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82088 - MA, K.: North Shaanxi Suite

North Shaanxi Suite

Commissioned by the North-East China Luxun Arts Institute Musical Troupe, North Snaanxi Suite was composed by Ma-Ke in the spring of 1949. Though the composer had planned to make it into a three-movement suite, only the first movement was actually completed. The first movement, which depicts the happy life of the people of North Shaanxi Liberated Area, consists of two parts. The first of these takes the famous folk-tune of Xin Tian You as its theme and makes some simple variations on it. The music describes the beautiful scenery of North Shaanxi and the North Shaanxi people’s love for their homeland. Based on the folk-tunes of Liu Zhidan, Cutting Paper Window Decoration and Wheeling Wheelbarrow, the second part depicts the North Shaanxi people living and working happily in their own homeland. The music begins by recalling the memory of Liu Zhidah, the founder of North Shaanxi Revolutionary Base Area, and ends with a jubilant dance, a yangge, a form of folk-song and dance widely popular in various parts of China.

Xikang - Tibet Suite

Xikang was once a province between Sichuan and Tibet, the eastern part of which is now part of Sichuan, while its west is a part of Tibet. In 1955 the Xikang-Tibet Highway, now known as the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, connecting Tibet, the roof of the world, with inland China, was opened to traffic. The news quickly spread throughout the country, and the Tibetans were happily celebrating. To express his joy over this, the composer Lu Huabo wrote his Xikang - Tibet Suite. With Tibetan folk-songs and dance music popular in Batang, now a district of Sichuan, as the musical material, the suite consists of seven continuous parts. The first pan acts as an introduction, depicting the continuous undulating mountains in Xikang and Tibet. The second part portrays the Tibetan people celebrating the birth of the so-called happiness road with songs and dancing. For this Tibetan dance music is taken as melodic material. The third to the sixth parts respectively reflect the social customs of the Tibetans, their life and feelings, including their joy and sadness. The last part is a festive celebration. The suite is known as one of the early results of experiment in the creation of a national Chinese style of symphonic music. In 1958 the score was included in A Collection of Musical Works by Chinese Composers, published in Moscow by the Soviet State Music Publishing House.

Axi Jumping the Moon

Axi Jumping the Moon was originally a dance composed by Chen Yun in 1951 for the China Young Artists Delegation to the Third World Youth Festival in Berlin. Later Qin Pengzhang arranged it into the present orchestral piece. The Yi people, an ethnic minority in South-West China, call themselves Axi. On festivals, the Yi young men and girls gather in the moonlight and sing and dance in the traditional form of “jumping the moon”. The orchestral piece is based on the various movements of the Yi dances. The national melody of the traditional Jumping the Moon dance music is used to depict the celebration in the moonlight. The whole piece is made up of three parts. The first part is like a brief overture depicting the moonlit scene. The cheerful young people gather in the square. The second part in duple and quadruple time is based on the traditional “jumping the moon” tune. It reflects the changing dance scene by means of transposition and modulation. The third part, with its unconventional 5/4 (3/4 + 2/4) time, shows the young people’s dance, as increases in all its joyful variety. At last the dance reaches its climax, while the music recapitulates the melody of the first part with growing enthusiasm.

Pixiu Dance

Like the kylin (unicorn) and the phoenix, the pixiu is an imaginary bear-like wild animal in Chinese mythology. In the coastal regions in South-East China, people like to perform at folk festivals the pixiu dance as well as the lion dance. Composed by Wang Yiping in 1954, Pixiu Dance describes the scene as villagers send their pixiu dance team for the Spring Festival to the neighbouring villages to convey their festival greetings. At the beginning the music is weak in volume and broken in rhythm. The muffled percussion, the specific sound of the beating on the drum edge and the intermittent blowing on the flute make the music sound like a team of pixiu dancers approaching from the distant low bank of earth between the fields, with their beating of gongs and drums heard on and off with the changing direction of the wind, Then the music depicts the dancers dancing into the village and then leaving it after finishing the dance. The piece is fundamentally in 5/4 time, with the accents at the second half of the second beat and the fifth beat of each bar, The organic combination of various Chinese percussion sets with the western orchestra gives the music a strongly national style. The first theme in 5/4 metre is based on Yellow Rape Flowers, a folk-tune popular in Guizhou, with the addition of some grace notes. The second theme is played by the brass and transformed in various ways. In the coda, the two themes are interwoven contrapuntally, which adds a touch of feeling, as if the dancers were reluctant to leave the villagers.

