The Flowing River
The Chinese folksong 小河淌水 [pinyin: Xiǎo hé tǎng shuǐ English translation: flowing river/stream], rooted strongly in Yunnan culture, is a fine example of how one can express complex meanings of a written text through music. This became the grounding method upon which this composition of the same name was constructed: The Flowing River.
The legend of this folksong takes place near an unknown stream of water in the mountains near the Ancient Tea Horse Road. A beautiful maiden from a nearby village falls deeply in love with a travelling horseman. The night before he leaves for battle, they get engaged beside the river. Every night the maiden sings the song of the flowing river, in hopes for her words to be carried to her far away love. When the horseman return, the general tells the maiden that her love has had a change of heart and cannot face her, but instead offers a jade necklace to her as a token of guilt. The maiden refuses to remarry and continues to sing; hoping that her love will come back home. Yet, unbeknownst to her, the general did not have the strength to tell the maiden that her fiancée had died in the mountains and the necklace was meant as a gift to ask her hand in marriage.
This poignant and emotionally complex tale contains not only touching emotions, but an intriguing structure. In parallel to this, the composition follows a similar musical form, with the foreground material often being masked by a musical depiction of the flowing stream. The stream is the main focus of the textural element in this composition, with the programme depiction taking place in the background. The piece opens with a slow, colouristic depiction of the water, evoking a mystical, wonderous mood. This eventually transforms into more gushing textures and flowing melodies, with the emergence of our two lovers: the Maiden (musically represented by the Erhu) and the horseman (the Sheng). This becomes morphed into a rhythmically focused section, depicting both characters’ joy of being in love, swelling to a climactic point of full euphoria. Suddenly, this is all halted when a distant Trumpet sound the call to battle, bidding the horseman farewell.
The piece’s mood turns cold and dark, and closes with the full folksong melody finally stated as a whole, placed in a sombre but still hopeful atmosphere. As the maiden continues to sing for her long-lost husband-to-be, 小河淌水 / 《 Xiǎo hé tǎng shuǐ 》 / The Flowing River slowly fades to completion.
Programme note by the composer
Dedication, Awards & Acknowledges
Many thanks to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music for commissioning this piece to be performed in conjunction with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra during the Listening to China 2019 Project.
2+1/3/3/2+1 – 4/3/3/1 – Timp + 4 – Hp – Solo Sheng – Solo Erhu – Str
Xiao Hé Tang Shui [The Flowing River]: for Sheng, Erhu & Orchestra
Performed by: Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra
Erhu: Ye Chunhong; Sheng: Tang Ruofan
Year(s) of Composition:2019
2 Nov 2019