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

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

  1. Prelude
  2. I
  3. II
  4. III
  5. IV
  6. V
  7. VI
  8. VII
  9. VIII
  10. IX
  11. X
  12. XI
  13. XII
  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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