TANG POEMS CANTATA
About this work:
Commissioned by Bradley University through the Lilly Endowment for Multiculturalism, and dedicated to Bradley University and the Department of Music.
In the first song Riding on My Skiff, the melody of the tenor solo in dramatic Chinese opera singing style is accompanied by the lingering background of the choir, and the ever-moving rhythm of the Chinese percussion. The music supports the poem in expressing the poet's forthright and optimistic spirit, as overlooking all mountains thoroughly from the speed moving boat in Yangtze River.
Beginning with a soft unison with alto and tenor, the pan-tonal melody of the second song Written on a Rainy Night took its folk song elements from Southwestern China. While the theme is brought to the soprano part, the repeated melody on low strings and the dense bass voice frames the entire piece and bring it into an endless mood of nostalgia, reflecting the feeling of the poet writing on a rainy night to his wife in the north.
The character of the third song Wild Grass is featured by a constant motif formed by two parts with irregular downbeats and vivid padding syllables. It suggests the poet's sorrow of being apart from a friend, as like the grass growing and extending. The melodic material is mixed from the folk story-telling song styles in Southeastern China. There is a contrast between reciting-like tunes and smooth melodic lines, which make up the text singing part.
In the last song Monologue, the music expresses the tragic, heroic, sentimental emotions of the poet, by using the reciting monologue (as like the poet looked up at the sky and sighed deeply), the big skip melodic lines and un-pitched chanting background in the chorus, the lonely clarinet solo, and the dramatic and passionate tutti imitating the pipa (Chinese plucking instrument) playing strongly with all fingers in chords.
1. Riding on My Skiff by Li Bai (701-762)
Leaving at dawn the Baidi City crowned with cloud,
I've sailed a thousand miles for Jiangling in a day.
With screams of monkeys still the riverbanks are loud,
My skiff has left ten thousand mountains far far away.
2. Written on a Rainy Night by Li Shang-yin (813-858)
You ask me when I can come back but I don't know,
The pools of Bashan in autumn night with rain o'erflow.
When by our window can we trim the wicks again
And talk about this endless night and rain?
3. Wild Grass by Bai Ju-yi (772-846)
Wild grasses spreading o'er the plain
With every season come and go.
Heath fire can't burn them up, again
They rise when the vernal winds blow.
Their scent o'erruns the old pathway;
Their color covers the ruined town.
Seeing my friend going away,
My sorrow grows like wild grass o'ergrown.
4. Monologue by Chen Zi-ang (661-702)
Where are the sages of the past
And those of future years?
Sky and earth forever last,
Lonely, I felt sad with running tears.
Translation by Chen Yi
Version: Mixed choir and chamber orchestra, sung in Chinese
Year composed: 1995
Ensemble type: Chorus, with or without Solo Voices:Chorus with Orchestra
Instrumentation notes: Mixed Chorus (SATB) and Chamber Orchestra (1111 1110 Pn T, Perc. Str.)