves Dancing in the Wind (Li Jinguang)

Autumn Leaves Dancing in the Wind is another hit from the famous singer Zhou Xuan. The music was written by Li Jinguang and the words by Fan Yanqiao, for the film Endless Love made in 1947. The song has a brisk tempo and was well-received that time. Below the surface,however,the song predicted that vanity would one day fade completely: "Autumn leaves dancing in the wind, accompanied by cicadas. Face as pale as the flowers, lips as red as the maple leaves. Nature's rhythm and beautiful melody are but the same thing. The fleeting sunrise in the winter sky, tollingof the bells in the snow, all will vanish into thin air!"

11. You Are Truly Beautiful (Li Hourang)

The composer Li Hourang wrote both the music and lyrics of You Are Truly Beautiful. This was also the climax of the career of the singer Zhang Lu, during the 1940s in Shanghai. Another of her famous songs was Give Me a Kiss, which took its melody from the Western song Seven Lonely Days. The melody of You Are Truly Beautiful has a certain mischievousness about it, further suggested in the words. A long line of "you" and "me" right at the beginning: "You, You, You, You, You, You, You,You are so beautiful; I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I am so fond of you... 'offers a very realistic imitation of stuttering through over-excitement. This excited happiness can also be felt perfectly in the newly orchestrated version with solo violin.

12. Your Everlasting Smile (Chen Gexin)

One will find a very realistic but also romantic tale behind the famous song Your Everlasting Smile. The composer Chen Gexin wrote this piece especially for a girl he admired, Jin Jiaoli. "I will not let anyone take away the remaining springtime from me, I will not let anyone extinguish the sun in my bosom. My dear, do not be sad, my sincerest wish is that this smile may linger on your face for ever." No words can be more touching. Your Everlasting Smile was also turned into a famous piece for the singer Zhou Xuan. The beautiful major-key melody, which is short but sad, has been on the lips of many people in the past few decades. The song has become a token of romance in the past. The violin in the present version takes up this theme of never-ending love, as if offering a hymn of praise.

13. A Pitiful Singing Girl (He Lüding)

A Pitiful Singing Girl is the third song included here that uses the pentatonic scale. The singer for all three was Zhou Xuan, and this was the most popular of all of her songs. It was written for the film Angel of the Road, which was made in 1937. The tune was composed by He Lüding (1903-1999), an important Chinese composer, music theorist and teacher, who became director of the Shanghai Conservatory in 1949. The lyrics of A Pitiful Singing Girl were written by Tian Han (1898-1968), who exercised significant influence on the reform of Chinese opera and drama. The themes of the song came from two Suzhou folk-tunes, melodies particular well suited to Zhou Xuan. It is not easy for the western violin to express the heavy Jiangnan sound to the full. Here, however, the violin part does what it can do very well, conveying the tenderness of the pentatonic tune.

14. Your Enchanting Looks (He Lüding)

In 1937 there was a detective movie called Mysteries of the Pagoda, bringing with it the song Your Enchanting Looks. In the film the actress Gong Qiuxia played two rôles, and also sang this song, which had made her a star. What is also remarkable is that the music and words of the song both came from He Lüding, creating the best of his movie songs.

The Chinese title of this song carries the meaning of waiting for one's beloved, who never comes. The situation is one of sadness and despair. The melody was written in a very typical Chinese style. The long line of the tune is full of twists and turns, a form very different from the motifs in Western composition.

15. By the Suzhou River (Chen Gexin)

The composer of By the Suzhou River was Chen Gexin and the singers were the brother and sister Yao Min and Yao Li. For years many people have been particularly fond of this song, with its graceful music and words. People in Shanghai even called it "Chunshen Serenade", after a town in the Shanghai region. The violin here reflects perfectly the dream-like atmosphere of the song. Hearing it, one might whisper the original words: "Night has cast a shadow of loneliness. There is no one by the river. Hand in hand, we walk along the dark alley...Stars sparkle smiles, winds harbour jealousy and blow gently at my clothes...I cannot tell whether it is the world deserting me, or me forgetting the world..."

16. Waiting For Your Return (Chen Ruizheng)

Waiting For Your Return made the composer Chen Ruizheng famous. He had daringly used the uncommon E flat diminished semi-tone to enliven the melody. It also brought the singer Bai Guang considerable fame. The music is based on the essence of Chinese poetry: "Postponement shows deep emotion!’ The lyricist, Yan Zhexi, used the same technique. The theme recurs: "Waiting for your return", "Expecting your return" and "Why you do not come back?" The plaintive tone of Bai Guang makes the complaint from a deserted woman even more poignant, anguish ideally expressed in the newly orchestrated version for solo violin.

17. A Heartbroken Girl (Yan Zhexi)

A song classic of the singer Wu Yingyin, A Heartbroken Girl could well be her best song too. New versions of this song by other singers never stop appearing. Yan Zhexi wrote the music and Zhang Huai the words. The song is the moving lament of a woman over her long-vanished youth.

The melody is in the tradition of Chinese folk-tunes, and complex emotion is represented by the tones of Shang (equivalent to Re) and Zheng (equivalent to So) alternating as the dominant note.

18. Rose, Rose, I Love You (Chen Gexin)

Rose, Rose, I Love You comes from the 1940 film A Pitiful Singing Girl. The music and words were written by Chen Gexin and Wu Cun respectively. The singer of the song, Yao Li, played a minor part as a singer in the film. It proved to be an instant hit. This very same song was also the first Chinese song to be adapted with English words, to win international fame. It was the famous American singer Frankie Laine who sang the English version, which made its way to the top of the American popular song chart in the early 1950s. As time passed, many Chinese people came to mistake the Chinese version for an adaptation from the English version. The liveliness and high spirits of the music, the clever blending of Chinese tunes into a cosmopolitan style, were probably the reasons for its popularity all over the world.

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