The Twelve Beauties of Jinling 金陵十二釵 (2003)

Text by Cao Xueqin (1724-1763); sung in Mandarin

Premiere: 03/30/03 Morphy Recital Hall, UW Madison

Elaine Niu – soprano
Alan Berquist – flute/piccolo
David Dettman – pipa
Tim Kamps – violin/viola
Yu-Hsien Wu – cello
Mina Hung – piano
Jerry Hui – conductor

Performances:
04/04/04 University of Iowa-Iowa City (SCI Student National Conference)

  1. Prelude
  2. I
    可嘆停機德,堪憐詠絮才。玉帶林中掛,金簪雪裏埋。
  3. II
    二十年來辨是非,榴花開處照宮闈;三春爭及初春景,虎兕相逢大夢歸。
  4. III
    才自精明志自高,生于末世運偏消;清明涕送江邊望,千里東風一夢遙。
  5. IV
    富貴又何為,襁褓之間父母違;展眼吊斜暉,湘江水逝楚雲飛。
  6. V
    欲潔何曾潔,云空未必空;可憐金玉質,終陷淖泥中!
  7. VI
    子系中山狼,得志便猖狂;金閨花柳質,一載赴黃粱!
  8. VII
    勘破三春景不長,緇衣頓改昔年妝;可怜繡戶侯門女,獨臥青燈古佛旁。
  9. VIII
    凡鳥偏從末世來,都知愛慕此生才;一從二令三人木,哭向金陵事更哀。
  10. IX
    勢敗休云貴,家亡莫論親;偶因濟劉氏,巧得遇恩人。
  11. X
    桃李春風結子完,到頭誰似一盆蘭;如冰水好空相妒,枉與他人作笑談。
  12. XI
    情天情海幻情身,情既相逢必主淫;漫言不肖皆榮出,造釁開端實在寧。
  13. XII
    可嘆停機德,堪憐詠絮才。玉帶林中掛,金簪雪裏埋。
  14. Postlude

These 12 poems are taken from Chapter 5 of the Chinese Classics Literature “Dream of the Red Mansion” (紅樓夢), a story of two rich feudal families, and how their fortune spiraled down with their decaying morality. Each poem tells the fortune of one of the main female characters through vivid images and a surreal sense.

The entire song cycle is based on a 12-tone row. To me, when using a serial system, what matters is not the uniform use of all twelve chromatic pitches, but rather different ways to traverse through the row in the specified order. In this piece various ways of traversals are used to finish one row form and connect to another. Special attention was given particularly to create blossoming vocal lines.

The instrumentation takes off from Schoenberg’s Pierre lunaire ensemble. Instead of a clarinet, a pipa – a 4-string Chinese lute – is used, which gives a distinct ethnic sound. Throughout many instances of the piece I tried to evoke the image of traditional Chinese music, be it with singing style, rhythm, form or texture.

(duration: ca 16:00)

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