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


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





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


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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