Video & Score
4 Songs in Chinese 聯篇曲
Bitter Taste of Love ⁕ Haws ⁕ Sounds Slowing ⁕ Drinking Alone
1st, Bitter Taste of Love《相思苦》
On Choi May-Chu’s line art. I wrote the words (full of cliché but fit the melody well)
2nd, Haws 《山查子》
On Choi May-Chu’s watercolour/ ink painting. A popular poem by a woman poet (Song Dynasty) and obviously about an affair – a taboo subject then in China.
3rd, Sounds Slowing 《声声慢》
On Choi May-Chu’s traditional Chinese paintings and watercolour. The poem was by China’s most revered woman poet (Song Dynasty).
4th, Drinking Alone Under the Moon 月下獨酌（李白）
在第四首我比較注重蔡美珠國畫和抽象方面的。李白詩仙的詩，人所共知，不需要我介紹了。This is more on Choi May-Chu’s Chinese paintings and abstract art. The poem was by Li Bai (Tong Dynasty). His works were integrated in Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Li Bai drowned trying to grasp the moon’s reflection in the river from his boat while drunk.
The Score 樂譜
Audio recording of the proper Chinese pronunciation of the 4 poems, read by Jiang Hua (姜華), BBC Chinese Service 曲詞正確讀音:
Music Videos 音樂視頻
Performed by Nancy Yuen (soprano) and Philip Edwards (clarinet). Jane Webster narrates.
The 6 videos are not completely identical, even if there seem to be some repeats.
In 2017 my old classmate Choi May-Chu replied to my Christmas card with her painting of lotuses and herons. I liked the painting and it gave me the idea that I could use her artwork to create a music video for the Four Songs. May-Chu was supportive and sent me a DVD containing many of her artworks and photos, allowing freedom of modification. She also painted new works and took photos for me, and supplied inspiration, such as the shadow motif in the 4th song Drinking Alone. I included my own video clips to enhance motion. As it was her painting of lotuses that gave me the idea in the first place, I put emphasis on lotuses, and used a lotus photo by a former staff member of our old school, Mr Leung, as material for a moving lotus motif to contrast with May-Chu's.
There was much to consider: What May-Chu sent covers a long period of time and reflects her life, how was I to present them to show the beauty of her work at different times? Most of her paintings have nothing to do with my Four Songs, how was I to merge them with the music and words and to create movement? How was I to modify my videos clips and her photos to match the style of her artwork? Because of my health, I worked rather slowly. I took time to look at what May-Chu sent me for inspiration. After a few months, I chose a group of colour sketches that seemed to be her earlier work, and added some motion and created the video of the first song Bitter Taste of Love. I had no idea what to do with the 2nd song, so I uploaded the 1st song as May-Chu had waited for some time to see what I might do. She watched it and liked it. A few months later, I used her watercolour as the theme and completed the 2nd song Haws. A few months later, I put emphasis on her Chinese paintings and lotuses, merging with my video clips and completed the 3rd song Sound Slowing. Another few months, with the shadow motif and more abstract images and my video clips, the 4th song Drinking Alone was done. As this is actually a song cycle, I combined the four songs, one without narration, and one with. The complete four songs with narration is the one with all the visual materials of May-Chu and mine, and is musically complete expressing the pangs of love from feeling unease, to loss, to deepest sorrow, to deep loneliness. It's narrated by Jane Webster, an RAM alumna and award-winning mezzo whose career includes opera and West End musicals. As it is my story, in each song there is at least one image of me at that time.
Although May-Chu and I spent six years in the same school, we didn't do much together in school. When we reconnected in 2017, we are both much battered by the vicissitudes of life. She's in Taiwan and I am in the UK, and we communicate via emails. However, I remember her beauty, her charm and her talents. One can turn life's twists and turns into a piece of creative art to be appreciated.
演出者: 女高音 阮妙芬，單簧管 菲臘愛德華氏, 珍韋斯特朗誦。
Though the PDF score here is for soprano and clarinet, the songs can be sung by lower voices and accompanied by clarinet, cor anglais, flute or Chinese flute (see suggestions in the score).
This is a song cycle inspired by the pangs of love (also called Four Love Songs in Chinese). I wrote the words of the first song. The rest are famous poems from the Song and Tang Dynasties. I wrote melodies inspired by the sound/meaning of the words. Though my professional musical training was Western Classical, as a small child in Hong Kong my first impression of music was Cantonese opera - a performer would modify the melody/rhythm according to the sound and meaning of the words, and the accompanying instrument flexibly imitates/follows the singing. I have heard free renditions of existing music (e.g., Purcell’s Dido and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) by Western Classical musicians, but I have yet to come across free rendition as dominated by the lyrics. I think this might due to the importance of harmony in Western Classical – certain notes have to come together vertically at a certain time, while my song cycle was about two lines (vocal and instrumental) flowing freely horizontally. Though the songs sound Chinese pentatonic, there are notes outside the scale and glissandos. Pitch fluctuation and tuning outside the well-tempered scale is also a characteristic of the music I heard as a child. Traditional Chinese music in Western notation often looks simplistic and is not a true picture of the real sound. Perhaps the flexibilities in rendition…etc., as mentioned above, explain some of the reasons.
More info & cultural background: download Music is Happiness CD book in PDF format and see pp.16-21.
FOUR SONGS IN CHINESE no narration 聯篇曲 無朗誦版
Comment: “The songs are so melancholy, they have left me feeling quite subdued!” - Margaret Morley, RAM alumna, sister of John David Morley.
FOUR SONGS IN CHINESE with narration 聯篇曲 有朗誦版
This version is meant for a concert setting with an English speaking audience.
"Just had a look/listen to your 'Drinking Alone' piece. It's an interesting amalgam of the images, voice and music. The voice has a distinctive sound - but I don't know enough to understand it fully - sort of chino-operatic. Please forgive me if that is totally sacrilegious - but I do like that haunting sound - combined with those cosmic images". - Vivien Finch: Suffolk and Essex coastal dweller, music amateur, teacher, memoir writer and London JP... charities - Canine Partners, Medical Detection Dogs (making huge strides in cancer detection) and Dogs Trust (biggest rescue and re-home charity in UK)
“This week is hectic but I just took a moment off to watch your video which I think is very beautiful, both music and words, although I am sure the words are more evocative in Chinese than a rather mundane translation.“ - Margaret Morley (see above)
“Now, most important. I absolutely loved Sounds Slowing - the music, the imagery and language. Taken as a whole, it is beautiful - but beautifully morose and bleak. Always a paradox.” - Vivien Finch (see above)
At the bottom of this page is the earliest recording of this work for soprano and cor anglais performed by Kathryn Harries and Jane Mitchell.
The Earliest Recording of 4 Songs in Chinese
It was for soprano and Cor Anglais and sung by the Welsh soprano Kathryn Harries and accompanied by Jane Mitchell. This is a very old recording, the sound has deteriorated a bit and may not do them both full justice. I was impressed by Kathryn's willingness to sing in Chinese which was unusual at the time. When I first heard the recording I was impressed by the purity of her voice that reminded me of early music and seemed very apt for this particular work. Later on Kathryn Harries made a very successful operatic career including singing Wagnerian repertoire.
I may upload other recordings by other sopranos singing various combinations when I can find/restore performances by Nancy Zi and Pamela Ryker (flute), Lisa Nolan with Geoffrey Elkan (clarinet), and one for soprano with Chinese flute.