About this Recording
82080 - YAN: The White-Haired Girl (Suite)


The White-Haired Girl was originally a five-act opera. In the early 1960s, it was arranged into a ballet. It was based on the musical score of the ballet that the present suite was made in 1974 for the Japanese tour of the China Central Philharmonic Society. This suite was the creation of a group of composers, with Qu Wei doing the actual writing. By summarising the main story of the ballet, the suite depicts the different destinies of two generations of Chinese peasants, who are respectively represented by Xi’er, the white-haired girl, and Yang Bailao, her father, in the new and the old societies, and extols the historical change for Chinese peasants from misery to a new life. The suite is made up of six movements.

MOVEMENT 1 Unrestrained Rage

Based on the music of the prelude of the ballet, the first movement of the suite depicts the unrestrained rage of vast numbers of poor Chinese peasants under the cruel oppression and exploitation of feudal landlords.

MOVEMENT 2 North Wind Blowing

On New Year’s Eve 1935, in Yanggezhuang, a village in Hebei Province, Xi’er, daughter of a poor peasant, is anxiously waiting for Yang Bailao, her father, who has been away to avoid a creditor, to come home to spend the New Year together with her.

MOVEMENT 3 Red Head-Band

Yang Bailao returns home at last. He has brought his daughter a red hair-band as a New Year present. The music expresses their brief happiness as Yang Bailao binds Xi’er’s hair with the head-band.

MOVEMENT 4 Profound Hatred

Huang Shiren, a wicked landlord, with his henchmen, comes to Yang’s to press for payment of the debt. He even attempts to abduct Xi’r as payment of the debt. Exasperated, Yang Bailao attacks him, but is beaten to death, while his daughter is taken away. On hearing the news, Wang Dachun, Xi’er’s fiance, hastens to rescue her, but he is outnumbered and finally fails. He indignantly leads a group of young villagers to join the revolutionary army led by the Chinese Communist Party.

MOVEMENT 5 Escape from Huang’s

Xi’er can no longer bear the inhuman physical and mental suffering at Huang’s. With the help of Aunt Zhang, a maid, she escapes from Huang’s into the remote mountain forest.

MOVEMENT 6 Celebration of Emancipation

Three years have passed. Wang Dachun leads a troop of the Communist-led Eighth Route Army back into Yanggezhuang Village. He manages to rescue from a mountain cave Xi’er, whose hair has turned white because of the extremely harsh living conditions in the mountain forest. Wang mobilises the peasants to expose and criticize Huang Shiren’s evil deeds, avenging the oppressed peasants. Singing and dancing, the peasants joyfully celebrate their emancipation.


The Monument to the People’s Heros is a symphonic poem composed by Qu Wei in 1960 in sonata form. It describes the people’s thoughts when they are standing in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tian An Men Square, Beijing, looking with reverence at the reliefs carved on the monument base. The work gives a summary description of work the martyrs who sacrificed themselves in the revolutionary struggle over the past century and of their lighting careers. The work begins with a moderately long introduction. The grave Adagio, the exposition and repetition of the theme are entrusted to the lower strings. The deep melody expresses the mood of the people when they mourn the dead heroes, recalling the heroes’ achievements in solemn respect. The primary theme of the exposition is in march style. Given in canon by the first violins and the bassoon, the theme depicts the scene of the revolutionary struggle advancing, like the waves of the Yangtze River and portrays the images of the heroes who stepped into the breach as another fell. The secondary theme, derived from folk-tunes popular in north Shaanxi and Shanxi is played by the first horn and the cello. It expresses the lofty ideal of the heroes and their love for the motherland and the people. The development section, which describes the military lives of the heroes, tonality and dynamics. In the culmination the trumpet allows shifts of tones and the trombone forcefully play a melodic fragment of the secondary theme tragic colouring. The whole orchestra comes to a sudden halt except for the soul-stirring, sustained sound of the percussion. Progressively the sound dies away, symbolizing the heroes giving their lives gloriously. The episode in the latter part of the development section is a thrilling elegy, the mourning of comrades in arms for the dead heroes. The recapitulation section brings back the simplified first group in combination with the second. From the recollection back to reality, the section expresses the people’s respect for the heroes and their excitement. In the coda, the musical image of the primary theme changes its function from the description of the heroes’ character to the depiction of celebration. The brilliant sound of the brass in a broad rhythm against the sextuplets of the strings and the tremolo of the woodwind, Tian An Men Square, where, in the solemn ode and the gun salute, huge crowds of the people liberated cheer for their own victory and with the most ardent emotion paying their respect to the martyrs: “Eternal glory to the people’s heroes!”


The Five-Finger Mountains are the main mountains on Hainan Island, the second largest island of China. In 1988, the Hainan Administrative Area subordinate to Guangdong Province was upgraded into a province to fit the needs of China’s reform and open policy. In celebration of the foundation of Hainan Province, the Five-Finger Mountains Capriccio is based on folk-tunes popular among the Li people, an ethnic minority living on Hainan Island. It consists of sonorous mountain songs, deeply lyrical sections and joyful dances, with Song of the Five-Finger Mountains running through the whole piece. At the end the music develops into a solemn ode, which presents the splendid prospects of the development of the precious island.


The Chinese composer, Qu Wei was born in Changzhou, Jiangsu, in 1917. In 1933 he was admitted to the Normal Department of the Shanghai Xinhua School of Arts, majoring in music and fine arts. From 1940 to 1945 he worked as a teacher in the Music Department of the Yan’an Lu Xun School of Arts. Later he successfully worked as Dean of the Music Department of the Northeast China Lu Xun School of Arts and as a composer for film studios. From 1955 to 1959 he studied in the Composition Department of Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. After returning to China he began to work as a composer with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. His important works include the opera The White Haired Girl (in collaboration with Ma Ke, Zhang Lu and others), the symphonic poem The Monument to the People’s Heroes, Fantasia of the Red Guards on the Hong Lake and White-Haired Girl Suite.


The Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra is among the most distinguished ensembles of its kind in China. It was established in 1952 as the East China Music Troupe, originally under the direction of the well-known composer He Luting, who was followed by Huang Yijun and Situ Han. The present artistic director is Cao Peng. Over the course of some fifty years the orchestra has given over three thousand concerts, in addition to its work in broadcasting, television and film studios and its many recordings for international release.


One of the most distinguished conductors in China, Cao Peng was born in Jiangyin, Jiangsu, in 1925. In 1946 he entered the Arts Department of Shandong University and in 1950 was appointed principal conductor of both the Shanghai Film Studio Orchestra and the Beijing Film Studio Orchestra. In 1955 he moved to the then Soviet Union, entering the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory to study under the conductor Leo Ginsburg. After his return to China in 1961 Cao Peng was appointed resident conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and is now artistic director and principal conductor of the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as serving as music advisor and resident conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and music director and principal conductor of the Shanghai Chamber Orchestra.

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