Three Poems by Li Po 李白三首 (2002-2004)

for a cappella SSATB mixed choir
Duration: 1 – 2’20”; 2 – 4’30”; 3 – 5’10” (total – 11’00”)
dedicated to Bruce Gladstone, conductor, UW-Madison Madrigal Singers

Premiere: Nov 14 (Sun) 2004 by UW-Madison Madrigal Singers, conducted by Bruce Gladstone; Madison WI

This is a text setting of 3 poems written by Li Po, dedicated to Dr. Bruce Gladstone, who has been a great teacher to me in conducting, choral music and music in general. The entire set is modally based, and closely mimics the style of Renaissance madrigals. The texts are as follow (1, 2 translation by Jerry Hui; 3 from University of Virginia Library Chinese Text Initiative):

1. 送友人 Farewell to a friend

青山橫北郭,白水繞東城,
此地一為別,孤蓬萬里征。
浮雲遊子意,落日故人情;
揮手自茲去,蕭蕭斑馬鳴。

Green ridge looms beyond the northern wall,
White water rushes round the eastern town;
Here departs he, with the wind, who journeys
A thousand lonely miles.
Wanders the traveler’s thought as fleeting clouds,
Hovers a friend’s love like the setting sun;
There waves he, on his dappled horse, which
Lets out a lonely neigh.

2. 月下獨酌 Drinking Alone Under the Moon

花間一壺酒,獨酌無相親;舉杯邀明月,對影成三人。

月既不解飲,影徒隨我身;暫伴月將影,行樂須及春。

我歌月徘徊,我舞影零亂;醒時同交歡,醉後各分散。

永結無情遊,相期邈雲漢。

Among the flowers from a pot of wine
I drank alone, there’s no one that I know.
Thus I raise the cup to invite the moon,
With my shadow it made three of us.
Oh but the moon didn’t like to drink,
And my shadow vacantly followed me.
Let me for now have their company
to enjoy springtime while it was here.
I sang — the moon lingered.
I danced — the shadow scattered.
While I was awake, we had a good time;
After I was drunk, and we dispersed.
May our friendship retains forever,
As I watched the River of Stars.

3. 蜀道難 Hard Roads in Shu

噫籲嚱!危乎高哉!蜀道之難,難於上青天。蠶叢及魚鳧,開國何茫然!爾來四萬八千歲,不與秦塞通人煙。西當太白有鳥道,可以横絕峨眉巔。地崩山摧壯士死,然後天梯石棧相鉤連。上有六龍回日之高標,下有沖波逆摺之回川。黄鶴之飛尚不得過,猿猱欲度愁攀援。青泥何盤盤!百步九摺縈岩巒。捫參曆井仰脅息,以手撫膺坐長歎。
問君西游何時還,畏途巉岩不可攀。但見悲鳥號古木,雄飛雌從繞林間。又聞子規啼夜月,愁空山。蜀道之難,難於上青天!使人聽此凋朱顏。連峰去天不盈尺,枯松倒掛倚絕壁。飛湍瀑流爭喧豗,砯崖轉石萬壑雷。其險也如此,嗟爾遠道之人胡爲乎來哉?
劍閣崢嶸而崔嵬,一夫當關,萬夫莫開。所守或匪親,化爲狼與豺。朝避猛虎,夕避長蛇。磨牙吮血,殺人如麻。錦城雖雲樂,不如早還家。蜀道之難,難於上青天,側身西望長咨嗟。

Oh, but it is high and very dangerous!
Such traveling is harder than scaling the blue sky.
…Until two rulers of this region
Pushed their way through in the misty ages,
Forty-eight thousand years had passed
With nobody arriving across the Qin border.
And the Great White Mountain, westward,
still has only a bird’s path
Up to the summit of Emei Peak —
Which was broken once by an earthquake
and there were brave men lost,
Just finishing the stone rungs of their ladder toward heaven.
…High, as on a tall flag, six dragons drive the sun,
While the river, far below, lashes its twisted course.
Such height would be hard going for even a yellow crane,
So pity the poor monkeys who have only paws to use.
The Mountain of Green Clay is formed of many circles-
Each hundred steps,
we have to turn nine turns among its mound —
Panting, we brush Orion and pass the Well Star,
Then, holding our chests with our hands
and sinking to the ground with a groan,
We wonder if this westward trail will never have an end.
The formidable path ahead grows darker, darker still,
With nothing heard but the call of birds
hemmed in by the ancient forest,
Male birds smoothly wheeling, following the females;
And there come to us the melancholy voices of the cuckoos
Out on the empty mountain, under the lonely moon…
Such travelling is harder than scaling the blue sky.
Even to hear of it turns the cheek pale,
With the highest crag barely a foot below heaven.
Dry pines hang, head down, from the face of the cliffs,
And a thousand plunging cataracts outroar one another
And send through ten thousand valleys
a thunder of spinning stones.
With all this danger upon danger,
Why do people come here
who live at a safe distance?
…Though Dagger-Tower Pass be firm and grim,
And while one man guards it
Ten thousand cannot force it,
What if he be not loyal,
But a wolf toward his fellows?
…There are ravenous tigers to fear in the day
And venomous reptiles in the night
With their teeth and their fangs ready
To cut people down like hemp.
Though the City of Silk be delectable,
I would rather turn home quickly.
Such travelling is harder than scaling the blue sky….
But I still face westward with a dreary moan.

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