Chen Yi

About this work:
From the Path of Beauty (2008) A song cycle for mixed choir and string quartet World Premiere, March 13, 2008, San Francisco American East Coast Premiere, April 9, 2008, New York City Choir I. The Bronze Taotie String Quartet II. The Dancing Ink Choir and String Quartet III. The Ancient Totems String Quartet IV. The Rhymed Poems Choir and String Quartet V. The Clay Figurines Choir and String Quartet VI. The Secluded Melody Choir and String Quartet VII. The Village Band The work is a seven-movement song cycle for mixed choir and string quartet, which includes the first movement for choir or quartet, two movements for string quartet, and the other four movements for choir with string quartet. It was commissioned by Chanticleer and the Shanghai Quartet, with major assistance from The Carol Franc Buck Foundation, the Fleishhacker Foundation and Kathleen G. Henschel, and additional support provided by The Ann & Gordon Getty Foundation, J. C. Property Investment, Tom & Patricia Klitgaard and Mary D. Lau, for the celebration of their 30th and 25th anniversaries. The work was premiered on March 13, 2008 in San Francisco, with the first New York performance on April 11, 2008 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The string quartet version (movements I, IV, VI and II) was co-commissioned and premiered by the Shanghai Quartet at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2008. The composition is dedicated to Mr. Peter Henschel and Mr. Gordon Lau, honoring their great devotion and contribution to the friendship between the San Francisco Bay Area and China, with the greater hope of improving cultural understanding between two countries, and also world peace. The music brings us through the history of beauty in Chinese arts, from the ancient totems to the figurines, from poetry to calligraphy, from dance to music -- from the thoughts to the spirit, it’s deep in expression and rich in color, lyrical yet dramatic. In the entire piece, the choir sings nonsense syllables taken from various Chinese folksongs. The imagination of the first movement The Bronze Taotie came from the image of the bronze taotie of the Shang Dynasty (C. 1600 – C.1100 B. C.), using 12-part a cappella in clusters and banding tones, to trace back to the ritual spirit, remote yet powerful. In the second movement The Dancing Ink, the strings have woodwind-like running passages, representing the exaggerated shapes and gestures in Chinese cursive from Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). The third movement The Ancient Totems is for choir and strings, the combination of multi layers sounds delicate and mysterious. The string quartet plays in non-traditional textures – sometimes using dark and dense blocks of moving chords with contrast of harmonic tones in the background, sometimes imitating Chinese operatic singing and reciting, as like in the fourth movement The Rhymed Poems, which is an instrumental realization of musical reading two poems by Li Qingzhao from Song Dynasty, 960 – 1279 in Mandarin). The fifth movement The Clay Figurines is inspired by the exaggerated gesture of a clay storyteller made in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. — 220 A.D.). The large interval upward skip in singing “Oi Yi, Oi Yi” sounds vivid and humorous. The sixth movement is the polyphonic development of a simple pitch material drawn from the qin (7-string ancient Chinese zither) music “Secluded Orchid in the Mode of Jie Shi" from the Six Dynasties period (497 – 590). The last movement The Village Band takes the choir and the strings to form a village percussion wind band. All instruments and voices imitate different Chinese folk percussion and wind instruments in a traditional fixed rhythmic pattern. The music keeps the warmth and the momentum up to the ending climax. As in a Dream, two poems by Li Qingzhao (Song Dynasty, 960 – 1279) (English translation by Chen Yi) I I remember many times/We were in the sunset/At the pavilion by the rivulet,/Got drunk and lost our way back./Returned by boat after thoroughly enjoying ourselves,/By mistake we went into the recesses of the clusters of lotus./Paddled by bending to the oars,/Roused the gulls and egrets to flight/From the sand bars. II Last night fine rain, gusts of wind,/Deep sleep could not dissolve the leftover wine./I asked the person who was rolling up my curtains,/The answer was: "The begonias are still the same."/"Don't you know? Don't you know it is time/For the green to flourish and the red to wither?"
Version: Mixed choir and string quartet, or, String quartet
Year composed: 2008
Duration: 00:35:00
Ensemble type: Chorus, with or without Solo Voices:Chorus with Chamber Ensemble
Instrumentation notes: Mixed Choir and String Quartet, published by Theodore Presser Company.

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