About this Recording
8.570619 - WEN, Deqing: Shanghai Prelude / The Fantasia of Peony Pavilion / Variation of a Rose (Weinmeister, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rabl)

Deqing Wen (b. 1958)
Shanghai Prelude • The Fantasia of Peony Pavilion • Variation of a Rose • Nostalgia • Love Song and River Chant


Deqing Wen (b. 1958) is a Chinese-Swiss composer, a professor of Composition at Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and a member of the Societe Suisse pour les Droits des Auteurs d’Oeuvres. He is the Artistic Director of Shanghai Conservatory’s New Music Week, and features in Who’s Who in the World of Music, produced by Cambridge Biographic Centre. Wen studied at Fujian Normal University with Guo Zu-Rong; the China Conservatory of Music with Shi Wan-Chun and Luo Zhong-Rong; the Conservatoire de Musique de Geneve with Jean Balisaat; and the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Lyon with Gilbert Amy. He was also a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

Wen’s works have won him international acclaim, and combine an original musical approach with the influences of Chinese traditional arts and philosophy. His vivid, emotive and accessible style has been praised by critics in China and Europe. Zhou Haihong of the Central Conservatory of Music (Beijing) has described it as striking ‘a balance between complexity and clarity, between mystery and rationality, between shock and subtlety, between fantasy and rigour, and between exactness and profundity’. The Salzburger Nachrichten, reporting on a performance in 1999, remarked that ‘Wen’s music is so fresh, like morning dew; as exciting as a detective story and as enjoyable as an evening with the best of friends.’

His works have been performed at a variety of venues including the Festival Archipel, Festival Amadeus and the Davos Festival in Switzerland; Vienna Modern; ISCM World Contemporary Music Festival; Darmstadt Summer Course and Wittener Tage fur neue Kammermusik in Germany; Savolinna Opera Festival in Finland; the Asian Composers League Festival in Japan and Australia; the Hong Kong Arts Festival; and festivals in Taipei, Beijing and Shanghai. Wen has been honoured with concerts and masterclasses dedicated to his compositions in China, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Germany, Israel and the USA. His music has been published by Swiss Musical Edition, Barenreiter Verlag, the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press and the Beijing People’s Music Publishing House, and albums of his compositions have been released on a wide variety of labels.

Wen has been awarded the Prize of the State of Geneva 1993, the Prix du Festival of the 3rd Festival de Musique des Chateaux Neuchatelois, the Prix Cultura 1999 of the Foundation Kiwanis and the Composer Prize 2001 of the Foundation Leenaards of Switzerland.

Composer’s note

This collection of orchestral works begins with Shanghai Prelude, composed in 2015. In an attempt to reflect the cosmopolitan nature of Shanghai itself—not least its blend of oriental and occidental cultures—I have chosen a single musical phrase from which I have extracted both Chinese traditional models and patterns redolent of the European Baroque style. This phrase is drawn from Pingtan music (a narrative musical form), from the story of Du Shiniang, a tale of tragic love between a courtesan and a young student. Within the rich orchestral texture, a solo cello provides a sense of developing musical narrative from which Chinese melodic fragments and concerto grosso-like passages emerge. I also explore a range of instrumental colours, separating orchestral sections and using changing tempos and moods to characterize my material.

The Fantasia of Peony Pavilion (2013) takes its name from a work by the Ming Dynasty playwright Tang Xianzu (1550–1616) entitled The Peony Pavilion. This work holds particular significance within the development of Chinese drama (and by extension opera, most commonly as a Kun opera), as the main characters are rebels against traditional feudal ethics. Its subject matter deals with the pursuit of love through dreams, and even death must be overcome in order for the central couple to be united. The composition draws on the pitch material of both the Kun opera or Kunqu – one of China’s oldest forms of opera, an oral tradition—and elements of Lougu Jing, a traditional means of notating percussion through conventional Chinese speech characters. The work is intended as a drawing together of themes from the play, which fall into a series of mirror images—heaven and hell, man and ghost, love and lust, dreams and reality, triumph and disaster—and was also written to pay respect to Tang Xianzu and his legacy.

Variations of a Rose, composed in 2000, is a work born out of personal hardship and sadness for me. The theme on which the variations are written is a folksong from Xinjiang province in northwest China, A lovable Rose. This simple, melancholy melody prompts a slow orchestral unfolding in waves over the course of the piece. The gentle string writing of the opening builds in intensity and is joined by other instruments until the tension ebbs away into a quiet passage for winds; this, in its turn grows and recedes, and is followed by new dips and swells, until the work’s final quiet resolution.

Just as Wang Wei, a great Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, says in his poem, one misses one’s family more than ever when one is far away from home on a festive day. This poem is a reflection of my life when I was living far from home in a foreign country. But when I return to my homeland, I can’t help but miss my foreign friends on festive days, those who were as kind to me and acted as a family would. Nostalgia (2014), a set of orchestral variations on the French folksong À la claire fontaine, was composed as an affectionate greeting to my French-speaking friends and colleagues on the day of the Moon Festival, in the early autumn.

The final work on this recording, Love Song and River Chant, is based on a piano work completed in New York in 2006, which I subsequently orchestrated in 2010. The piece emerged from the problem of trying to work creatively within the pentatonic scale, a five-note mode which is fundamental to much Chinese music, and which I sought to include in my music without allowing it to dominate the musical structure.

Love Song is a set of variations on the Suiyan (north Chinese) folksong The Path. The lyrics reflect the difficulties of maintaining dignity and avoiding social taboos whilst courting: ‘Baby, don’t take the road in front of the house. Please walk around and down the path at the back.’ The conflict between desire and tradition is picked up in my setting, in which ascending gestures and growing crescendos are placed in sharp contrast to the descending, somewhat desperate folk melody—the orchestra fights back against the confines of the traditional. At the close of the movement, the oboe and cor anglais exchange echoes of the theme: the lovers, with great reluctance, must finally part.

This leads directly into the second part, River Chant, which is an entirely original composition, an imitation of a southern Chinese song. River chants were sung by Chinese boatmen to boost morale and draw strength from each other as they pulled large ships up along steep river courses. The sheer energy and determination needed for this task is captured in the intensity and power of the orchestral writing—the music builds towards its climax, the voices of the the instruments joined by the shouts and cries of the the performers themselves, exhausted from their musical journey upstream.

Deqing Wen

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