Saturday, March 28, 2009

The butterfly lovers

You can now hear world-renowned musicians performing the works of the butterfly lover which was brutally buried by the Cultural Revolution. This is a melody I love both the recordings, and the performance on the Chinese 2-stringed fiddle (erhu). I heard this song when I was very young and never paid attention of its authors or history. Now I come to appreciate the importance of this masterpiece and want to know more about it.

I accidentally caught part of a program in a hotel in Beijing which was a special on the "Butterfly Lovers Concerto". The Butterfly Lovers is a composition with a pretty incredible history. It's an orchestral adaptation of an old Chinese legend of that name, written by two Chinese composers, Chen Gang and He Zhanhao, in 1959 while students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. The music did not acquire popularity before the late 1970s, when China loosened its restrictions after the Cultural Revolution. Once released from censorship, it became an embodiment of China in transition.

It was a huge hit but many of the people associated with the concerto were jailed within five years of its premiere. The story itself is a kind of Romeo and Juliet tale of thwarted lovers, only in this case it's also about reincarnation; the lovers as butterflies. A beautiful music for me that was once suppressed, and has now been set free; the Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto is one of the most famous works of Chinese music and certainly one of the most famous outside of China. It is an orchestral adaptation of an ancient legend, the Butterfly Lovers. Written for the western style orchestra, it features a solo violin played using some Chinese techniques.

The butterfly has a keen sensitivity
It is sensitive even to the lightest breeze
It flutters above the ground where it can get a panoramic awareness of its surroundings
It notices the beauty of even the tiniest flowers
Because of its sensitivity, it is constantly aware of all its changes going on around it and is able to react to the slightest variation in its environment

I’m the butterfly that flutters and seek beauty in mankind.

Here is one song of a truly beautiful melody:

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