Dance beyond the Great Wall

As the closing movement of Ma Sicong’s Suiyuan Suite, Op.9, Dance beyond the Great Wall is characteristic in its bright melody, well-knit structure, multilayer treatment of timbre and alternation of mode. The theme, derived from an Inner Mongolian folk-song, is made up of two phrases developed by means of repetition and motivic transformation. The structure of the piece can be considered as a mixture of compound ternary form and variation. The theme and its first variation constitute the exposition, while the second variation acts as the contrasting middle section. After the recapitulation, the second variation is repeated as the coda. The structure may be formulated as AB + C + AB + C (coda). The theme appears in its intact form six times. Of the six appearances, four are by means of variation. While the zhi mode, a traditional Chinese mode with the note sol as the final note, is central to the music, the whole piece comes to an end in the yu mode, after a series of changes in tonality, which gives the audience the impression of alternation of mode.


Nostalgia is the second movement of Ma Sicong’s Suiyuan Suite, Op. 9, written in 1937. With a plaintively cantabile slow melody, the music expresses the homesickness of those far away from their hometowns. Riding Horse on the City Wall, an Inner Mongolian folk-song, is taken as the theme, which consists of four equally short phrases. The descending, undulating progression of each phrase and the soft colour of the shang mode, a traditional Chinese mode with the note re as the final note, give the melody a yearning melancholy. Traditional ternary form is combined with those variation techniques most common in Chinese folk-music. The three variations constantly bring to fresh life the theme, with heightened feeling. The third variation is the culmination of the whole piece. In addition to the transposition of the musical theme from the original shang mode to the gong mode, a traditional Chinese mode with the note do as the final note, considerable changes are made in internal structure, melodic density, tonality and tempo, giving the music a feeling of liveliness and brightness. The register is changed in the recapitulation of the theme, allowing the brighter upper register to give even finer feeling to the music. Finally there comes a brief coda. The whole piece seems to come to an end on the dominant chord of the yu mode, of which the final is la, and this creates a feeling of longing, as if homesickness still lingered in the mind.


In compound ternary form, Cart was written by Ge Yan in the 1950s. In the first part, the jangling rhythm on the piano and the pizzicato thematic melody on the strings sound like the clear and melodious jingling and distant hoof-beat at a highway through a secluded valley. Then the banhu, a Chinese two-stringed bowed instrument, expresses joy by repeating the theme on the strings. The jubilant melody is repeated once again, suggesting a young carter flourishing the whip to urge on the horse, its hoots disturbing the dust at the road. The second part depicts the beauty of the countryside and expresses the people’s love for their hometown. In the third part, the lyrical melody, when developed on the trumpet, sounds even broader. The melody returns on the banhu depicting the cart sweeping through the valley road and gradually disappearing into the distant green fields, while the jingling of the harness fades away with the white clouds in the sky.

Child Cowherd

Child Cowherd is an orchestral piece arranged by Li Weicai in the early 1950s from a folk-tune of the same name, widely popular in the North Chinese countryside. Simple, bright and cheerful, the piece expresses the joy of the liberated people. The music begins with a brief introduction on the flute end the oboe, followed by the first theme. After the bright and smooth theme has been varied on the violin twice, the rhythm on the gong and the drum is added to intensify the jubilant atmosphere. The lively second theme is played in turn by several woodwind instruments in the form of a dialogue. In the recapitulation the first theme is varied in different combinations of ensemble, driving the music forward to its climax. With the percussion, the whole orchestra follows with a variation of the second theme. The whole piece ends with a brief coda.

Yao Dance

Yao Dance vividly suggests the festive singing and dancing of the Yao people, an ethnic minority in Yunnan and Guangxi. Night has fallen. Dressed for the occasion, the people gather in the moonlight, beating their long drums. The quiet, gentle theme on the strings sounds like a girl dancing gracefully. With other girls joining in the dance one after another, the mood of the music gradually grows in excitement. Suddenly, the bassoon and the oboe play a forceful and enthusiastic melody derived from the theme, just as a group of boys, unable to restrain their emotions, rush into the crowd of dancing girls and begin to express their excitement by dancing. In the second part, in triple time, the melody varies in character, just like a young couple in love expressing their affection to each other and looking forward to the happy future. The third part is a recapitulation. The people again join in the dance one after another, leaping, turning, and singing. The mood of celebration grows, while the people become more and more unrestrained. Finally the whole orchestra joins together to bring the work to an end.

Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra

The Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the most famous performing ensembles in China. It was established in 1952 as the East China Music Troupe. The first Director was He Luting, a well-known composer, followed by Huang Yijun and Situ Han. The orchestra is now conducted by Cao Peng. In the past forty years, the orchestra has given over three thousand concerts, including special concerts for individual composers and musicians, and collaborated with singers and soloists from all over the world. Apart from giving concerts, the orchestra often makes recordings for radio stations, television stations and film studios, as well as for recordings for world-wide release.


A famous Chinese conductor, he was born in Shanghai in 1947. Since 1967 he has been working as a conductor with the Orchestra of Shanghai Film Studio. He has conducted modern Beijing opera “On the Docks” and a number of film scores, including “Below the Bridge”. In 1986 he was awarded Shanghai Municipal Prize of Arts and Literature.

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